By Nathan Evans
Well well well.. it’s that time of year again, the January transfer window, arguably one of the most exciting times for football fans up and down the country. For us Bradford City fans, what can we expect to see in terms of transfer activity during the month of January and in what departments does our team need improvement?
It must be said that our involvement within the transfer window might be limited dependent on the views of Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn whom will have to decide on whether to somewhat ‘gamble’ and invest this January if they believe we can reach the play offs or better, or to wait until summer and invest in the squad before starting a fresh season.
Starting from the very back we have the goalkeeping position. For me, Ben Williams has come on leaps and bounds from last term. His name is first on the team sheet and for good reason, with him in net this season we have kept 12 clean sheets in all competitions including a fantastic nine in the last 12 matches we’ve played.
Yes, you can say that the whole defence works towards these clean sheets but Ben Williams has made some vital saves this season for the Bantams to maintain their fantastic defensive record. However, there is a severe lack of cover should Williams get injured in the second half of this season.
I’m not ashamed to admit that when Brad Jones came to the club at the start of the season that I was excited to see the ex-Liverpool ‘keeper in action but for whatever reason we’re here four months later without a recognised back up goalkeeper as the Australian decided to quit Valley Parade and pursuit his career elsewhere. What his inclusion in the squad did do, however, was to bring the best out of Ben Williams as as soon as Brad Jones signed, fans saw a dramatic improvement in the former Hibernian man’s performances.
In my opinion we could do with signing a goalkeeper this January just to keep Williams on his toes. Currently we only have youngster Joe Cracknell as back-up who signed a new contract on New Year’s day until the end of the season with Phil Parkinson stating that; “we’d still like to give Joe the opportunity to play some first team football somewhere at some point but he’s with us at the moment and he’s ready if needed.”
If we could bring in an experienced shot stopper on a free this month it would mean that Williams would have vital competition to keep his form up and would offer the club an opportunity to loan out Joe Cracknell to gain valuable league experience.
This season our defence at Bradford has been extremely strong. Granted we’ve had odd games where the back four has looked shaky, most notably in the last two losses away from home against Sheffield United and Gillingham, but which team hasn’t had off days so far this season in League One?
This term in the ‘goals against average per game’ standings we sit seventh in the table with a figure of 1.13. This highlights how well our defence has played especially considering by now we’ve played all the ‘better’ sides in the league at least once. Over the summer the loss of Andrew Davies was seen as a massive failing by many Bradford fans however the performances of Rory McArdle in particular so far this term have more than made up for the loss of the senior centre back.
At right back captain Stephen Darby has done what Stephen Darby does best and has once again had a consistently good campaign thus far whilst at left back, James Meredith and Greg Leigh have both done well when called upon. After running a poll on my Twitter page – @nathanevanss94 – the majority of City fans were content with our back four, only receiving 11% of the votes when asking “where does our team need to be strengthened in January.”
In my opinion the only problem we face defensively is the uncertainty when it comes to Reece Burke’s loan deal. The West Ham youngster has come in to the Bantams back four next to Rory McArdle and fit in fantastically. His perfect blend of common sense and ability to control, pass and run the ball out of defence is second to none and in his playing style I think it’s easy to liken him to a young John Stones.
For me, Reece Burke is extremely likely to figure for England in the future but right now, for us, it is paramount to extend his loan deal until the end of the season and keep our well performing defensive line intact if and when possible.
The midfield area is one that many Bradford City fans believe can be and should be strengthened during the January transfer window. Like in defence with Reece Burke, both Welsh U21 central midfielder Lee Evans and returning wide-midfielder Kyel Reid have loan periods that are set to expire in January.
Lee Evans in particular has accumulated a lot of playing time while on loan at Valley Parade this season, making seventeen appearances and scoring twice, and it’s because of this that Parkinson wants to keep hold of the Wolves youngster. A lack of creativity through the middle up until this point in the season is a worry however. Between Lee Evans, Billy Knott and Gary Liddle who are the Bantams main three central options, the three have only managed a handful of assists between them, a total of three including two for Billy Knott.
This is a worry for Bradford City fans who want more creativity in the centre of the park especially at home matches at Valley Parade where the style of football on display at most times this season has been a little too long ball for many fans liking.
