By Jason McKeown
Joining Bradford City on the very same day that Phil Parkinson took over at Valley Parade, it seems hard to believe that Kyel Reid will no longer be a feature of the manager’s squad. The flying winger brings an end to three seasons in West Yorkshire by joining Lancashire divisional rivals Preston on a two-year deal – an offer that would have been impossible to turn down.
The alternative, of returning to the Bantams on a week-to-week contract, trying to prove his fitness, hardly offered the same security. At Deepdale, Reid will receive all the rehabilitation support he needs to recover from that dreadful injury picked up at Bramall Lane last January. He will then be part of a side that was unfortunate not to be promoted last season – 2013/14’s League One was a tough one, and a top five finish was no small achievement – and who go into this season with strong, credible ambitions of returning to the Championship. For a player whose career was in some doubt, this is a great move.
Yet Reid – or at least the Kyel Reid prior to taking the field at Bramall Lane that day – leaves behind a huge hole at Valley Parade. His bad injury occurring just a week after Nahki Wells’ departure to Huddersfield, the lack of pace in the team over the final five months of the season was an obvious problem. Adam Reach was a good replacement for Reid in the circumstances, but direct pace was not amongst his attributes. When City were under pressure defensively and attempting to counter attack, they lacked a player who could run with the ball and leave a trail of defenders behind. Goalscoring opportunities dried up. As Aaron Mclean struggled for goals, there was some regret that he only crossed paths with Reid for half an hour in South Yorkshire.
When on form, Reid was one of the club’s most exciting players. It was no surprise that Reid was Parkinson’s first signing, after the misguided move of his predecessor, Peter Jackson, in letting Omar Daley depart and not bothering to replace him. Perhaps, on his absolute best day, Daley was a better player than Reid – but for consistency and overall game, Kyel was an improvement. He would also be blighted by inconsistency and inevitably be singled out for abuse by supporters, but those occurrences were less frequent. Reid’s final ball wasn’t always the best, but he so often made things happen.
In season one (2011/12), and with a relegation battle to win, Parkinson leaned heavily upon Reid. The defence was set up not to come forwards, and in the centre of the park were two ball winners flanked on the right by the positionally-solid Craig Fagan. The attacking spark either came from direct balls to James Hanson and Wells, or through Reid. He embraced the responsibility to deliver numerous match-winning contributions. When the chips were down, he could be counted upon.
Being truthful, Reid was not amongst the stand-out performers of 2012/13. He endured another bad injury at Rochdale in October, and wasn’t seen again until January. With the League Cup run in full flow, Reid remained on the sidelines, almost making a sub appearance in the Wembley final against Swansea before another Swans goal caused Parkinson to change his mind over his choice of substitution. But he was back in the side and starting at Wembley three months later, enjoying arguably his best ever game for the club in the 3-0 demolition of Northampton that sealed promotion.
2013/14 started with Reid the only promotion winner displaced from the starting XI, which was where his determination really came to the fore. He won back his place from Mark Yeates (who, despite having a disappointing season, did actually start well) and produced some electrifying performances. None more so than at Deepdale in October, where he ran his future employers ragged with a dazzling display. On that evidence, it is no surprise that Simon Grayson is taking a chance on his fitness with the two-year contract.
As City’s form fell away, so too did Reid’s. Like so many other wingers in the past – even Peter Beagrie – Reid had more than his fair share of critics in the stand. We all know he couldn’t do certain things, that he should be better in his delivery, and that his form could be too erratic. But at the end of the day, that is why he was playing for Bradford City and not still at his first club, West Ham. He was a League One winger, and a bloody good one at that.
But with Reid, merely knowing what he was capable of would cause you to perch yourself on the edge of your seat in anticipation, when he ran with the ball. There is nothing like the sight of watching a winger charge past defenders, beating them through skill and raw pace. Reid may have been frustrating to watch at times, but more often he was simply great to watch.
Parkinson simply has to find a replacement of Reid’s style and ilk. We got by without him last season, but our attacking play suffered and we now have a first choice front two who badly need good service. Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish – a player who caused havoc against City when on loan at Notts County last season – has been mentioned as a loan option. As we reported last week, Reach is also said to be interested in a return should he not figure in Middlesbrough’s immediate plans – but he would be more effective if there was a pacy winger on the opposite side to him, as at times we were too reliant on Reach to play like Reid.
Whoever comes in, Reid will be fondly remembered. Parkinson’s first signing for City proved to be one of his best, and the 26-year-old leaves Bradford City as a much stronger club than the one he joined three years ago.