The Verdict Special Edition: Half season review (part one)

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Bradford City’s 1-0 victory over Notts County officially marked the half way point of the 2014/15 League One campaign, so what do we think so far? In the first of a two-part ‘The Verdict’ special, WOAP pundits Alex Scott, Andrew Baxter, Gareth Walker, Mahesh Johal and Nick Beanland provide their assessment.

What is your assessment of the first half of the season?

Gareth: The first half of the season has to be seen as “job done” in my opinion. I don’t expect promotion this season, and therefore the first aim for me has to be to avoid relegation. That usually means that we would need 50 points after 46 games, so to have 36 points after 23 games is a good return and gives me hope that we can push on and finish higher in the table than we did last season.

If we can flirt with the play offs until late in the season as well, that would be great; and the fact that we have reached the third round of the FA Cup is an added bonus.

Andrew: For me, it’s been a good first half to the season. Despite the “blip” in October, City’s current league position is promising, and it is a good platform to kick on in January and beyond. Considering the comments made before the start of the season about a lack of squad depth, and this year being one more of consolidation than a push for the play offs, and the reduced budget for Phil Parkinson to work with, City’s position at the minute is certainly one that I would have taken at the start of the season.

Away from the league, City’s cup win at home to Leeds will live with me for a long time, and I think there have been more positives than negatives during the first half of this season.

Alex: A little above expectations. Given the upheaval over the off-season, as the club clearly manipulated their playing staff to cut costs, I was relatively pessimistic coming in. I didn’t necessarily think they would get relegated as I assumed Parkinson would find a way to make it work, but there were a large amount of uncertainty, and a number of things that could have gone wrong.

It hasn’t been a flawless run over the first half, but the successes probably outnumber the failures, and the team are definitely trending upwards heading into the New Year. The fact that they already reside in the top ten in spite of them not finding their way until November bodes very well.

Parkinson’s greatest attribute is his lack of ego, and willingness to acknowledge when he has made a mistake. A pragmatist through and through, Parkinson has rolled with the punches and found a way to make it work with one financial hand tied behind his back. It will take an especially stubborn man to bet against him, and his team, improving as time goes on.

Nick: It’s a strange one – I enjoyed the first month hugely, helped by the opening day thriller against Coventry and the comeback against Leeds. Much of what’s come since has left me underwhelmed, though I’ve been restricted mostly to home games, which has meant I’ve probably not seen the best of this team.

2012/13 and the first part of 2013/14 were as good as it gets so the levelling off in excitement since then isn’t entirely unexpected.

Mahesh: At the start of the season I said I’d be happy with anything better than last season’s 11th place. To be in the play off mix then in January is a great achievement. There was a lull amongst supporters during September and October (which Jason summed up really well). This feeling on the terraces was reflected by the performances and results on the pitch.

However since the Halifax game, the side have turned a corner and have not looked back. I think we knew that Phil Parkinson was creating a good footballing side in the summer; however I’ve been taken by surprise by our recent form and success.

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

It was a summer of change with the playing squad. How do you compare this season’s team to the 2013/14 side?

Alex: It depends which 2013/14 side you are comparing them to. The side that began the season with Nahki Wells, Kyel Reid and James Hanson all firing was probably a play off team all things considered. They were in fourth position after 10 games, scoring in each of them, before Wells and Andrew Davies got hurt.

After this point, with the attrition in the squad, they markedly regressed, pretty much into a relegation outfit. And that was a team with Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle at the heart of it.

Time period Games League Position Points per game Goals scored per game Goals conceded per game
2013/14 First Ten 10 4th 2.10 2.10 0.80
2013/14 Rest of the way 36 21st 1.06 1.00 1.27
2014/15 Pre-Jan 23 5th 1.57 1.35

1.13

 

This team is patently a stronger outfit than the side for the final three quarters of last season, in spite of the turnover in the playing squad, And what’s more, they are all moving in the right direction, they are better now than they have been at any point in 2014; they are after all two ninety-third minute equalisers from nine wins on the spin.

