WOAP writers Jason McKeown, Katie Whyatt, Alex Scott and Tim Penfold run through the best and worst bits of the season.
Jason: Mark Marshall was a deserved winner of the player of the season. He was comfortably amongst the top five performers prior to Christmas, but then went on an exceptional run of form after January. I was at Northampton away where he came off the bench to completely change the game for his side. Since that point he has taken more responsibility for City’s performances and proved to be a match winner on so many occasions. Taking my daughter to watch City for the first time, she quickly formed a strong attachment to Marshall – he is her first City hero. So he’s a player I will fondly remember for a long, long time.
Katie: Long-time favourite of this parish James Meredith has been outstanding again, all season, and, if anything, has looked infinitely more dynamic in the wing-back role as part of the squad’s changing offensive shape. Early doors, he was a superbly intelligent ally for Billy Clarke and Nicky Law in the final third, and his daring, craft and (almost comically reckless) self-assurance have made him one of the most exciting players to watch again this season.
Alex: Josh Cullen. Top 5 player in the division and went from strength to strength as the season went on. Will be an excellent Championship player next season.
Tim: James Meredith was outstanding down the left flank. Either as a full back or a wing back he was key to the role – able to carry the ball 30-40 yards out of defence and cover an entire flank on his own. When Law was on song earlier in the season, he was able to drift infield and influence games because Meredith could cover, and, in the games he missed, there was an obvious hole. Honourable mentions for Josh Cullen and Mark Marshall.
Alex: Home form – The club have long been championing affordable football, working well with local communities to increase attendances through the gates. These efforts have now been matched with a team and a manager playing attractive, successful, inspiring football who have made football fun again.
Katie: Though now tainted somewhat by the outcome, Stuart McCall’s face as he led his team out at Wembley was one of the most endearing snapshots of the season and marked the apex of his many achievements this year. And that offside trap against Fleetwood, for its sheer nerve.
Tim: Fleetwood at home in the playoffs. A dominant display that got its rewards. Cullen was outstanding, Law and Clarke buzzed about and Rory McArdle did what Rory McArdle does in big games. The atmosphere around the ground was magnificent – it really did feel like we were on our way.
Jason: Having Stuart McCall back in the dugout and watching him thrive. Seeing worst fears of a repeat of his first spell quickly quashed by the fact he was so evidently a different, better manager this time around. McCall simply exudes pride and you can tell he is enjoying himself. He has handled the inevitable bumps in the road much better, and always conducted himself in a brilliant way. The highs and lows of the season have somehow felt sharper with McCall at the helm. Most of us are desperate for him to succeed.
Jason: The gut-wrenching pain experienced when Steve Morison got free from Nathaniel Knight-Percival to slam home the winner for Millwall at Wembley. We’ve been spoilt by so much success these last few years, and so such levels of misery felt incredibly brutal. To have a whole season decided in such fashion is as cruel as it gets.
Another disappointment was the pies at Morecambe – not as nice as I remember them!
Katie: It’s difficult at this stage to look beyond losing at Wembley. Now that the dust has settled a little, you can maybe be a tad thankful that City have another year of preparation before they have another crack at the Championship, but there was a numbness about me in the 24 hours following that defeat that, recency bias noted, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before, as a fan. With hindsight, maybe completing the fairytale would have been too perfect, but, still – ouch.
Alex: Sheffield Utd 3 Bradford 0 – After a few weeks on the charge City were ready to show the country they were ready to the take that next step and make a run at the automatics. Whilst they bounced back after their humbling at Bramhall Lane, they never seemed to get that attacking swagger back.
Tim: The 85th minute onwards at Wembley. What had the potential to be a great day ended up in disappointment and frustration, both at our toothlessness and the minority of Millwall idiots who caused the nasty scenes at the end of the game.
Tim: It’s got to be the Wembley security. They had been warned and warned and warned, yet failed to do anything about it. Utterly incompetent.
Katie: The lax stewarding at Wembley that allowed the Millwall fans to goad the City players at full time. Its stewards were ill-prepared for something as foreseeable as a pitch invasion – similarly unsavoury scenes had marred Millwall’s victory over Scunthorpe, so they can’t say they hadn’t been warned. Kudos to Steve Morison for condemning – unprompted on Sky – the pitch invaders; slightly less kudos to Aiden O’Brien for his post-match comments. Millwall have been striving to change their reputation and their community work is commendable, but they were undermined – again – by a foolish few, and Wembley’s belated response was too little, too late.
Jason: The messing about with a competition I love – the JPT / CheckaTrade Trophy. The Premier League B teams farce and the deregionalising of the latter rounds was a joke. The attraction of the competition was local games home and away – not having to travel 200+ miles to Cheltenham and Oxford (twice!)
