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.