By Mahesh Johal, Gareth Walker, Nick Beanland and Andrew Baxter
“Please don’t go, please don’t go, I love you so, I love you so, Please break my heart… (Alt J, Breezeblocks)”
None of us wanted him to go, however we knew it was inevitable. We were prepared and some of us had even said our last goodbye. It was going to break our hearts where ever he ended up. But we never knew that the transfer of Nahki Wells would hurt to the level that it has.
As we arrived to Valley Parade on Saturday, conversation was dominated by Nahki’s departure. As we left Valley Parade on Saturday, conversation was dominated by how Nahki had scored a 90th minute winner for them! His debut goal was instinctive and clinical. It was… Nahki!
So as they enjoy the first of what will be many a goal in blue and white, Width of a Post looks back at some of his most important in claret and amber. This is not a definitive list of his best goals, but instead 10 that stood out and contributed in making him a star at Bradford City. The collection has been put together by Mahesh Johal (MJ), Gareth Walker (GW), Nick Beanland (NB) and Andrew Baxter (AB).
Barnet (h), 27 August 2011. City’s fourth goal in a 4-2 win (GW)
Nahki was a complete unknown to most supporters. A few had seen a brief glimpse of him during pre-season, but Peter Jackson’s sudden departure as manager and the temporary instalment of Colin Cooper led to the Bermudian’s second appearance in a competitive game, coming off the bench.
I personally didn’t give the player much of a second thought when I heard his name. After all, we had seen numerous youngsters appear for the club over recent years and very few of them had made any impact. However, that was all to change.
In the last minute, Wells picked the ball up on the City right and jinked past a couple of players before placing a shot across the keeper and into the far corner. He almost repeated the trick a few minutes later when, in an identical passage of play, he hit the post. In his fledgling City career, Nahki proved that he had something special. People were off their feet and there was that noticeable buzz around the place when he got the ball – a buzz that only a few players can create.
There was something different about this kid, something that caught the eye. I suspected, already, that we would be seeing a lot more of our new number 21.
Rochdale (h), 12 November 2011. Only goal in a 1-0 victory (AB)
It was the first round of the FA Cup, a drab, goalless draw against Rochdale was looking increasingly likely to end goalless. Nahki, however, had other ideas. The substitute won a 50-50 with the Rochdale, and now Bantams, icon Gary Jones, about 15 yards short of the halfway line. He continued bursting forward with the ball, looking for options, but nothing was there for him, so he travelled further and further, until he was 30 yards out.
From there, Wells unleashed a world-class, inch perfect strike that flew into the top left-hand corner of the net, leaving the Rochdale goalkeeper with no chance. That was just his second goal for the Bantams, but I cannot recall a more spectacular Wells strike since.
It was evident, even from this game, that Wells had raw talent and pace in abundance; but needed polishing and improvement of his general play, if he was to one day make the step up to a higher division.
Shrewsbury Town (h), 31 December 2011. City’s second goal in a 3-1 win (GW)
Wells was becoming a regular in the City starting line up. He had proved that his cameo performance against Barnet wasn’t just a one-off, and it looked like he was succeeding where many others had failed in becoming the perfect foil for James Hanson.
Nevertheless, under new manager Phil Parkinson, City were struggling near the foot of League Two – and this game against promotion contenders Shrewsbury Town was one that supporters weren’t particularly looking forward to.
Surprisingly, City had taken an early lead through Hanson and this meant that the Shrews had abandoned their slow passing game as they pushed forward more urgently and in numbers. City were sitting deep and looking to hit them on the break. The stage was set for Wells to show what he was all about.
A through ball was sprung out of defence and Wells was onto it like a flash, leaving Ian Sharps for dead. Suddenly he was clean through with only the keeper to beat. His ice cool persona meant that he never looked flustered as he bore down on goal, and the ball inevitably ended up in the back of the net.
At this point I turned to my friends sat next me and said “You just knew that he was going to score didn’t you?” They agreed. Somehow, unlike with so many other City strikers down the years, it was never in doubt. This lad was the real deal.
Northampton (a), 14 April 2012. Hat trick in a 3-1 win (AB)
Wells most impressive performance of his first season came away at Northampton Town, the team he loves to score against.
Wells rounded the Northampton keeper just 11 minutes into the game, for a comfortable finish, before an impressive and spectacular overhead kick doubled City’s lead with 39 minutes on the clock. A deft lob sealed the Bermudan’s hat-trick 10 minutes after half-time – his first hat-trick in a City shirt.
This game showed signs that Wells’ all-round game was maturing and developing; moving away from relying solely on his raw pace. In the early days, Wells would run his socks off for 45 minutes, but be simply too tired to produce anything of note after half time. Now, Wells was refining his game; getting into better positions, and choosing the right time to make a surging run, and when to drop off and pick the ball up from deep.
It was this hat-trick that set the wheels in motion for his outstanding season last year, giving him the confidence and belief that he could be a prolific and successful striker at this level.
Aston Villa (h), 8 January 2013. City’s first in a 3-1 win (NB)
Whilst Nahki had played excellently in the League Cup quarter final defeat of Arsenal, this was the evening he sprung to national prominence with a phenomenal display capped with a cool strike. All night he tormented Villa’s backline with his pace and trickery, and his was the goal that set City on the road to Wembley.
18 minutes in Gary Jones’ corner at the Bradford End was cleared as far as Zavon Hines. His shot from 25 yards was deflected and Wells, who’d cleverly drifted away from his marker, found himself eight yards from goal with only Shay Given to beat. The Irish keeper rushed from his line but Nahki calmly stroked the ball into the bottom right hand corner for the biggest goal of his career on the biggest night of his career thus far.