If you’re comparing them to the side that began last season, they are certainly weaker. But that is an especially small sample size for comparison. That Wells and Hanson team were not afforded the chance to move forward, and potentially fail, it was only a two month swoon. But that is the team that springs to mind when talking about ‘last season’. People have glossed over the relegation outfit we saw from October onwards. They are definitely doing more with less right now.

The ceiling of the squad is clearly lower than the beginning of last season. But this side keep picking up points. They’ve only lost two games by more than one goal when they’ve kept all their players on the pitch; and they’ve played the entire division at this point.

The defence is marginally worse on paper, but recently the defence has really picked up, with City not conceding more than one in a game since 1 November, ten games ago. For whatever it’s worth, this run has almost perfectly coincided with the redux of the Darby-McArdle-Davies-Meredith Connection.

Gareth: Before the Leyton Orient game at the end of November, Jason McKeown, my dad and I were having a beer and comparing this season’s team to that of last season. At the time we all agreed that Gary Jones, Kyel Reid and Nahki Wells would all improve this seasons starting XI. We were also unsure whether or not Gary Liddle was better or worse than Nathan Doyle.

After a decent run of results since then, it might not be so clear cut but I still think that if we had Jones, Reid and Wells in our current squad then we would have a better chance of making a concerted play off push this season. Having said all that, it has to be said that the recruitment last summer has proved to be far more successful than the recruitment of summer 2013, and I’m much happier with Billy Knott and Gary Liddle competing for places in our midfield than I was with Jason Kennedy. Although Kennedy himself now looks to be a better player than we saw last season.

After initially having his critics, Jordan  Pickford now looks to be an improvement on Jon McLaughlin and the worry with him is that he will be very hard to replace next year when he returns to Sunderland.

Parkinson deserves some credit for his recruitment after the criticism that he received last year and he has earned the bit of luck that has fallen his way by him stumbling across the Jon Stead-Billy Clarke partnership. As a pair, although they aren’t in the same league as the Hanson-Wells partnership, they are looking like the most promising double act that we have had since the Bermudan left us a year ago.

It is somewhat remarkable, given the way that Hanson started the season that Stead is now keeping him out of the side and much of our success in the first half of 2015 may depend on whether or not we are able to keep hold of the Huddersfield Town loanee.

Nick: Technically this team looks much cleverer than last year’s vintage, with players like Clarke and Morais and the new, improved Mark Yeates adding quality we didn’t possess in such abundance in 2012/13.

I must be the typical English football fan as I find it hard to love this team in the way I did the more blood and thunder version typified by Gary Jones.

Mahesh: I believe that this season’s edition is a far better footballing side. We are more intricate and the footballing ability within the midfield far surpasses previous years. Parkinson’s changes in personnel with the introductions of Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Filipe Morais, Billy Clarke; together with the resurgence of players like Mark Yeates, has seen the team add a layer of footballing intelligence that wasn’t there last season.

Yes, this was a summer of change; however it shouldn’t be forgotten that the foundations of the club remained with the likes of Darby, Davies, McArdle and Hanson. It’s my view that we have still yet to replace X Factors in terms of Nahki Wells’ scoring ability and Kyle Reid’s pace (admittedly the latter was unpredictable but I would argue he was a key cog in Parkinson’s side).

The depth of the squad is still a worry but as Alex’s table demonstrates; this squad appears to be moving in the right direction compared to the one that played the majority of last season.

Andrew: On paper, this is a stronger side, bar Nahki Wells. This season’s team has more experience at League One level, with the likes of Alan Sheehan and Gary Liddle being solid performers at this level for a number of years, something that last season’s squad lacked.

Having said that, I do feel that we miss the drive of Gary Jones in midfield on occasion (our midfield, whilst good on paper, lacks character at times), and the sheer pace and unpredictability of Kyel Reid on the left flank was, whilst frustrating at times, a good option to have.

In part two, the WOAP pundit team reflect on the players that have impressed or disappointed them, and share their hopes and expectations for the second half of the season.

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Categories: The Verdict

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