Alex: Just have a shot, lads.
Jason: The attitude of Phil Parkinson towards City fans at Bolton away. I get that he was focused on winning the game, but not mentioning City in his programme notes, ignoring 5,000 fans who gave him a great reception, and the strange comments about City players diving afterwards was very odd. I’m pleased he went a long way to rectifying this unnecessary damage in the return fixture.
Tim: Vincelot at centre back for the first half of the season. When I saw us lining up with him at centre half I was genuinely worried, but he dealt with a 6 foot 5 centre forward brilliantly against Vale and meant that we had a defence that was both good defensively and excellent at playing the ball out.
Alex: Mark Marshall – As a Kyel Reid acolyte, I was sceptical when Marshall was brought in to replace him two years ago, and felt somewhat justified when Reid was brought back. I have been proven completely wrong on this one, and whilst peak Kyel Reid probably had a higher ceiling than Marshall, McCall has managed to get performances out Marshall I never thought he was capable of.
Katie: The fact I was weirdly enthralled by the EFL Checkatrade Trophy games. I compromised my principles three times to watch Stoke U23s, Bury and Cambridge and the games were decent spectacles and I can’t even pretend I’m sorry.
Alex: 3-3 v Sheffield Utd. That second half was the most fun I’ve had at Valley Parade in years.
Jason: The 3-3 draw with Sheffield United in October was one of the best games I’ve seen in years. It left you feeling proud not only to be a City fan, but to be a lower league supporter.
More than 20,000 were present at Valley Parade with both sets of supporters making an almighty racket. We were rewarded by two committed, attack-minded teams fighting tooth and nail to win the match whilst playing in the right spirit. Both managers led the mutual respect both clubs showed. Great fun.
Tim: Sheffield United at home. Two outstanding teams going all out for victory. Just wonderful football.
Katie: Having missed The Charlie Wyke game, I’ll plump for the 3-3 Sheffield United home draw. City looked suspect defensively that day but it was a game of blistering pace and twists. The 2-1 away win at Oldham was also a critical result and disciplined performance at a time when momentum was fading, and the unity the team showed in the celebrations was really notable. Honourable mention to the Fleetwood home leg.
Tim: The obvious choice here is Marshall’s screamer against Coventry at home, but I’m going for one at the Ricoh. Wyke wins the ball and shows good strength to play it on to Marshall, who draws the defender and slips it to Jones. Jones puts Hiwula through and Hiwula finishes. A great team goal.
Katie: I think, for the sheer theatre of it, the Charlie Wyke last-minute winner against Swindon. The technique wasn’t bad, either: it was almost artful, the way Wyke dragged the ball onto his left foot, like he had all the time in the world, before tapping home, under all that pressure. He’s one of the only ones in the squad who could have delivered that finish. I’m not sure what I think of the trend of putting goals to the Titanic theme but that particular edit worked especially well.
Jason: Charlie Wyke’s last minute tap-in against Swindon definitely triggered the biggest celebrations. James Hanson’s winner against Northampton on the Bobby Campbell remembrance night was written in the stars. Billy Clarke’s long range effort at MK Dons was special too. Even though he always scores against the Dons!
Alex: Billy Clarke at MK Dons. Symbolically this goal demonstrated this team was ready to challenge towards the top of the division early in the year, capping off an excellent first half. Technically, flashes like this show the player Billy Clarke could be if he could put it all together.
Jason: A tough one to answer this, as I’m not sure we ever achieved a completely perfect approach all season – hence the chopping and changing.
I liked having Marshall pushed up front with the licence to roam around, but every time this approach was tried with Billy Clarke on the field the impact was diminished. One of my favourite moments of the season was the first half of our October win over Shrewsbury, where the players dominated by continually swapping positions and proving impossible to pick up. Easier to do against weak opposition, but such levels of Total Football-like sophistication are something I never thought I’d see from a Bradford City team – never mind when playing in League One!
Katie: I’ve really liked the experiments with a front three this year. Charlie Wyke and Alex Jones looked really impressive in it and it’s helped to take Mark Marshall to another level, too.
Tim: I know it didn’t get us the best of results, but I really enjoyed seeing us try a 3-4-3 at times. This might be because I’m a tactics geek, but I’ve spent years watching us play a rigid 4-4-2 – it’s nice to actually work out what we’re trying rather than knowing automatically.
