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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Inside Line: Bradford City (03/08/13)

The countdown is over, the new season is almost upon us and with that comes the introduction of a brand new feature on The Exiled Robin.

Each week, with the help of some esteemed fellow writers, I'll be bringing you a fan's take on the opposition, giving you the chance to find out a little more about them ahead of the match.

Now you may have thought we'd been relegated but as we kick off the season against last season's League Cup runners-up, a side that went on to win at Wembley, surely that's not true? Bradford City had a remarkable season last time out, one which they surely can't repeat, although you can't help but feel we may have drawn the short straw in pulling them first, whilst last years elation and confidence is still so prominent.

I spoke to Mahesh Johal from "The Width of a Post" - a thoroughly comprehensive website following the Bantams and he gave me a in-depth view of what we can expect from Phil Parkinson's Claret and Amber army.

First of all, congratulations on a fantastic season last year – a superb cup run which I think we all enjoyed, and ultimately two Wembley appearances, the last of which means you’re here today.
It’ll be hard to top that this season, won’t it?
"Yes, last year will be hard to top! Firstly, it was an amazing achievement to get promoted and to do it at Wembley was the perfect finish to the season. The cup run, which in itself was a dream, was the best bonus any League Two team could ask for. To have the media attention and all eyes on you is surreal feeling for the club and the fans. 


The Wembley appearance was a memorable but poignant occasion for a club touched by tragedy



I had never been to Wembley (as a City fan) so to go there twice was in the space of three months was magical. Regardless of the result on the first trip to see that much claret and amber in one stadium and to see the outpouring of passion is a sight and feeling that I will never forget. The chant ‘this is the best trip I’ve ever been on’ was so true on that day. 

The second final seemed more like a business trip and we went there to get the job done. The ecstasy of finally scoring at Wembley (after conceding five the first time round) was one thing, but to go three up in less than half an hour was something else. I feel lucky to be a part of that season, but I’m looking forward to this new one."

So, everyone’s pretty pleased with the gaffer, Phil Parkinson, one assumes?
"Yes, 'pleased' is a word that could describe it. We've been looking for several years to find someone like him - a manager to get us out of League Two and someone we can progress further up the football pyramid. He seems to have a real passion for the job and the club and sees the potential in us (rejecting the chance to talk to Championship club Blackpool last season epitomises this). I recently voted in the FL125 club poll and he was a way ahead as our best manager.  A lot of managers talk a good game but fail to deliver, and Bradford have had many. Parky has a clear picture of how he wants to run the club and team and he has delivered that."

How has the squad held up, are many of last season’s heroes still with you or have the vultures swooped?  I remember from your cup games the pace of Wells and delivery of Gary Jones in particular standing out, whilst Matt Duke showed what a top quality ‘keeper he can be on his day?
"We've kept the core our promotion squad that was key. The likes of Andrew Davies, Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones all signed new deals. They could have gone to clubs in higher divisions so to keep them is a real positive for all connected to the club. Nahki is still with us. Peterborough apparently put an offer in and Burnley have been linked. I'm resigned that he will leave one day but at the moment he's wearing claret and amber and doing well in pre-season.

Matt Duke has actually left the club. He was awesome in the cup run and has definitely won the hearts of the City faithful. But, he was always prone to an error and found himself on the bench after the cup run. I think we offered him a deal but he wanted guaranteed football and left for Northampton. I really hope he does well because he was such a massive part of last season."

And which other members of your squad do we have to look out for this season, has Parkinson added to the squad well?
"From the present squad, I'd say Nathan Doyle. A central midfielder, he was a class above League Two and I think he will be really well suited to League One.   I also hope James Hanson does well. After such a great season last year I think he could be one to really watch. He might not score the goals like Wells but his all round play and work rate will cause teams problems!

We've brought in a couple of midfielders, Jason Kennedy from Rochdale and Mark Yeates from Watford. The latter seems to be a real live wire on the wing and has had a great pre-season by all accounts. He played under Parky at Colchester and his experience and ability on the ball make him a real threat. We're in the hunt for another keeper. Gary Woods – who got promoted with Doncaster last season - has been training with us so he may potentially fill the void."

So what are your expectations for the season, is a successive promotion out of the question, or will you spend the season looking over your shoulder?
"We built a very good squad last season. It's one that is resilient and obviously believe in each other. With the new players, promotion could be on the cards but we need to respect this league. We thought we'd waltz league two and it took six years to get out of it. The clubs on a high and we shouldn't fear anyone. I'd love another promotion but if someone offered me a solid mid table I'd take it. After being in League Two, I don't want to be back there so if we're to consolidate and push the season after then fine."