The goal gave City the belief that we might just complete the journey to Wembley and demonstrated to the watching millions that Nahki had the requisite calm head to despatch chances when it matters most.
Northampton (h), 6 April 2013. Only goal to win the game 1-0 (MJ)
When compared to many of his goals, it won’t go down as one of his most memorable. But the moment he scored I immediately thought it could be one of his most important.
12 games without a goal, questions (and in my opinion harshly) were being asked about Wells’ commitment to the cause. Had the Cup and media attention gone to his head? Quite frankly, no. At 22 years old and in his first full season, Wells was going through an unexpected lack of form. However, as City came into April, both the fortunes of the club and that of its number 21 were starting to change…
In a ‘Bloopers DVD’ style, Garry Thompson’s looping ball caused unnecessary panic in the Cobblers’ ranks. With Wells chasing, goalkeeper Lee Nicholls charged from his area only to collide with the oncoming Nathan Cameron. The defender in turn headed the live ball over Nicholls – and in what was becoming a ‘typical’ Wells goal – the Bermudian was on hand to take advantage and tap it into the unguarded net.
With an aggressive haymaker type celebration, his frustrations and questions were answered. City’s main man was back to kick start the promotion hunt!
Burton Albion (a), 5 May 2013. City’s second and third goals in a 3-1 win. (GW)
By now, Wells was not just City’s main goalscoring threat; he was also one of the hottest properties in the Football League. His record over two seasons was one which stood up to those of the best strikers in the country, and we were going to need him at his very best if we were to turn round a play off semi final first leg deficit, away to a side who had the best home record in the country.
Wells’ first of two goals against Burton that day was typical of the man in that it wasn’t too dissimilar to a couple that he had scored earlier in the season. No League Two defender was safe passing the ball back to his goalkeeper with Nahki around. Under-hit it just slightly, and he would pounce and punish you. Marcus Holness clearly hadn’t been watching Cameron’s mistake for Northampton a few weeks earlier, as the Burton dreadfully misjudged his header back to Stuart Tomlinson. Nahki ran past him, rounded the keeper and knocked the ball into the empty net.
His second goal – and City’s third on the day – was all about his agility and being quick in the box. A scramble in the Brewers’ penalty area eventually saw the ball fall to Wells, who swivelled and scuffed a shot that squirmed past Tomlinson. From the stand where I was in, the ball seemed to take an age to go in – but when it did the celebrations were absolutely raucous.
City were going back to the home of football and Nahki Wells would have another opportunity to play on the biggest stage.
Northampton Town (Wembley Stadium), 18 May 2013. City’s third in a 3-0 win (NB)
14 May 2013: Nahki, with a great goalscoring record against the Cobblers, said he had “two more goals saved for them” at Wembley.
16 May 2013: Town’s manager, Aidy Boothroyd, responded “I’m glad they’re making comments like that because we’re not a very good team and we’re just going to turn up and enjoy the day. I’ve seen Nahki Wells’ comments about how he always scores and always does well and I thought the manager always picked the team rather than the centre forward.”
18 May 2013: 27 minutes into the game. City already 2-0 up. Kyel Reid’s cross is nodded back across goal by Garry Thompson and Nahki screams in at the far post to coolly slam the ball into the net to effectively clinch promotion.
Wells then sprints along the touchline to slide on his knees in celebration in front of a bereft Boothroyd. Nahki 1 Aidy 0. Game over.
Sheffield United (h), 24 August 2013. Brace to win the game 2-0 (NB)
For Nahki this early season game was his chance to enter the record books as only the second Bantam to score in eight successive games. Fortunately pressure is something that doesn’t seem to enter Wells’ head in any situation.
With the game goalless and half time approaching, Thompson did well to flick a header into the path of Wells on the right hand angle of the penalty area. Nahki strode on, jinked and jived to throw United defender Neil Collins off the scent, before driving a powerful low shot into the bottom left hand corner of the goal from 14 yards. A great finish from a man who has ice running through his veins.
For City the win offered hope that this season might deliver more than mere consolidation, and the goals Wells scored (he clinched the win with a late second) brought him a share of a record that is unlikely to be broken in my lifetime.
Coventry (h), 19 November 2013. Hat-trick to equalise the game 3-3 (MJ)
The Bantams returned to Sky television in their first game since last season’s cup and play off exposure. With each televised performance, Wells’ influence and class was gradually becoming more evident. In what was his last live game in claret and amber, Wells stole the show in a pulsating game.
After sustaining an injury the previous month, Wells understandably had taken a couple of games to get match fit. Any suggestions that it may take an extended period to blow off the cobwebs were dismissed after he got the Bantams back in the game. 2-0 down after seven minutes thanks to Coventry’s strike-force, it was City’s deadly duo who combined to equalise proceedings. In customary style, both goals were Hanson assisted and Wells finished!
After conceding a third, City searched for another equaliser. Wells had come closest rattling the cross bar with one of ‘his’ free kicks, but not even he could save the day. That was until the 93rd minute. After Jordan Clarke handled in the area, Wells had the opportunity to rescue City a point from the spot and take home his second hat trick match ball. The coolest man in the ground, he emphatically smashed home in front of his adoring Kop.
The game demonstrated everything we knew about Wells; a clinical finisher, a great reader of the game, pace, trickery, and the calmest of temperament. The only problem for us, thanks to the Sky cameras, other people were starting to take note and liked what they saw!