Recently I wrote an article for ‘Width Of A Post’ referring to my opinions and thoughts on what areas of the team Phil Parkinson and the board should look at improving during the January transfer window and one of the positions I outlined was the central midfield. During that article I voiced my concerns on a lack of creativity through the central midfield as one of the direct reasons as to why the team has struggled to score many goals so far this term, especially when playing at Valley Parade. For some reason Bradford City sides have always somewhat struggled in the league at Valley Parade but I think with an exciting, consistent play-maker who gets the 18,000 home fans on their feet, we can turn it into a fortress for the rest of the season. In my opinion Billy Knott can be that player on occasions as he’s one of the most technically gifted and passionate players we currently have however he lacks the consistence that a play-off fighting team needs in the centre of the park.
First of all it has to be said that the expansion of Lee Evans’ loan until the end of the season courtesy of Wolverhampton Wanderers came as a fantastic piece of news due to the importance he has for our club in that commanding central position. Many would agree that so far this season it is clear to see and state that Evans has been one of our best and most consistent performers when called upon and his ability to play a pass is second to none in this league once he gets going.
Other midfielders in the squad have largely struggled for form this season in general however. We currently have four recognised central midfielders in our squad in the shape of Christopher Routis, Billy Knott, Gary Liddle and Lee Evans. As mentioned before Lee Evans has been influential for the team this season as he’s always looking to bring the ball down and play it around. Despite only scoring twice and assisting once this term so far, he has been a fantastic addition to the squad and the extension of his loan until the end of the season is a massive boost in terms of our play-off ambition. In my opinion in both home and away matches Lee Evans should be starting as many games as possible because he has that eye for a key pass and certainly has the ability to make it.
Christopher Routis has only made ten appearances this season for the Bantams, six in the league and four in the cup competitions but has looked solid in my opinion when called upon. Whether playing centre back or in a defensive midfield position, Routis has come into the squad when needed this year and played well however the dilemma lays here as to whether you play him or Gary Liddle because there’s not enough room in the team for both. In my mind with a lack of creativity in the central midfield department maybe Parkinson should be looking to let one of these players go. Speculation has Liddle moving away from Valley Parade this summer and after the Oldham match on Saturday the boss stated that interest had been registered from at least one team, since revealed to be League Two side Carlisle. In my opinion letting go of Liddle would be a poor decision. For me Liddle represents the better option in the centre of the park out of himself and Routis, he has strength, the passing ability, fantastic tackling and also chips in with goals every now and again, scoring three times this season so far.
When you look at our central midfielders we only have one real attacking option, Billy Knott. Making 22 appearances so far, Knott has managed a single goal in the cup and only three assists all term. To compare that to similar players that our ‘rivals’ have, those teams also vying for a play-off place, we don’t have a central midfielder capable of dictating the game and contributing both with goals and assists. Bradley Dack of Gillingham has 13 goals and nine assists so far this term whilst Michael Jacobs of Wigan has 8 goals and four assists, we massively lack a player of that ability in the centre of the park. These two examples are just two out of many in League One this year that are out playing our whole central midfield selection and that’s worrying. It can easily be argued that one of the main reasons for the lack of goals this season is the fact that the central midfielders have offered very little going forward this season and as a result of that we have created few clear cut chances during matches so far this campaign.
In my opinion, there’s a hole in our team this season that needs addressing this January if we’re going to push on towards the end of the season and take a play-off place come May. I seriously believe that the four main strikers we have in Hanson, Clarke, Cole and Davies when he returns from injury are good enough to propel us into that play-off equation if we bring in a creative midfielder. In my mind generate money through letting either Routis or Liddle go, even though I am a fan of both it’s just the case of the situation where we don’t really need both players and send Luke James back to Posh because it’s not working out. On the back of that then spend that money going big in this department because I really think that we need to shake it up in the midfield going into the second half of the season. We don’t have enough attacking inspiration in central midfield and in the long run, this really could be our short fall.
Results are results but fans want to be entertained at the same time which has lacked this season for the Bantams. As a result no Bradford fan can whole heartedly say that we’ve played exciting football this season especially at Valley Parade and I genuinely believe that if Parkinson brings in an attacking central midfielder our play style will start to evolve. If we sign a player that is capable of running at defences along with our attackers and wingers we will see that the ‘long ball’ style which has been overly used so far will eventually regress to a lower level of use as we will have that central midfielder that we’re lacking, a player that links our attack and defence together cohesively. I’m not having a go at how we play on the whole but to have the ability in the team to mix it up and to keep the opposition guessing would be very helpful because on occasions this season we’ve been too predictable and we’ve been found out over it.
If we can’t obtain a new attacking central midfielder in the January transfer window I would start to partner Gary Liddle with Lee Evans. This partnership would work well in my opinion if Parkinson plays Evans as a free roaming playmaker as with Liddle covering it means Evans can get forward more often and with his fantastic passing ability he is more than capable of setting up key scoring chances, the type of chances that have been few and far between this season.
On the whole this season we’ve proved we are one of the better teams in the league and are more than capable of obtaining a play-off place come May. Our defence is solid, the third best in League One, and with a few tweaks we can become a real force in the second half of the season if we start creating and finishing more chances.