Bradford will be chasing a second successive promotion this season

Who do you think will go up, and down?
"I’m pretty terrible at predictions so I’ll say that all teams have a chance at promotion and relegation! However, the usual names like Wolves, Sheff Utd, you guys, Brentford should be there and thereabouts for promotion.  Its a bit of a cop out but I genuinely think there are at least 10-15 teams that would back themselves to be in a promotion/play off hunt. Relegation wise, I am again unsure."

Bradford have received a lot of positive press regarding their dynamic and low ticket price policy over the past few years.  Can you explain to the readers a little about what the club has done, and will it continue this year?
"It is continuing. Season tickets are £200, which is great value whatever league you're in and we've sold over 11,000 for this season. We also have the flexi-card where you pay £50 for a seat and then get to buy match day tickets at £10 per game (half price). I live and work in Manchester so the flexi-card is brilliant as it's difficult to commute mid week back home."

From the memory bank, I can recall two particular games against the Bantams that were notorious from a Bristol City point of view.  Firstly a 1-0 victory at Valley Parade in the 1989 League Cup quarter-finals (perhaps you should have drawn Arsenal!) that preceded our very own oh-so-nearly-glorious moment in a televised semi-final against then-giants Nottingham Forest, where the width of a post (see what I did there!) kept us from reaching Wembley.

The second occasion was a quite horrible wet, windy autumn day when we’d just appointed the unknown Benny Lennartsson as manager and we got demolished 5-0. It just rained and rained all day, and I remember leaving Exeter whilst at University at 7am and getting back home at 11pm, soaked through after our car broke down on the way home!

Do you recall either of those games, or are there any others in fairly recent memory that have stuck in your mind?
"I like the pun! Yes, I remember the 5-0 game as it was in our Premier League promotion season. I remember it in particular because my Dad went to the game. He is not the biggest football fan and we watched the game on our old Kop. We were on a great run at the time and the team were in buoyant mood.  It was one of those game were everything we touched came off. Correct me if I am wrong but I’m sure there was a bit of a freak own goal?"

And finally, your recent record against us is very good, with six wins and two draws from our last eight meetings, scoring 19 goals in the process.  Indeed, at Ashton Gate you’ve won three of the last four – are we in for an opening day shock?
"I wasn’t aware of that record and it is quite good. Of course I’d like three points and I think all fans want their teams to win in the first game of the season but I’m more concerned about having a good performance. 

For us, there’s a real sense of optimism around the place, so it would be good to get a good result but I think Bristol will be a hard place for teams to go. For me personally, I want to see a good performance in these early season games. As we know from the last campaign, the season will be a long slog and wont be defined by the first game of the season."

In fact the statistical record is particularly - worryingly - one-sided.  Of the last 27 league games stretching back to 1908, Bradford have won 19 with five draws. City’s only wins in this time were in 1910, 1985 and 1996.  Perhaps a maximum return is too much to hope for to kick off our re-acquaintance with the third tier?

My thanks to Mahesh for his time and I hope you enjoy reading this first of many editions of 'The Inside Line'.


The Exiled Robin

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Jon Stead - farewell to an adopted $h!thead!

When a Huddersfield fan asked me for my thoughts on Jon Stead's recent form following his move 'home', I put this together.  Thanks to @Terrier1987Cas for the opportunity to write about one of my favourite recent City players for his site: http://htafcblogspace.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/AreTownReady.html


It's probably safe to say that when Jon Stead signed for Bristol City, fans were excited about the prospect of a 'big' name joining us and boosting our strike force, but there was undoubtedly an element of concern at the prospect of another journeyman footballer turning up, someone whose career appeared to be on a downward trajectory and of whom the main memories were long barren, goal-less runs of games in the Premier League for Blackburn and Sunderland.

Thankfully, he leaves us three years later as one of the most popular players to have pulled on a red shirt in recent memory. If you want a 25-goal a season striker, then Stead isn't your man. That's partly because he's not as adept at sniffing out opportunities  as, say, Jermaine Defoe, but it's mainly due to the fact that he does most of his good work in the build up to the chance, working the pitch to its limits and stretching defences wide.

