Issue The Thorney issue

As told by Jason Mckeown

A few years ago, a City supporter submitted an article on this website stating that Andy Gray’s ability level was that of a pub footballer. This view came during a period when Gray was struggling to recapture his previous season’s form for City where, converted from a winger to a striker, he had managed a career-changing 15 goals that would belatedly signal the end to the dreaded tag of unfulfilled potential. As part of a City side speedily hurtling towards the relegation trap door in 2003-04, he was unable to match his previous season’s exploits managing just six goals.

Very shortly after this article appeared, Gray was sold to Sheffield United and his career continued to head upwards with a £1 million move to Premiership Sunderland a year after. This proved a step up too far but Gray has since re-established himself as a decent Championship striker with Burnley. Last Saturday he scored twice as Burnley won 3-2 at Colchester. Layer Road is hardly one of British football’s most beautiful stadiums, but it’s still a better level than the local park behind The Queen’s Head.

It’s this sort of striker debate which has been typical with Bradford City in recent years. Finding a pair of decent goalscoring forwards has proved difficult and is ultimately why the Bantams have been unable to climb back towards Championship level. Those that have toiled up front since have nearly all split opinion among supporters. Some arguably should have had more of a chance, others undoubtedly gave everything but came up short, too many rarely looked like scoring and just one player has managed double figures in a season since Gray departed.

Not since the legendary Mills and Blake partnership in 1998/99 have City been fortunate enough to possess two regular goalscorers at the same time. Only Dean Windass has consistently done the business, yet finding a suitable strike partner was a problem never solved while he was banging in all those goals during his second spell at the club. This over dependence meant that City were never able to lift themselves above midtable and, when Deano departed last January, no one was able to fill his void with dire consequences.

Different division, different management, different bunch of players and many more supporters; but so far the familiar problem has remained. In the five games to date, five goals have been scored. Not the worst of records but, when analysing the performances and number of chances the team has created to date, this figure should be at least double. In the home games at least, City have been largely dominant and created a host of chances. Unfortunatley, the strikers in the middle haven’t been able to convert them and, with each miss, have split supporters’ views once again. Perhaps the biggest question hanging over Stuart’s squad as we enter the second month of the season is if there is sufficient firepower to enable City to push for promotion.

Dividing views more than most is Barry Conlon. He arrived at Valley Parade during the summer with a reputation as a decent goalscorer at this level, but with a disconcertingly high number of former clubs. Conlon has so far looked very much your average target man, but unfortunately a little too average. He holds the ball up well and has good awareness at bringing others into play, but he seems to lack the goalscoring prowess and his efforts on goal have been generally tame. Confidence is a big part of this and his previous record suggests he usually manages double figures each season. Yet without a goal so far he looks more likely to match Andy Cooke and Danny Cadamarteri in the regularity of his City goals.

Unsurprisingly he has attracted a lot of criticism. Although, just like Andy Cooke, there seems to be a section of supporters who appreciate the undoubted effort he puts in. One thing is for sure, he’s going to need to improve his performances. With his height and physical ability he should be capable of giving opposition defenders a really hard time and his hold up play should at least allow others to come forward. On occasions Conlon has looked isolated and received the ball too deep. Hopefully as the whole team get to know each other better this will improve and Conlon will receive the ball where he can hurt people.

Very much vying for cult status, Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu has made a decent impression so far. He has a really good touch and is also strong holding the ball up. He has more pace than Conlon and has shown the odd burst of acceleration that’s put the opposition on the back foot. However, just like Conlon, he hasn’t really got into enough good positions to shoot on goal. How many goals he will score, at least until his loan move ends in January, remains questionable. In many ways Guylain and Conlon are very similar players but hopefully they will play together more effectively as they become more familiar with each other’s runs. Hopefully G (or Dave depending on your nickname preference, personally I like Dave!) can add that little bit missing and score a few goals for us.

So far, Nathan Joynes and Luke Medley have played the back up role. Joynes started against Shrewsbury but was unable to make an impression. Meanwhile Luke couldn’t have made a bigger impact with his first touch! The youngster’s wonder strike against Wrexham has made everyone sit up and take notice. There will inevitably be a lot of expectation on the striker’s shoulders, remember Gareth Grant, Danny Forrest, Kevin Sanasy and Joe Brown? Hopefully Luke can build on his superb start and fulfil his potential. While technically not our youth player, its still been a long time since City had a young striker who became a first team regular and scored lots of goals.

At Barnet, Stuart played Omar Daley up front in the second half and the Jamaican international will barely believe he has yet to score this season after hitting the post three times so far. After his much trumpeted arrival in January, Omar has yet to really find his form and, while he was very impressive in pre-season, we all hope he can do better than his displays so far this season. The hope is that Daley can nail that right wing position and consistently deliver there. He has looked reasonably effective when thrown up front, but is arguably needed more out wide. It’s both nice but a little unusual to think Eddie Johnson is our top scorer so far. Despite a slow start, Eddie is looking comfortable in midfield and it would appear that he has waved goodbye to a career as a centre forward.

Which just leaves one more forward on City’s books and one who has yet to play. Peter Thorne’s summer signing felt like a huge coup but it’s been hugely frustrating waiting for him to recover from injury. After suffering two years at Norwich that were dogged by injury, there are some fears over how much we will see him wear Claret and Amber and some of our more lunatic fans are calling for City to get rid of him already. Given the injury problems he has endured, it would seem City are being sensible in not rushing him into first team action.

When he is ready though, he may find expectations are pinned firmly upon him. The more our other strikers fire blanks in front of goal and points are lost as a result, the greater the pressure on Thorne to deliver. It may take him a while to get fully fit, but the signs during his brief reserve and friendly appearances are encouraging and his past goalscoring record suggests he knows where the goal is.

It seems likely that Thorne will figure at some point this week against either Doncaster or Lincoln. As City’s slow start continues, everyone will be keeping fingers crossed he can deliver. Although at the same time we need at least one from Conlon, Dave, Joynes and Medley to be able to consistently deliver alongside him if we’re going to start climbing the table and threaten at the right end.

Otherwise, with a certain East Yorkshire club splashing out £1million on a striker last week, how long will it be before rumours of a former regular City goalscorer returning on loan start up?