By Jason McKeown
This was a season of good, bad and indifferent individual performances, which was reflected by the relatively few number of players who received votes in the fifth annual Width of a Post Player of the Season award.
WOAP writers were asked to name their top five players, and only 10 members of the squad received at least one vote. Not a single Bradford City forward made anyone’s top five. Over the next three days, we will countdown our very clear top five, starting today with numbers five and four.
In alphabetical order, the WOAP writer voters were: Phil Abbott, Andrew Baxter, Nick Beanland, Mark Danylczuk, Ian Hemmens, Mahesh Johal, Jason McKeown, Tim Penfold, James Pieslak, Alex Scott, Tom Swithinbank, Gareth Walker, Katie Whyatt, Kieran Wilkinson and Damien Wilkinson.
So here goes…
5th place: James Meredith
By Tim Penfold
At the pre-match meal for Play it Like a Pro, Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin spoke about what they looked for in a Bradford City player, and James Meredith’s name was mentioned.
When he was scouted and signed in the summer of 2012, they wondered how such a talented player was playing so far down the leagues. Within six months of signing him, they understood why. Meredith was a fine player, but he repeatedly fell foul of the fines system at the club for very sloppy things – punctuality and leaving training kit out were mentioned. At this point, James Meredith had two options – continue, and bounce around the lower leagues without ever fulfilling his potential, or adapt.
He chose to adapt, and doesn’t get fined any more.
It’s not all been plain sailing. He missed large chunks of his first two seasons through injury and illness, which cost the team dearly. There was also the contract saga of 2014, which led to a replacement agent, and his biggest competition yet for his slot in the shape of Alan Sheehan. His response to that was outstanding, forcing Sheehan out of the team, and later, out of the club. With only the inexperienced Greg Leigh for competition, he was the undisputed first choice left back at the club.
For the first couple of months of the season he was City’s best player. He rampaged up and down the left flank, taking advantage of the likes of Anderson and Morris tucking in to use the space they provided, and, when the team looked worryingly static, always provided an outlet. After injuries took out City’s wingers, he was even able to re-create his outstanding partnership with Kyel Reid on the left.
The peak of this run of form was the televised game against Sheffield United, where he picked up his first goal for three years and caused the Blades no end of problems. This was enough to get him his first call-up for Australia and, a month later, his first caps.
At this point, his season stalled slightly. He came back from international duty with an injury, and Greg Leigh had performed very well in his absence. Leigh was the man in possession, and Meredith’s performances dropped off. He played only one game between his trip on international duty in November and the new year, only regaining his place after Greg Leigh’s struggles at Bramall Lane, and only really regaining his form in the 4-0 win over Peterborough.
He ended the season the way he started it, as one of the main men in the side. A personal highlight was his cross for Proctor against Doncaster, but his assist at Southend, caused by commitment and bravery as much as skill, was just as pleasing. He’s gone from being the man who couldn’t be trusted to show up on time to one of Phil Parkinson’s key men in the dressing room and on the pitch, and, despite his mystifying absence from Australia’s recent squads, is an international as well.
There’s nothing stopping him from going even further at City.
4th place: Ben Williams
By Jason McKeown
It’s easy to forget the extensive efforts made to push Ben Williams into the number two goalkeeper role this season. Phil Parkinson attempted to sign a number of former Premier League big names, before finally settling on the released Liverpool stopper, Brad Jones. Williams began the season number one by default, faring quite well, but it was seemingly all about waiting for him to make a mistake so he could be dropped.
Three dismal Brad Jones performances later, Williams was restored to the team and simply hasn’t looked back. A competent keeper of very little career distinction, Williams has had the season of his life. No goalkeeper in Bradford City history has kept as many clean sheets in a season, no goalkeeper in the country kept achieved more shut-outs than the former Man United trainee. 43 league appearances, 34 goals conceded.
There is a school of thought that Williams deserves only a small amount of credit for the team’s amazing defensive record, and that the clean sheets and generally low amount of goals conceded was the cause of the defenders in front, rather than the keeper. But even if there’s a grain of truth in that, it shouldn’t take anything away from just how well Williams has played.
He really has been on top of his game. This was a player performing to the absolute height of his capabilities. He was full of confidence, assurance and composure. You look back on some many tight games that City won, and invariably Williams wouldn’t have a lot to do but still produced one or two vital saves. He was not the busiest goalkeeper in League One for sure, but stood up very well to the majority of tests he was given.
Out of contract this summer, it is surely a no-brainer to keep him on. Expect plenty of talk of bringing in another goalkeeper to at least challenge him better than Jones and Joe Cracknell were ever able to. But no matter who is stood between the sticks at Valley Parade next season, Williams’ contribution over 2015/16 will be long remembered.
He, at least, made history.
Categories: 2015/16 season review