He really announced himself to City fans with a stunning long range strike live on Sky against QPR, but the most telling moment of Stead's stay came at the end of the 2011/12 season, when he was carried shoulder-high from the pitch having spent much of the previous two months metaphorically doing the same for many of his team-mates, driving us clear of a desperate relegation scrap with an immense effort, dedication and no little skill.

He was named Player of the Season that year. Not surprising you may think having read the above? However, what was remarkable about that award was that until the last few days of February he had only played six hours of football, having missed most of the first three-quarters of the season with injury or just by being out-of-favour. 14 wholly committed appearances were enough to win the vote by a landslide, as reviewed in my end of season review for that season - http://exiledrobin.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/we-are-staying-up-so-what-next.html.

Perhaps this past season the desire for more of a goal threat blinded then-manager Derek McInnes to Stead's natural attributes, as the big name summer signings were Sam Baldock and Steven Davies. Stead still managed to oust them fairly regularly, but didn't get into a run of games until it was too late.

His obvious love of the club and the local area, regularly portrayed via his ever-expanding use of Twitter, instilled even more support and popularity for the man, and his touching words upon leaving were said with a level of sincerity and grace too few modern footballers seem capable of grasping.

Very few players leave a club without a notorious minority saying good riddance, or castigating said player for their desertion. However in Stead's case, across hundreds and hundreds of tweets and forum posts, there was not a single dissenting voice with many echoing similar words, generalised into something along the lines of:
"Thanks for all the effort Jon, I just wish more in our team had your commitment, heart and desire - we don't see many players like you in today's game"

And I think that's all you really need to know.

The Exiled Robin

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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Who is Scott Wagstaff? The Addicks' take on our latest signing

Rarely can a signing have been made so under the radar as Scott Wagstaff's arrival at Ashton Gate last week.  Not a hint of a rumour until the day before, and not one of the more famous names around the leagues, Wagstaff's introduction had many a fan scrabbling around in their memory banks to work out who he was, where he played, and in some instances, when they'd seen him play.

Totally overshadowed by the signing of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and his #WED explosion onto City fans' Twitter timelines, Wagstaff has been portrayed in the local media as the sort of industrious wide man we haven't really seen since Michael McIndoe left the club - not that any of the more recent inhabitants were particularly lazy, but the balance O'Driscoll is clearly looking for certainly involves all of the midfield tracking back and being part of the defensive unit - something which leads me to suggest he'd be one of the least unhappy to see Albert Adomah leave Ashton Gate, as arguably the most talented player in the side doesn't fit that particular bill and gives the gaffer a headache he'd probably prefer not to have.

Whilst some of you will have seen for yourself a little of what Wagstaff can offer, having played 70 minutes of the home friendly against Glasgow Rangers, opposition fan reviews of new signings are amongst the most popular posts on these pages, so bearing in mind the low-key nature of 'Waggys' arrival, I thought it best to double up and get not only a first, but a second opinion.

Dan Webster, who goes by the Twitter moniker of Rambling Addick and has his own website featuring all things Charlton, "Ramblings of a Football Fan" is first to offer his views and suggests a slight contradiction with the above assumption.

"Charlton found themselves in a bizarre situation at the beginning of the 2012/13 season. After Chris Powell oversaw a clearout of the playing squad, 22-year old Scott Wagstaff became the club’s longest serving player. 

He was scouted at the age of eight, represented the club throughout the youth teams, and collected the young player of the year award in 2008 after Alan Pardew handed him his debut in the Championship. Most of his appearances were made during the three year period that Charlton found themselves marooned in League One, and his release came after a season where he struggled to break into a side whose fortunes fluctuated, but came good in the final run-in.

Wagstaff is an energetic right-midfielder, often running for the whole 90 minutes. The effort is unquestionable, but the lack of opportunities last season reflected the lack of confidence in his end product. That said, he did score when he made his first start of the season. 

Powell preferred both Lawrie Wilson and Bradley Pritchard on the right, who were probably more limited in terms of attacking prowess, but could tuck inside and offer more effective defensive cover. 

A lot would say Wagstaff was unfairly short of opportunities to show he was a capable player at Championship level.  He’s definitely someone who makes things happen going forward, with his pace as well as opportunistic positioning in the box, but he needs (and deserves) a good run of games to give him the confidence to push on. 

Hopefully signing for Bristol City helps him achieve exactly that. A man who deserves success."


Next, Al Gordon returns, a previous contributor to these pages when he introduced the Addicks back to the Championship last summer.  He offers a similar viewpoint on Wagstaff, with a gut feel that City have got themselves a decent player.

