Cast your mind back to a year ago. Our first season in League One had finished, and nervously to say the least. A terrific start led to an 18-game run without a win, followed by a good spell which put us in a mid-table finish. To be honest, most fans would have given their right arm for this outcome at the start of the year. The end of the season then saw the imminent disbanding of the much loved ‘history makers’ squad. This was hard to take with the likes of Gary Jones leaving but we knew the likes of Jones and Doyle couldn’t quite take us where we wanted to go, even if they were part of the first fourth tier team to get to a major cup final. (I know, we don’t mention it enough). The sentimental feeling towards that squad is comparable to the current crop. We currently face the departure of players who were part of another historic year in Bradford’s history. Yeates and Halliday were two of the four goal scorers at Stamford Bridge and yet they have been shown the door by Parky. This is why the Hanson to Millwall rumours are evoking such an emotional response from city fans.
There is a difference, though, to last year. Our current squad ’s core is a lot stronger. It has a strong League One core with, in my opinion, a few who could really cut it in the Championship. What is clear, though, is that we need a significant influx of players to take us where we want to go. Promotion this year is paramount to keep up the momentum we have built and to retain and add to our growing, passionate and vocal fan base. Also what is VERY important is to keep Parky because another year in League One may lead to the unthinkable outcome of his not extending his contract in June 2016.
In the off-season last year Parky was buying players to fit into a diamond formation. I first saw the diamond used last year against Peterborough where Parky put Reach in behind Stead and Hanson to try get the best out of our most skilful player, whilst retaining two strikers. It worked well that night and has worked this year as we’ve seen Yeates, Knott and,most significantly, Clarke all play that role well during certain spells. The problem with this formation is width. With attacking full backs such as Meredith it shouldn’t be a problem but nevertheless we have seen us run out of ideas as teams just dropped deep against us, which completely nullified any width we had. I am a fan of the diamond but I do believe we need a ‘Plan B’ which would be to play withnatural wingers, in either 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 (depending who’s on the pitch). Hopefully Parky will have this in mind in the summer because he has already hinted at it by admitting we needed more options off the bench.
We currently have two wingers in Morais and Mottley-Henry. Morais is quality and I back Mottley-Henry to break through if he is managed correctly and not thrown in too soon, which I think McBurnie unfortunately was. That aside, we do need to bring in some wingers. Also, what is obvious is that we need a goalkeeper and some cover in the centre of the park following the departure of Kennedy and Dolan. A centre-forward also should be on the shopping list. Stead and Hanson do contribute goals and hold the ball up well but we need a 15-plus goals a season striker to give us that extra edge. Billy Clarke has been endorsed to fill that void following an impressive goal scoring end to the season, but personally I see him as a number 10. He is a terrific player but when started upfront last season on a few occasions he was liable to going missing for periods of the game. On top of this, Darby is a fantastic skipper and personifies Bradford City values but we have seen his form drop this season, especially offensively. He needs someone good in the squad who can play in his position to keep him on his toes. The thinking behind this is that it worked fantastically well when Sheenan was brought into the team ahead of Meredith which forced him into upping his game - which started with that glorious performance against Leeds.
Since the takeover hasn’t happened, as usual free transfers will be used almost exclusively as our transfer policy. The difference this year though is we have more money than usual following our historic and lucrative Cup run. Hopefully this will mean we can command higher wages in the market which, alongside our 5000-plus increase in season ticket sales, could lead to the signing of better players who can propel us into the championship. On the staff side of things our current set up seems to be working like a charm but it would be criminal not to mention the fact Gary Jones is out of contract. At his age he must be considering retirement from playing and in my opinion his connection to our Club and to members of the current squad suggest that the Club should consider a coaching role for him. Who wouldn’t want to see Jones back at Valley Parade and in our dugout again?!
• Goalkeeper – Missing out on an early transfer target in Richard O’Donnell was a major blow as he seemed to fit the mould perfectly. However, Lonergan from Bolton should be a target in my mind. He has Championship experience and is in the prime age for goalkeepers. Other names that must be mentioned are Jack Alnwick from Newcastle who is a free agent. He has bags of potential and will have some resale value. There have also been hints of getting Pickford back on loan which would be great news but I feel we need a permanent keeper who can gel with the back four. This can only be achieved through longevity.
• Right Back – Joe Edwards is another young talentwith pace who has been released by Yeovil. He also has Championship experience and has also scored in that league. Nathan Byrne of Swindon and Jordan Spence of MK Dons are two attacking full backs, nearing the end of their contracts. They would fit into our diamond formation perfectly because, like Meredith, they can provide attacking width with their pace coming from deep.
• Centre midfield – I think in this position youth and energy are key. As we saw this year, players like Knott playing next to Liddle can inject pace and creativity into the team more competently than Doyle/Ravenhill used to do. This will be a tough position to fill but a suggestion would be a player such as Lee Evans from Wolves. He doesn’t have too long left on his contract so maybe a loan deal with an option on it may be a possibility.
• Wingers – Martin Woolford has been a name batted around already and you can see why. He is a goal scoring Championship winger who is out of contract; he could turn out to be quite a coup. In recent years we have benefited from loanee wingers from higher level teams, most notably Reach. But names like Hines, Turgott and Burke come to mind. These deals are usually done after pre-season but someone like Josh Murphy from Norwich comes to mind. A young, pacey and hungry talent who needs games under his belt to prove himself. Also, Joel Grant from Yeovil is out of contract this summer. He wasn’t a starter every week last year but did contribute three goals and many assists. Tony McHahon, as we all know, can also play on the wing but I think he should be a second choice. He is a useful utility player who works hard but we need more than that if we want to compete at a higher level.
• Centre forward - This is the position that Parkinson would get stick over, if he wasn’t God incarnate in the eyes of city fans. (And also the amount of success he’s had!) Wells and Stead are obviously his stand-out signings in this position but beyond that flops like Folan, Gray and Mclean spring to mind. There will be A LOT of competition over these players this summer, especially the ones out of contract but these are the few I believe can add something to our squad. We have seen thiscompetition already by missing out on the prolific Andy Williams to Doncaster. It is mind-boggling that Bakary Sako is just about to run out of contract. He is proven at League 1 and Championship level and can come inside from the wing. Also Jay Emanuel Thomas, who is younger than he looks, probably won’t be signing a new contract with Bristol City. He played well with the infamous Target Man Matt Smith this year. This should mean he will be able to strike up a relationship with Hanson, the like of which we haven’t seen since the departure of a certain Bermudan. We will face much competition from clubs with bigger budgets for these two players so we need alternatives. Josh McQuoid who is out of contract could prove a good signing from Bournemouth, alongside Chris Maguire from Sheffield Wednesday. These two players are proven goal scorers. Nick Proschwitz from Brentford would be a useful signing but he is more of a target man up front, a role we are not short of with Hanson and the imminent signing of Stead. Although we may need to find a Hanson replacement in the near future. God I hope not.
As always with City, it probably won’t pan out perfectly or goto plan, but all I know is that I have 110% faith in Sir Phil Parkinson. With transfers, sometimes reputation means nothing, even at the top level shown by Falcao’s indifferent season with Manchester United or Aaron Mclean’s dismal spell with us. Rough diamonds such as Nahki Wells, are hard to find and hard to predict. We don’t live in a world like football manager where player’s ability and potential are set in stone statistically. Sometimes it takes 3 bad ones to find a good one. Our Job as fans is to get behind whomever Parky signs and pray for another outrageous, memorable and emotional rollercoaster ride of a season!