Alex: 4-3-3 with Mark Marshall and Alex Jones flanking Charlie Wyke. Despite McCall’s many experiments with formation, they often struggled with the same issue: they rarely looked like scoring. Having January recruits Jones and Wyke on the pitch at the same time gave them something of a cutting edge. How the manager gets the best out of these two next year will define how far they can go.
Katie: Despite his waning influence since the turn of the year, I think my main guy Nicky Law deserves a mention. He was probably the most predictable Valley Parade arrival for some time, coming, as he does, as part of a Buy One Get One Free deal with McCall, but he was probably the squad’s best player in the first half of the season. In McCall’s expansive, intricate approach, it felt at times that everything good about this team’s movements could be embodied in the slick dynamism and verve of Nicky Law, popping up in all quarters like one of those whack-a-mole games, impossible to stifle or contain. Regrettably, an injury-addled second half of the season as Law took on a more overtly central role has probably reduced him to that middling pack of *almost* Player of the Year winners, but his early role in setting the standards on the field was obvious and deserves ounces of praise. Had that early form been maintained, Law would absolutely be a legitimate Player of the Year contender.
Tim: Josh Cullen. It was only a loan but he dictated the way our team played for the entire season – without him, we were much worse. The signing was also a big one for the mood around the club – along with signing Romain Vincelot it showed that our owners meant business.
Jason: Josh Cullen deserves a big nod of appreciation but I’ll plump for Romain Vincelot. Relatively big money spent on him, sizeable expectations, and the captain’s armband to boot – there was a lot of pressure on the Frenchman. Vincelot has excelled through reinventing himself as a ball-playing centre half, allowing McCall’s flexible approach to thrive.
Vincelot has been influential all season with his class and composure a great leadership example. And that interview with Henry Winter in The Times was pure gold.
Alex: Josh Cullen was one of the best players in the division for the second half of last season and being able to bring him back significantly raised the floor of a team still finding its feet. It’s hard to imagine a side at this level failing to at least make a playoff challenge with Cullen at its heart.
Biggest factor behind the success of the team
Tim: A midfield that could keep possession and run games superbly. Cullen was at the heart of it, with Vincelot or Dieng providing solidity and Law (until about December) and Marshall providing creativity. Keeping the ball kept the pressure off the defence and allowed us to open up defences.
Katie: I think recruitment has been really, really important, at all levels. The nous of Greg Abbott is obvious, but it’s felt at times like every move they’ve made in the transfer market – bar McNulty and Vuckic – has been a masterstroke. Every gamble has paid off, and, more importantly, the quality of the characters they brought in at the start of the season – Vincelot being a really glaring one – set the tone for a campaign in which this squad’s obvious mettle and resilience carried them through.
Jason: Retaining the Parkinson grit. McCall definitely inherited quality over quantity when it came to the players at the club when he re-joined. The likes of Rory McArdle, Stephen Darby, James Meredith, Tony McMahon and Billy Clarke have built and maintained a strong winning mentality that has been the backbone of the more adventurous style of football. And people like Romain Vincelot, Matt Kligallon, Nicky Law, Josh Cullen and Charlie Wyke have embraced it. Whatever changes lie ahead this summer, the core dressing room values must be protected.
Alex: Recruitment. Whilst the core of the squad was certainly there when the new administration arrived, by no means was this year’s success a guarantee. They’ve done exceptionally well in difficult circumstances and will be looking to build on this in the summer to come.
Biggest factor behind falling short
Katie: We should probably change the record, but they can’t always finish, still, and that always leaves them prone to undoing all their good work. They could have been out of sight at Wembley but they were hindered by their shortcomings in front of goal. Morison and Gregory were only ever going to need one chance, and they took it: City had dozens but couldn’t make them count.
Tim: We missed far too many chances. Of the attacking players, only Wyke and Jones did well enough in front of goal. Hiwula, Clarke, Hanson and McNulty all missed far too many good opportunities, as did Cullen, Law and Marshall in midfield. We would dominate, we would create loads and then we just wouldn’t score. It was noticeable that towards the end of the season, with Wyke and Jones up front, the draws mostly stopped as we were taking our chances.
Alex: Failure to capitalise on pressure. For all their possession, City struggle to convert their dominance into chances. Possession football and attacking football are not the same thing. They do not have the finishers to convert half chances; they needed to create better chances.
Jason: The record against fellow top six teams simply wasn’t good enough. With a bit more care against Fleetwood, Bolton and Scunthorpe during the second half of the season, a top two finish could have been achieved. City trip themselves up through switching off (the Morison Wembley goal, where McArdle loses Gregory for a split second, sums this up).
You don’t have to score a hatful of goals to get promoted (although it helps), but you do need to be more switched on at the really crucial moments.
Categories: 2016/17 season review