I always hoped Scott Wagstaff would become another Johnny Robinson.  Robbo wore his heart on his sleeve, ran down the wing taking on full backs as he went and crossed a useful ball into the box. He also chipped in with his fair share of goals from scrappy tap-ins to thirty yard screamers. The main thing about our Welsh wizard was that he loved Charlton, was proud to wear the shirt and gave his all every single week. I suppose in some ways Waggy has fulfilled my expectation.

A lot quieter vocally on the field than Robinson, his football although similar failed to make quite the same impact and he moves on having been released by The Addicks when his contract expired. He has of course ventured West, just like Robinson who left under similar circumstances and went to your dear friends in the Welsh capital a decade earlier.

Scott joined Charlton aged eight and during fifteen years in South London has represented the club at every level, by far and away our longest servant. He’s witnessed all the lows as we dropped down the divisions and played his part on the way back up. Bled into the first team (many believe a little too early) by the dreadful Alan Pardew, he would develop under Phil Parkinson and then blossom under Chris Powell becoming a regular in our final two League One seasons.

Last season, our first back in the Championship, he showed glimpses of what was on offer but a lack of opportunity and, ultimately, a lack of ability brought the curtain down on his time at Charlton. There was a three match spell during the last campaign when Scott returned from a loan spell at Leyton Orient and really gave his all as he set out to show the boss he was worthy of a gamble.

Heaven knows, the popular winger had the support of the crowd behind him, you should have seen his face when he scored against Blackpool at The Valley in January, I’m sure he was expecting to walk back into the dressing room and be handed a new contract to sign.

At only twenty three years of age there is still a lot of good football to come from Waggy, he’s got the legs, the desire and the will to succeed and will tear into League One defences with a fury. It may well seem to the uninitiated like a backward step at the moment but as he progresses as a player he could just have what it takes to grow hand in hand with a club and still yet become a player of true Championship quality.

I really hope he not only succeeds at Bristol City but has a long and prosperous time there. He’s far too likable and loyal to end up becoming another lower league journeyman."


My sincere thanks to Dan and Al for the time taken to write up these reviews.  

Whether or not Wagstaff becomes an integral part of the team remains to be seen, but what does seem clear is that City have signed a solid League One performer who'll work hard for the team, and hopefully see this as a chance to prove a point.


The Exiled Robin

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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Can JET help Bristol City soar to promotion?

Undoubtedly the headline signing of the summer so far, Paul Anderson made way this week for Jay Emmanuel-Thomas' arrival from Ipswich Town, a somewhat maverick character but one City fans will remember in particular for a stunning performance when directing unfashionable Doncaster (now, who was their manager that day?) to a 5-2 demolition at Ashton Gate.

The flourish of his signing was matched by significant fan's excitement, at the potential of having an impact player who can unlock games and score stunning goals as well as cause havoc amongst the opposition defence, the type of player we've seen all too rarely over these past few, fairly barren years.  A crescendo was reached when 'JET' took to Twitter, engaged in mass interaction with his new fans and introduced them to #WED (apparently an abbreviation of an East-London phrase What Else Den), seemingly exclusively used by JET.  If he'd had a massive and expensive PR team behind him, I doubt they could have done a better job at introducing their man to his new, already adoring public.

But what lies behind the fanfare and the social interaction?  Some lingering doubts remain, and this is undoubtedly a bit of a make-or-break move for JET.  If he's that good, that talented, why has he not made it at Portman Road? Why did he have a disappointing short spell at Cardiff City on loan?

As a former highly-rated Arsenal trainee there is certainly a basis to work with, but no more than that.  Clutches of performances for a series of league clubs have produced some flashes of what is possible, but without ever having enough consistency to look like getting back into the top flight.



Every time we sign anyone who has played for Ipswich I'm personally delighted, as it gives me the opportunity to invite the eloquent Gavin Barber back to these pages to talk all about him.  Gavin's posts always invite comment and praise in equal measure, so let's find out what he thinks of our new man:


"The first time I encountered Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was, ironically, at Bristol City. In the away dressing room to be precise. It was the first game of the 2011/12 season and my son was the Ipswich mascot: he’d been invited into the dressing room before the game to get some autographs. He’d been round most of the team when one of the other Ipswich players that day, Damien Delaney, kindly stopped to ask if there were any autographs he hadn’t got. “I just need Jay Emmanuel-Thomas”, he replied. “Jay Emmanuel-Thomas!” exclaimed Delaney, puffing out his cheeks. “He could be… anywhere”.

