The Verdict returns this month, seeing WOAP writers take to the pundit chair again to share their views on City’s home performances. To kick us off, Katie Whyatt grills Andrew Baxter, James Pieslak, Tim Penfold and Nikhil Vekaria to get their thoughts on how the Bantams’ campaign is shaping up…
What do you make of how the season has gone so far?
Andrew: I think the first half of the season has been good, but there is definitely room for improvement. It has been widely discussed already but scoring goals is our big weakness. Our defence has been impressive, with the run of eight clean sheets in nine games. It’s worth noting, however, that during that run we lost the one game we conceded in – that’s definitely food for thought.
James: I think the first half of the season had two halves in itself. The ‘first half of the first half’ was a shock, with the lack of character a real worry. We seemed to collapse very easily, and that was very unlike Parkinson’s charges.
Thankfully, the second half of the first half picked up significantly. The squad seemed to gel, the defence tightened up, and things started to look up. Like Andrew I do worry about our lack of firepower. Looking at the last two games, I hope we aren’t going to start the second half of the season like we did the first half.
Tim: I think that it’s been a fairly positive first half of the season, particularly when you take into account the disrupted start to the season and the run of serious injuries to attacking players. The defence in particular has been excellent, but it’s covering for a shortfall in attack that, if not addressed, will cost us a chance at promotion.
Nikhil: I’d actually argue that the season so far has been fairly average. I definitely think there have been positives, such as the form of Ben Williams and our improved defensive record, keeping an incredible eight clean sheets in nine. However, many of last season’s issues remain and we still don’t look like scoring enough goals, and our inability to make changes to impact games that aren’t going our way has cost us.
I was hoping for the play offs, which would be the next logical step of improvement after last season. Although this could still happen, it doesn’t look that likely.
Parkinson has implied he wants to retain the loan players, but won’t bring anyone else in unless a player goes. What do you think of this? Would you like to see any additions?
Andrew: I agree with him – I don’t think the squad needs too many additions. Obviously we would like a prolific goalscorer in the side (then again, so does every team), but I don’t think Parkinson will bring in too many players in January.
The player I’d most like to see during the second half of the season is Reece Burke. He’s been fantastic so far (potentially our POTY so far?) and it’d be great if we could keep him until May. That may be out of our hands should West Ham decide to give him football at a higher level than League One.
Tim: I agree – as long as Josh Morris and Steve Davies recover and give us more squad options. It’s very difficult to revamp a squad in January and it’s more expensive, as the players generally have to have contracts paid off – so unless there’s a glaring lack of cover in the squad, there’s no real reason to do it. I don’t expect us to keep Burke, however, so I think we’ll see a centre back come in.
James: Our current league position tells me that the squad needs tweaking for us to make the play offs. With Lee Evans apparently returning to Wolves, and Burke a big question mark with his injury, Parkinson has two incredibly big pairs of shoes to fill. We’ll miss both players enormously – particularly Burke.
The return of a few injured players could potentially give us a boost, but they will have to get up to match speed incredibly quickly and make a significant impact. If Parkinson is only replacing Evans and Burke and not bringing in any other new faces, our returning players will be critical. My fear is that our rivals will strengthen as we remain silent in the market.
Nikhil: I think it is really vital that the loanees are retained – especially Evans and Burke. The latter’s been City’s best player this season. I still think, however, that a new centre back should be brought in, even if Burke stays. I feel that to only have three natural centre backs (arguably four with Routis) is a bit light and I would like someone brought in with better credentials than Nathan Clarke (harsh but true!).
I also feel we’ve had a problem with goalscoring, but would argue that we do have the players already in the squad to solve that. The return of Morris and Paul Anderson should also help give the side more options on the wings and general balance.
Much has been made of whether City will score enough goals this season. What do you make of how things are working out up top? Will the forecasted goal tally be enough? Which strikers would you like to see tried together and why?
Andrew: I’m a big fan of Hanson, but I think a Cole-Clarke, or a Davies-Cole partnership would work wonders. We need to score more goals if we are to mount a serious play off push. We appear to be creating the chances – it’s just turning those chances into goals that seems to be the problem. Maybe a change in the strike partnership could work.
Nikhil: I don’t think things are working very well at all up top, as I see us as too one dimensional and not dynamic enough. I don’t think Hanson and Clarke will get enough goals to take us into the play offs and I would love to see Cole given a proper run in the team – people seem to forget he’s still managed to score more than anyone else and is just 20 years old…
I think Davies and Cole could work well together as they appeared to do so before the former got injured, and I would also like more game time given to Jordan Bowery, who impressed me at Scunthorpe but appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth since. I think City do have enough options up top but unless changes are made and an out and out goalscorer is played regularly (Cole!), we won’t have enough goals from Hanson and Clarke to achieve what we want.
James: I sometimes think it’s more than simply a personnel issue, though. The amount of time we get into decent positions but then have just one man in the box is infuriating. I feel we have to be more ambitious as a side if we want to score more goals. Getting forward as a unit will surely help – our strikers are far too isolated far too often.
