By Jason McKeown
Josh Cullen is not only showcasing his potential, he’s boosting Bradford City’s reputation as a club tomorrow’s stars can thrive at
Stuart McCall’s comment on Josh Cullen that “it would have been a blow to have lost him” must rank as the understatement of the season. Last week the 20-year-old West Ham midfielder extended his second Valley Parade loan until the end of the campaign, just when his performances and influence on the team are reaching a new peak.
Cullen has been the pick of Bradford City performers over Christmas and early January. He just keeps getting better and better. The way in which he breaks up opposition attacks and drives City forwards deserve comparisons with a young Stuart McCall. He rarely seems to waste a pass, and has an impressive vision to spot openings. These qualities so often set him apart from almost every other player on the field. McCall would have found it very difficult to replace him.
Cullen’s first loan spell was outstanding, but this season he has been even better. He has taken on more responsibility and heavily influences the way City play. The future looks so bright for Cullen, who is capable of breaking into the West Ham side within a couple of years.
And if he does, it will be to Bradford City’s credit. The success of Cullen follows excellent loan spells at Valley Parade for two other bright Premier League youngsters – Jordan Pickford and Reece Burke. City’s reputation as a good club to loan out young players to continues to be enhanced.
Pickford has broken into Sunderland’s first team and won rave reviews for a string of impressive performances. Jamie Carragher named him in his Premier League team of the season so far. Big clubs are said to be keen to buy him. Gareth Southgate has even called him up into an England squad.
Bradford City have clearly played a part in Pickford’s rise and rise – and our unusual status in League One was a key reason. Playing in front of 17,000+ plus people, with huge pressure, helped him to grow in stature. Pickford has a rocky start at Valley Parade but turned it around. His success at Bradford City gave him assurance and steel when it came to lining up at the Stadium of Light.
Cullen is on that same path. He is playing below his natural level but the pressures of turning out for a relatively big club like Bradford City will have taught him so much. To be playing week in week in competitive games that have big meaning is far more rewarding than staying in West Ham’s development squad. The encouragement he is getting will be giving him so much confidence.
If Cullen – and Reece Burke – can break through at West Ham and make an impression similar to Pickford, more top clubs will look at Bradford City’s role in their development and they’ll be keen to send their brightest young players to Valley Parade. And as Cullen is proving, it can make a big difference to Bradford City’s on-the-field fortunes.
Ched Evans looked good, but do the benefits really outweigh the baggage?
After all the headlines over the last few years, it was interesting to watch Ched Evans line up for Chestefield at Valley Parade – especially with plenty of speculation that City might be interested in signing him.
Evans was certainly the best player in a very poor Chesterfield side. He was physically strong in the air, fast in his running and skillful on the ball. His best moment was a shot from distance that smacked the outside of Colin Doyle’s post.
For the second home game in a row McCall was asked about Evans post-match – and he once again played a straight bat. Whether he is interested in signing the player is unclear, though others on the transfer committee might be pushing his name. It’s rumoured that plenty of clubs are considering making a bid for his services.
But is he actually worth it? For sure he would score more often in a better side, but he’s still only netted one league goal for Chesterfield since August 16th. He has five league goals from 19 league appearances, with 63 shots on goal. For comparison’ sake, Jordy Hiwula has seven league goals from 24 league appearances – but he has had 39 shots on goal.
Look at it another way: if City were to sign a striker from a struggling League One club with such a dreadful record – who wasn’t such a well-known name – would we supporters be excited or disappointed?
And that brings us onto those reasons why Evans is a well-known name. Yes, Ched has been proven to be innocent, and the moral arguments over whether he should be allowed to play football have gone away. But even so, what he did was shocking and hardly makes him out to be a good character. Signing him would understandably upset a lot of supporters and it would clearly undermine the Bantams Family hashtag the club are promoting. Why divide your fanbase?
If Evans was guaranteed to score a hatful and deliver success, it might be worth the risk. But he isn’t. Throw in the fact he’s going to command a large transfer fee, and you have a massively over-valued player with horrendous baggage.
I liked what I saw of Evans the player on Saturday, but he’s not worth signing in my opinion.
The remaining History Makers head in to their final months of their contracts with uncertain futures
The week of the League Cup semi finals will forever be a opportunity for us Bradford City fans to reminisce fondly. It’s now four years since the astonishing two-legged victory over Aston Villa that took the club to a first major cup final in over a century. It was one of the peak moments we’ve all experienced supporting the club, and yet this year we can also look back on it and reflect on how far we’ve since come.
Of the 20+ band of brothers that made up the History Makers squad, only four are still at Valley Parade – and they’re all out of contract in the summer. For differing reasons, they all might not be playing for Bradford City next season. They are the foundations of City’s modern day success, but at least two of them are no longer as relevant.