JET had been an Ipswich player for less than two weeks at that point, so I was instantly impressed that his team-mates already considered him to be a man of such mystique that he could completely disappear from inside a changing room. “He’ll be in the toilet”, piped up one of the coaches, “listening to his music”. And sure enough he emerged, high-spec headphones over his head, seeming contemplative over his upcoming Ipswich debut. My son got his autograph (as you can see from the picture) and JET seemed like a nice chap.


A week later it was JET’s first league game in an Ipswich shirt at Portman Road, a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Hull City. I remember the moment when I heard the first moans about JET from the miserable sod who sits a few rows behind me – I looked at the time and it was precisely one hour into that home debut. “Bladdy hell, JET” barked our reliably glum friend, “git a bladdy move orn. Or git orf”.

JET’s distinctive style of play – apparently languid but usually astute – was always going to be a source of frustration for the sort of supporters who see Running Around A Lot and Kicking The Ball Very Hard as the primary virtues for any footballer. Judging by his later tactics and team selection, it was a view shared by then-Town manager Paul Jewell. By September JET had been relegated to the bench, considered a luxury in what quickly became a struggling side, and he was to be in and out of the team for the rest of his Town career.

That was a shame because on his day, JET is one of the few players in the Championship who can really lift a game out of the sludge of mediocrity that characterises so many fixtures at this level. The style that some mistake for laziness is in fact a well-drilled technique for anticipating and controlling the long balls and cross-field passes that come his way. Admittedly, his execution doesn’t always match the clarity of his vision, but on the occasions when he does manage to take down a pass, spin, twist, turn and shoot, it’ll inevitably bring delighted gasps from the crowd and – usually – a sharp left-footed effort that hits the crossbar or sails narrowly over the top.

When Mick McCarthy arrived last season, taking over a team rock-bottom of the Championship, JET was a long way from his thoughts. Badly out-of-form, JET was consigned to the reserves, sometimes struggling even to make an impact at that level. But later in the season, JET began to impress McCarthy with his application and improvement, and was brought back into the fold: usually as a substitute, but sometimes to devastating effect. His introduction in the home game against Bolton last March brought a new dimension to Town’s otherwise dogged but unimaginative play: his trickery down the left wing produced a cross that was slammed home by Carlos Edwards to bring Ipswich a vital three points in their relegation fight.

Some people say that JET has an attitude problem. I don’t think he does. He’s always come across as someone who just wants to play football. When he was ostracised by McCarthy it would have been easy for him to sulk or seek a loan move, but it’s to his enormous credit that he worked his way back to form.

As with many players signed by Paul Jewell for Ipswich, with JET it was ultimately a case of “wrong place, wrong time”: he joined a struggling, directionless club, led by a manager with no strategy or tactical awareness. It was only when McCarthy’s arrival brought some much-needed coherence and organisation to the side that things started to pick up, and even then, the survival imperative meant that chances for players like JET to shine were necessarily few and far between.

Perhaps it was also “wrong time, wrong place, wrong salary”. Having arrived from Arsenal it’s safe to assume that JET was on a fairly decent wage at Portman Road. McCarthy is required to trim his playing budget this summer, so players on big contracts are being moved on. Were that not the case, I genuinely believe that McCarthy would want to work with JET to improve his game and introduce more consistency to his contributions, but finances won’t allow that. Again, it’s to JET’s credit that he’s prepared to drop down a division to play football, rather than sulking out the last year of his Ipswich contract.

JET’s finest moment in a Town shirt was unquestionably the 5-1 win against West Ham in January 2012, when he scored two goals, set up another and generally tormented the West Ham defenders all night, relishing the chance to bring out his full range of tricks. I fully expect Bristol City to be challenging at the top of League One next season and I hope that allows JET the opportunity to unleash himself with abandon. It may take a bit of time for his team-mates to get used to him, and for Sean O’Driscoll to work out how to make the most of him, but once that starts to happen, fans at Ashton Gate could be in for a few treats."

Thanks to Gavin for that insight, certainly food for thought and I echo the view that it's credit to JET that he must have taken a significant pay-cut to join the SOD revolution - and how much a part has he played in this transfer, with JET perhaps feeling he's played his best football under our current leader.

Time will tell, but JET could just be the difference between a mediocre season and a great one, he can be that good, and needs to be for his own career to get back on the path it probably deserves to be on.


The Exiled Robin

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