By Jason McKeown
Bradford City have bolstered their striker and right back department with the news that Vadaine Oliver and Brad Halliday have signed for the Bantams. The new arrivals take the number of close season signings up to 14.
Sheffield-born Oliver was originally on the books at Wednesday but never made an appearance. After being released exactly a decade ago, Oliver was snapped up by then-non league Lincoln City.
After scoring 11 times for the Imps, Oliver attracted the interest of several higher league clubs and signed for Crewe, then in League One. Over two seasons, the 6 foot 2 inch striker struggled for game time and in finding the back of the net. He was loaned out to League Two Mansfield in 2014/15 where he fared better, before moving to York City that summer.
At the time York City were in League Two but would be relegated in Oliver’s first season. He stayed on for a year in the National League, and in total scored 14 goals in 55 appearances over two years at Bootham Crescent.
The next few years saw more Oliver travelling, with a loan move to Notts County, permanent switch to Morecambe and a season at Northampton. That takes us to the end of the 2019/20, a season ended early because of the pandemic. At that point, Oliver’s career record read 47 league goals in 269 league appearances. A 1 goal in 5.7 games forward.
But then, something changed. In that Covid summer of 2020, Oliver signed for Gillingham and seemed to become a different player. Over 2020/21, Oliver netted an impressive 17 league goals in 43 appearances. That ranked Oliver top scorer in the whole of League One.
Oliver hit 10 goals in 39 appearances last season. Not quite as prolific, but given the Gills fell to relegation it was still a decent personal achievement for a striker in a struggling side. It means in the last two seasons Oliver has scored 27 goals in 82 appearances (1 in 3). A notable rise in his goal ratio, all suggesting he has a new goal edge to his game.
Oliver credits the-then Gillingham manager Steve Evans for his turnaround in fortunes, saying about a conversation the pair had when he joined, “He told me he thought there was more to my game, that I wasn’t just a target man and I could be a focal point and main goal threat for Gillingham. He said how he had worked with players like Chris Wood, helped to develop them and move them up the leagues. He wanted to do that with me and, thankfully, it has paid off. I’m reaping the benefits of working with him now.”
On his Gillingham success Oliver added, “Since I have come here, I’m not just a stationary target man – I’m a striker getting in among the goals. I have been allowed to show my goalscoring prowess in not just battling defenders to hold the ball up and bring others in.
“When you are scoring goals, it just breeds more confidence and you take that into each game.”
It is this sort of role Hughes will be looking for in Oliver, as he seeks to boost the potency of his forward line. Hughes has four strikers on his books and with a seeming preference to play 4-2-3-1 last season, that appeared to be a sufficient number. But with the diamond formation deployed twice in pre-season so far, he may feel more striker options might be needed.
The other question is whether City have enough goals in his forward line options next season. Kian Harratt and Jake Young are somewhat unknown quantities given their lack of senior career action so far, and Lee Angol has rarely been prolific, not to mention his injury problems. Still, all three have either signed for the club or agreed a new deal since Mark Hughes took over – signalling they are a part of the manager’s plans.
And that all leads us to Andy Cook. The City number nine has not had that same level of definitive want from Hughes, and there have been strong rumours he might leave.
WOAP understands there are no current plans to move on Cook and that he is deeply popular at the club. He has returned this pre-season in much better shape and has shown an impressive attitude. But at the same time, it looks from the outside as though he is far from guaranteed a starting place – and that was before Oliver’s arrival.
The big question is how Cook will feel about another striker rival, and if he is willing to fight for a first team spot. He will also note that Oliver has signed a three-year deal when Cook himself only has 12 months on his contract left. He will turn 32 in October and will recognise that – if City are successful in their ambitions to go up – he will probably be left behind (t. So if another club comes in now, offering greater security, it will no doubt prove tempting for him.
And given his excellent record at this level, there must surely be a few clubs taking notice of Oliver’s Valley Parade arrival and contemplating making a move for Cook.
