Another season, and another player of the season vote without an abundance of stand out performers to choose from. It’s not that every Bradford City player was bad – at least not by 2018/19 standards – but it was once more a far from vintage year.
Width of a Post regular writers Jason McKeown, Tim Penfold, Alex Scott and Adam Raj – plus our Facebook page editor Gareth Walker – have voted for their top five players. The results have been totted up – and we can now reveal our top five Bradford City players for 2020/21.
In 5th place…Andy Cook
It’s fair to say that when Andy Cook was signed on loan from Mansfield Town in January, pulses were far from racing. The 30-year-old had made little impact at Field Mill and, given the Stags struggles, bringing in a forward who couldn’t even get in their team seemed a far from obvious route to improve City’s goal return.
Yet with eight goals from 15 starts, Cook has made a notable impact at Valley Parade. His two-goal burst in the Bantams’ surprise 2-0 away victory at Champions-elect Cheltenham gave him the platform for a run of goals. Given the recently signed Danny Rowe had made a strong initial impression, Cook was expected to play second fiddle. But he wrestled hold of the number one striker spot and lead the line impressively, as City pulled clear of relegation.
Other highlights from Cook included a well-worked finish against former club Walsall, a brilliant header at Colchester and a two-goal burst in City’s emphatic 4-1 Good Friday win over Forest Green. In that same game, Cook even nearly bettered Lee Novak’s goal of the season with a stunning volley from the half way line that hit the crossbar.
Back as Mansfield, manager Nigel Clough faced more than a few uncomfortable questions about why he had let Cook out on loan. Town do have the option to keep Cook next season, but City will surely be going all out to make Valley Parade his permanent home.
A really enjoyable loan spell. One that’s been good for the club and the player.
In 4th place…Levi Sutton
Another signing judged negatively before he began, Levi Sutton rocked up in the summer to be reunited with his former manager Stuart McCall. He’d struggled to nail a regular spot at his hometown club Scunthorpe United, and there was a feeling City were replacing Danny Devine with the Iron’s own homegrown version of the lightweight midfielder.
The fact Sutton made such a slow start to the campaign, not helped by a suspension carried over from Scunthorpe, and then getting injured, didn’t help him to make an early impact. And when he was stupidly sent off at Barrow in only his third league start, those early judgements looked accurate.
But under Mark Trueman and Connor Sellars, Sutton became a player reborn. Handed a defensive midfield role alongside Elliot Watt in the 4-2-3-1, the system was made for his strengths. He always looks like he enjoys making tackles and doing the ugly things, and the set-up has also allowed Sutton to carry the ball forwards and support attacks, which he has largely done well.
Sutton has scored two cracking goals along the way, in away games at Grimsby and Walsall, and become a mainstay of the team. Clearly, this season has been a big leap forwards for the 24-year-old. And just as Devine has found a degree of success in moving away from a club where he was forever viewed as a youth player product, Sutton has benefitted from the change of scenery and shown his true worth as a professional footballer.
He’s a player who has won around fans because of his whole-hearted style of play. And he looks like someone who can play a big part in City’s long-term future.
In 3rd place…Elliot Watt
It’s amazing to think that Elliot Watt had only ever started 12 Football League matches before this season. At 20 and having realised there was little future hanging around in Wolves’ under 21 side, Watt has made the big leap into true senior football and must surely have exceeded even his own expectations. Should he play at Morecambe on Saturday, he will have started 43 of City’s 46 league matches this season. A huge stride forwards in his experience and development.
Watt still has a rawness for sure and will look back on a campaign that featured a few difficult moments. But, overall, he has enjoyed an excellent breakthrough season. Catching the eye for his strong passing ability and accuracy at long passes in particular. With Sutton the main ball winner alongside him, Watt has been able to instigate attacks from deep and became a key cog in the 4-2-3-1 system.
City’s best moments this season have inevitably featured Watt on top of his game. He has averaged 52.3 passes per 90 minutes – the fourth highest across the whole of League Two. He’s also chipped in three well-taken goals and a couple of assists. These returns will inevitably get better with more experience, but it’s no surprise that Watt is rumoured to have attracted interest from Hull City.