To be fair to Phil Parkinson the first team has struggled with key injuries in the midfielder department so far this term especially in the wide areas. Both Filipe Morais and Paul Anderson have suffered cruel, season long injuries this term, two wide players that have fantastic pace and creativity whilst Billy Clarke, who is often used as a central attacking midfielder, is only now returning to full fitness after a spell on the sidelines. Josh Morris, yet another wide midfielder, has also suffered with injury so far this season and hasn’t been in contention for lengthy spells.
In my opinion we need to bring in a central midfielder who has a spark at the League One level, a player who can pick up the ball and either attack the defence or play that killer ball up to the attackers. The lack of goals up front this season is somewhat down to the service our strikers have been getting which this season has mostly come in the shape and form of long balls up to James Hanson.
The ability to play nice football on the ground is what we desperately need, especially during home matches, football that will excite the fans at Valley Parade. Tony McMahon has been best at encapsulating exciting football this season and has been many fans stand out player so far this season as he has scored twice and assisted six times in 17 appearances.
A fantastic addition in my opinion would be that of Sam Morsy from Chesterfield. A fantastic all round talent in the centre of the park who has defensive abilities but can too take the ball forward with great quality and at the still young age of 24 would be worth the transfer fee. In 23 appearances this term for Chesterfield he has scored three times as well as assisting on two occasions.
In football, goals win matches; it’s as simple as that. This season however City have struggled to find the back of the oppositions net, especially our forward line.
With a measly 24 goals in 23 league matches this season, we are currently ranked at 22nd in the ‘goals for average per game’ standings with a very poor goal scoring figure of 1.04 goals per game. Only Blackpool and struggling Crewe Alexandra are below us in that regard, whilst Peterborough have literally doubled our scoring figure of 1.04 in terms of average scoring this season.
Consistency is key in football but it’s simply not present in our forward line, there are too many game to game changes upfront that are disrupting possible quality striker partnerships from blossoming. The season we gained promotion from League Two and went on our cup adventure in the League Cup, Hanson and Wells basically played every single game together and it meant that they built that partnership that gave us plenty of goals on all occasions.
In the meantime give Devante Cole and Billy Clarke a chance together. I’m not an outspoken fan at all and I’m a massive fan of both Phil Parkinson and James Hanson but especially at home matches I’m starting to bore of the ‘long ball up to Hanson’ tactic. Get it down on the ground and play it around, we have enough talented players to do so in our squad these days!
One concept I don’t understand with forwards at our club is our need to have so many yet give them so little time to make a proper impact for the team. Take Luke James for instance, a striker that has bagged 20 goals in just over 100 football league appearances which isn’t prolific but it’s decent, yet we’ve brought him in loan from Peterborough and given him next to no playing time, he comes on for basically the last five minutes of matches and has no time to make an impact.
In my opinion there’s two options, you can either play him and give him that chance or you don’t have him on loan because we will be paying Peterborough a fee of his services whilst he just waits on the bench for his turn. I’d much rather we use the same money and bring in a striker on a permanent contract like that of Steven Davies who was playing well before his recent injury.
In all honesty I really rate James Hanson, Billy Clarke and Devante Cole at a League One level. James Hanson has the ability to cause defences massive problems at this level, Billy Clarke is a very talented and gifted attacker and Devante Cole has the pace to take on any defender in this league. Cole has five goals this term, Hanson four and Clarke two, although the Irish forward is known more for his ability to assist and set up chances.
For Parkinson to bring in another forward I think that Luke James will have to have their respective loan deals terminated to free up some space in the squad. Steven Davies too could be really struggling for game time if another striker is brought into the squad at Valley Parade so maybe he could be leaving this January? On the aforementioned Twitter poll I conducted which asked Bradford City fans which aspect of the team needs strengthening most in the January transfer window, a huge 58% answered with the option of attack.
The squad Phil Parkinson has assembled is strong enough for at least a play off place come May in my opinion. There’s no doubt in my mind that without injuries to key players we would already be in a play off position at the very least at this moment in time so when certain players return, the squad will only get stronger.
As for the January transfer window? Well we will just have to wait and see what tricks Parky has up his sleeve..