Although Cole can be very hot and cold, I think it’s time to give him another run of starts. He knows where the goal is, and that’s what we need right now.
Tim: There are arguments to be made about striker pairings – I think Hanson hasn’t been at his best for much of the season, and Clarke doesn’t seem to click with him. However, Clarke-Cole as a pairing worries me, as Cole would need to show more talent in holding up the ball and linking the play than he has so far.
I think the root cause for the lack of goals doesn’t lie entirely with the strikers, though – we don’t create enough good quality chances, and that comes from the team set up. In the last two away games, we’ve lined up with arguably seven outfielders whose main talents and tactical roles are defensive, and that’s unbalanced the side.
This is particularly true as our defensive wide man lines up on the same side as our defensive full back, meaning open play attacks only really come down the left. McMahon’s been excellent from set pieces, and performs an important tactical role, but he doesn’t offer anywhere near enough from open play. He’s our only option there, though – if we played Mark Marshall (who has been disappointing) and Reid as our wingers, we’d get overrun.
This is where we miss Morais, Anderson and Morris, all of whom could provide a different option on the flanks and help out in the middle. The potential recovery of Morris and Anderson will be key to our season.
Where do you think the last two performances leave us and are changes needed on the back of them?
James: I think there can be a tendency to rush to judgement based on one or two performances. For me, regardless of the Gillingham and Sheffield United results, or the unbeaten run just before that, we are what we are – definitely top ten material but perhaps lacking the depth to make the play offs.
Andrew: I agree with James here. Yes, the last two performances have been sub-standard, but there is no need to rush to write off this team. I think the last two games have highlighted the weaknesses of this side. I still think that can make the play offs, but it is clear we need a little more depth in the squad, especially if Reece Burke and Lee Evans do not return on loan.
At centre-back especially, I think we may need one more player if Alan Sheehan goes. I’m still not convinced by Nathan Clarke (although I hope he proves me wrong!) and I think Chris Routis is better suited to a midfield berth. Gary Liddle could fill in at centre-back (he played there for Notts County) but his presence would be missed too much in the centre of midfield.
Nikhil: I think the last two games really just show us what we are as a side, and this isn’t a criticism of anyone in particular. I think when you compare the top sides in the division, they tend to score far more goals (bar maybe Burton) and just seem to have more stand out midfield players who offer a bit more.
I think City are a decent side at this level – but that’s all we are. I think the last two games just confirm that we’re just not quite at the same level as the top sides in the league. That’s not a criticism of anyone at the club, as I don’t think we’re underachieving – I just think we’re a mid-table side.
Where do you think City will finish this year?
Tim: I’m going to go with 6th – a solid defence and an attacking improvement when more of our creative players return will mean we sneak into the playoffs.
Nikhil: I’d love to say play offs but quite frankly, I don’t see it happening. I just believe that we don’t win enough games against the top sides in the division to achieve this and that we are too one dimensional up top, with not enough goals scored.
I’d probably plump for us finishing about 8th, which wouldn’t be a bad return in reality. I saw a recent statistic that after 22 games, we’re yet to beat a side above us in the league, which is pretty damning for us if we want to be chasing the play offs. I think we’re a good side for this level but unfortunately, there are too many sides who are that little bit better. Eighth.
James: We have a chance of sneaking into the play offs but the gaps left by Burke and Evans, coupled with our lack of goals, are a concern. The training pitch issue is a disruption we could do without too, so I believe we might just fall short this season. We could still do it, but until we sort out the issues above I’m plumping for us to finish seventh.
Andrew: I’m going to be optimistic here and say 5th. I believe that we have the strength and depth required to succeed at this level, and on our day, we can beat anyone in this division. Therefore, so long as we can be more efficient at converting chances into goals, I think a playoff place is on the cards for City this season.
Categories: The Verdict
A good summing up by all the contributers but I still have misgivings. we don’t possess an instinctive finisher and (much as I hoped Cole might be that man) instinctive finishing is not something to be created on the training pitch. It can be sharpened but it’s either there or it isn’t. in central defence i agree we need another player as, weakening another area to provide cover is no answer and neither is bringing in a player who is now third choice in his own position. finally, a thought of my own drawn from many years supporting city and seeing many promotion teams. we regularly put out eleven good (some very good) players, but none of the current crop bring more to the team than their playing abilities alone. call him what you will….main-man player, go-to player, midfield general (although he doesn’t HAVE to be a midfielder) or playmaker….we don’t have a player with the determination and assertiveness of Jones or the determination and talisman qualities of McCall. I desperately wanted this to be the season but sadly, my belief is that if we are able to sneak into the final play-off berth (which is doubtful in itself) we haven’t quite got what it takes to win through to promotion.
All things considered, for me it has been disappointing. However, a win on Saturday and a big draw would really revitalise our season.