He has a bright future ahead. Hopefully, it’s one the Bantams will continue to benefit from for some time.
In 2nd place…Paudie O’Connor
It’s taken a while for Paudie O’Connor to really get going at Bradford City. Originally brought in on loan by David Hopkin in 2018/19, he only got a chance when Gary Bowyer took charge at the end of that season. And even when he signed a permanent deal in the summer of 2019, he failed to nail down a regular starting place over 2019/20.
Paudie has found much more joy this time around, initially faring well in Stuart McCall’s 3-5-2 set up, where he remained the middle central defender who held the line whilst the wide centre backs, Anthony O’Connor and Reece Staunton, were encouraged to carry the ball forwards. And though he did see a dip in form over the final weeks of McCall – as did most players – Paudie has truly shown his capabilities since the change of manager.
O’Connor has stepped up hugely in Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars’ 4-2-3-1 formation, relishing the battles at the back and more often than not coming out on top against wily League Two forwards. He never looks intimidated and plays with an aggressive edge. On occasion he does overstep the mark and can consider himself lucky to have avoided a couple of red cards, but that high intensity has served him well.
Often picked as captain by Trueman and Sellars, Paudie has grown with the responsibility and looks a true leader. If he can just cut out the occasional error and curb his temper better (13 yellow cards is not great), he looks like a player with the capability of playing at a higher level.
Paudie spent the first 18 months of his time at Valley Parade threatening to be a good player, but over the last six months he’s started to live up to that potential. O’Connor has played a huge part in City’s largely excellent defensive record over the second of the season, and he is a key reason why the Bantams pulled clear of relegation trouble.
And the winner is…Callum Cooke
It was probably the biggest coup of the summer when it was announced Callum Cooke would return to Bradford City. His loan spell of 2019/20 had started so well before he faded, but he was not helped by the fact he was being asked to play deep.
As we’ve seen since December, Cooke’s real strengths lie in playing further forward in the number 10 role.
Cooke did as well as anyone in the first third of the season when City were largely struggling. There was some difficulty accommodating both Callum and Billy Clarke in the same side, given their similarities, but when the pair did start together City rarely lost under McCall.
But it was when Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars came in and introduced the 4-2-3-1 that Cooke fully blossomed, as he was pushed forward to number 10. It seemed as though the team was built around his strengths, and Cooke had a terrific run of form in late December and over January and February, when City enjoyed their best run of results of the season. With only three goals, Cooke is set to fall short of McCall’s pre-season target of hitting double figures, but his six assists were hugely valuable.
Cooke’s best asset is his ability to keep possession. He has an average pass success rate of 83.3% – that’s the joint highest in the whole of League Two, tied with Bolton’s Kieran Lee. Such excellent ball retention was a really key part in making the 4-2-3-1 successful, given City were relatively reserved in committing players forward. When they did attack, they had to make it count – and Cooke played a massive part in ensuring City were clinical at taking their chances.
As we saw after Cooke was injured in the Bolton draw, his influence was hugely missed when he was out injured for six weeks. All season long, City have won 44% of their matches when Cooke has started – compared to 20% (just four games!) without him.
By any measure, Cooke is proving to be a terrific signing. He’s had lots of clubs before City and struggled to make a sustained impact, but he’s thriving at Valley Parade, and demonstrating just what a quality player he is. Assuming no higher league clubs come in for him during the summer, Cooke is a player who can drive the Bantams forward next season.
In a season that was a tough watch at times, it was an absolute joy at least seeing Cooke at the top of his game.
A quick mention to Anthony O’Connor and Lee Novak, who also received votes. And a nod to Reece Staunton who started the season so impressively and – up until his season-ending injury – was the early front runner to take the player of the season award.
Past WOAP Player of the Season winners
2011/12: Luke Oliver
2012/13: Gary Jones
2013/14: Stephen Darby
2014/15: Rory McArdle
2015/16: Reece Burke
2016/17: Mark Marshall
2017/18: Matt Kilgallon
2018/19: Paul Caddis
2019/20: No award, as season curtailed
Categories: 2020/21 season review