Over Christmas Stephen Darby lost his place in the team to Tony McMahon, following the latter’s return to fitness. It was telling that Darby – who missed the start of the season – was not given back the captain’s armband when he returned from injury in September. It showed he was no longer a sure-fire starter. McMahon’s early season displays at right back showed the merits of having two attack-minded full backs, and his set piece deliveries were a threat.
Darby has always been such a solid defender, but struggled to offer a lot going forwards. It’s ironic that this side of his game has actually come on leaps and bounds over the last two months. McMahon is arguably a weaker defender, but straightaway has provided a lot more in the final third. City look to have more balance going forwards.
It is very tough on Darby. But just like Rory McArdle’s demotion, it’s a sign of just how high the standards have risen. McArdle and Darby both lined up at Northampton last week and performed really well, but the fact both were culpable for the Cobbers’ goal made it easier for McCall to leave them both out again on Saturday.
Make no mistake, Darby and McArdle are good League One players. They would walk into most teams in this league. They are not going to want to stay around as back ups forever, and it will be difficult to retain them for next season.
Meanwhile it is rumoured the club are struggling to agree a new contract with James Hanson, who is thought to be amongst the highest earners. City’s isues in front of goal this season are well documented, and whilst Hanson hasn’t been at his best he has still outshone others. His recent performances against Bury and Northampton were excellent.
With Alex Jones arriving, Billy Clarke edging closer to fitness, Hiwula scoring more regularly and another striker being targeted, it remains to be seen if Hanson will remain first choice over the second half of the season.
The last of the history makers has no such concerns over his place. James Meredith is up there with Nicky Law and Josh Cullen for player of the season, and the Aussie must be a strong contender for a spot in the PFA League One Team of the Season. Other clubs have recently watched him and rumours of interest from Leeds have been aired.
As James told WOAP’s Katie Whyatt on the eve of this season, he wants to move back to Australia when he is 31 to finish his career. That means his next contract is a big one. He has talked of wanting to remain at Valley Parade, but will understandably harbour ambitions to play in the Championship.
City’s hopes of keeping may depend on which division we find ourselves in next season.
Alex Jones fits the owners’ vision, but there’s one small concern
It wasn’t a debut to threaten a place in the Bradford City top 10, but Alex Jones made a promising start to life at Valley Parade in the home win over Chesterfield. Jones produced some good touches and had an obvious eye for goal. He struggled at times to read team mates; but given he had only trained once with them this was more than forgivable.
Jones’ arrival from Birmingham is a real coup and a sign of the owners’ intent. When they spoke during the summer it was evident how much they believe in signing young players who can prosper and have a resale value. That older players were brought in during the summer was very much viewed as a one-off, due to the short-term issues of a thinbare squad. They promised us they’d be ready for this January.
Jones had a good first half of the season on loan at Port Vale, which in view of the Valiant’s struggles is no mean feat. The dismay Vale fans have aired over losing his services suggests City have brought in a player who can deliver much needed improvement in front of goal.
There’s just one concern though – is he definitely a striker? The Stoke Sentinel’s Mike Baggaley wrote that Jones played on the right wing for Vale. Both McCall and the player himself said similar things after the Chesterfield game. Jones played for West Brom and Birmingham under 21s as a striker, but his actual first team experience playing down the middle is very limited.
We’ve signed a few strikers over the years who struggled in their supposed best position – ultimately they ended up playing in midfield and eventually leaving. Let’s hope Jones can succeed where they failed.
21 home games unbeaten is an outstanding achievement, can City set a new club record?
Remember the days when City always lost at home? It’s hard to believe that last March’s wretched home defeat to Colchester was the last time we were beaten at Valley Parade in the league. On that evening we were so woeful. I wrote one of my angriest ever WOAP match reports on the train home.
Saturday’s victory made it 21 unbeaten at home in the league since. 13 victories, eight draws, 13 clean sheets and just 10 goals conceded. Valley Parade is truly a fortress.
The excellent Goodbrand Stats tells us that City’s club record unbeaten home run is 25; achieved in between May 1976 to August 1977. So five more unbeaten home games will see more history made in the modern era. If City avoid defeat to Millwall, Gillingham, Bolton, MK Dons and Peterborough, they’ll set the new record.
Whatever happens, the home form is outstanding. Valley Parade was unusually quiet on Saturday, but the atmosphere all season has been fantastic – continuing on from recent years. During McCall’s first spell – with City just relegated to League Two – the mood around the place could so often be mute. Boos were aired very quickly.
Now, Valley Parade is such a positive environment. A special place to be. We supporters have played a big part in the fact City are one of only six teams in the four divisions to remain unbeaten at home.