That is all to be seen. But whatever happens, in Oliver City have just added a player with an impressive recent goal record. He appears to fit the bill of what Hughes wants from his forward line, and doubts over whether this City squad have enough goals have been partly answered.
Meanwhile Halliday’s arrival is potentially no less significant. The 27-year-old joins from Fleetwood Town after a 2021/22 campaign that ended in August. That was because Halliday did his ACL in the final few minutes of Fleetwood’s encounter at Sheffield Wednesday – he was stretched off at Hillsborough. Medical checks quickly ruled him out for the entire season, with then-Fleetwood boss Simon Grayson declaring, “I’m so sorry for the kid and I’ve been really excited about working with him.”
Prior to such a career blow, Halliday had spent two seasons at Doncaster in League One and was a regular. He was signed from Cambridge, where over three seasons he started 110 games in League Two.
Halliday will have been well known to Stephen Gent having started his career at Middlesbrough. He never played a game for the Teesside club, but cut his teeth through loan spells at York City, Hartlepool and Accrington. On his playing style Halliday said a year ago, “I’m an attacking full-back and I want to start adding goals and assists to my game in the upcoming season.”
He signs up for City a day after the Bantams’ pre-season defeat to Derby County had highlighted concerns about the full backs. Luke Hendrie is injured and behind him lies young Finn Cousin-Dawson – who struggled badly against the Rams – and an unwanted Oscar Threlkeld.
There are fair questions about whether Hendrie himself is a good enough starter right back for a club pushing for promotion, and Halliday could well be earmarked to be first choice. Either way, there’s competition there now when there didn’t seem to be enough.
The big remaining question is how well Halliday has recovered from such a serious injury. At the end of his time at Doncaster he also had some injury issues. He hadn’t figured in any of Fleetwood’s three friendlies so far. You suspect he is someone who needs to be carefully managed and eased in.
That’s all for another day. What matters now with this double signing news is that this Bradford City squad is getting stronger and stronger. And, on paper, these latest additions look like further shrewd moves.
The alternative view, Jason, would question the wisdom of a THREE year contract for a journeyman striker, whose goal scoring record, prior to his last club, is unimpressive. We’ve all seen the “one club” syndrome many times.
In addition, we’ve given a TWO year contract to a full back who is recovering from a serious injury.
I’ve lost count how big the squad is – but it must be approaching thirty. Only one game, I know, but only Lewis of the new signings looked anything like yesterday.
I really don’t share the optimism that’s being expressed on social media. Throwing a team together mainly comprised of newcomers rarely has immediate effect and we all know how impatient City fans are. I don’t think it’s going to be the cake walk many fans seem to be expecting.
i agree to some extent. We are in the great unknown with most of these signings , many of whom are very inexperienced in game time. Indeed i would have been happier had Paudie and Watt had resigned tbh. Stockport seem to be spending their ‘dosh’ and other clubs appear to have decent squads. I am not expecting automatic promotion like the ‘giddy brigade’ but i also saw signs in the last few games of the Hughes factor taking effect. TBF i am expecting some decent football and thats a start at least, then lets see where it gets us. But anyone predicting this and that is plain blind faith.
Caution is needed the moment any clown posts 100 points etc etc which I’m sure they have already!!
Bowyer and Adams must have cringed the moment they heard that being blurred out in song !
MH is a realist he will know this will take a while to kick in I’m happy if we are top 7 at turn of the year showing good form, as I would back him to find a way to get us promoted when crunch games come towards the end of the season.
Steven and Danny. You are absolutely right to be calling for a tempering of expectations. This is not just a rebuild of the xi but a rebuild of the squad.
However. To pick up on a couple of points. Longer contracts don’t necessarily all mean risk. We all know the modern game and how important “feeling wanted” is for modern players. or let’s put it bluntly. Financial stability. If the right kind of player isn’t having to think or worry about next season and can focus on the present, we can get the best out of them. Yes it may seem like an expensive gamble but I think the game has moved on and there’s not a lot the club can do about that.
Second re: watt and oconnor. Yes good players and settled in the team already. But sometimes a change is needed and can be more beneficial. I have no data to base this on but I’m hoping (“blind faith” a little bit) that this rings true for city. Having that new feel around the squad may allow Hughes and co to give these players the freedom without baggage to say go Make this your club. Make this your season. Shape it. Take ownership. If that kind of mantra can flourish were probably better off with a “new broom” instead of some players who’ve been around three years and kind of seen all the false dawns already.
I do share the cautious approach and I don’t expect anything like a cake walk.
But one thing I can say is I’m genuinely positive about the season ahead because I can see the intent and the club have done much more action than words unlike in previous close seasons where there’s been a lot of bluster!
Slightly contradictory to both complain about 3 year contracts and also throwing a new team together?
If we sign good players on a 1 year deal he could score 20 goals this year and move for free at the end of this year.
Seems like we are throwing money at it this year which feels like the bigger risk would be good for Sparks to confirm is we are still being ‘self-sustainable’ but maybe pushing the boat out on the back of some of the youth players leaving?
It always this way, at City or any other club.
Some of these new players will be a success, some will be Ok or Okish and some will not work out for whatever reason.
In addition as far as the fans are concerned I dont believe we will know what we have until we have seen 10 to 15 games..
We will see.
The cook situation is an interesting one. To be clear I want him to stay.
But the clubs smart approach must be acknowledged here. We have cook still in contract so it will be much harder for him to walk out the door to another league 2 rival this summer. It gives the club options rather than scrambling around with a fait accompli scenario just waiting for the inevitable exit from a popular player. Also means the player is likely to want to stay and fight knowing he potentially still has January to move if things aren’t panning out for him here.
Just an example of better holistic planning from the club.
Halliday looks a solid signing and in some ways at this level you almost have to accept the majority players aren’t going to play 50 games a season. So with a few rest periods etc it could work well having Hendrie and Halliday sharing the position over the season. Appreciate there might be a concern over consistency etc especially in the back line. But I think I’m the modern “squad game” this element could be less of an issue as perhaps is once was in the professional game.
As I’ve said before. I’m very happy at what I’m seeing so far watching the comings and goings this close-season.
I have to say I am underwhelmed by the pre season signings, a squad of around 30 average non heard of players is far too big and to have gone for a squad of 18 with a few statement of intent signings would have sat much better with me , looking at players released from the championship and league one we could have done so much better , yes more expensive but surely a more sensible approach than 30 unknowns or barely proven ,
Only time will tell …
You’re right. Only time will tell. In my time watching city (since 90/91) both approaches have been tried & failed. I don’t recall a scenario where the higher quality (higher cost) 18 man squad has worked. Not to say it hasn’t or couldn’t just that I don’t remember it.
The most recent examples however have shown we’ve failed when we haven’t had enough bodies or strength in depth. So on balance a larger squad is more likely to work. But as you say only time will tell. I for one and looking forward to finding out…
Not sure I completely agree with that.
Parky had a small, high quality squad compared to Taylor’s large “two players for every position” approach. However – you’re bang on in that that injuries and lack of depth have hurt us.
I do wonder what last season would have looked like if we could have kept Charles, Lee and Dion fit
There is plenty of room for optimism for the season. Of course it won’t be easy but we have a good mix of experience and youth and a joined up recruitment policy.
It’s a genuinely exciting time to follow the club.
I look at other squads and think, are they any better than ours on paper?
The answer honestly, is no. The problem is though, football isn’t played on paper. It all hinges on Hughes finding his best 11 and most importantly, a first choice forward line to punish teams. Get that right and a defence that is reasonably tight and we should be celebrating in May.
For the first time I feel quietly excited about this season, I agree quite a bit of what has been said about the squad but we must remember we are in division two. I believe the keeping of Jamie Walker and the signing of Smallwood and Lewis also bringing Doyle back is the glue for a good season, I know the proof is in the eating but the food on the plate looks good, Trust and Support