Issue Stuart looks outwards for answers but may have his Beagrie and Blake within

As told by Jason Mckeown

The PA announcer predictably played Bob Marley to welcome him to Valley Parade and sporadically among the crowd were Jamaican flags. For half a season we’d been entertained by a speedy and exciting winger from the same country and now we were welcoming someone who’d been described as twice as fast and regularly kept his new teammate out of the national side. There was a sense of anticipation in the air that had been lacking when welcoming new signings in recent years.

His name was Omar Daley and the day was Saturday 27 January, with Yeovil Town the visitors at Valley Parade. Colin Todd had already introduced us to three Jamaican internationals who City fans had taken to their hearts, and now here was number four ready to go.

Damion Stewart had only enjoyed a brief stay, quickly earning a move to the Championship, while the Main Stand at Valley Parade that day included one particularly interested onlooker who would sign Jermaine Johnson a few days later. Bob Marley finished singing ‘no woman and no cry’ and Daley was cheered onto the pitch by his new fans. With City also on a three match unbeaten run, expectation hung in the air.

As is typical of City the occasion fell flat. Five minutes into the game Johnson dallied on the ball too long and Yeovil broke forward to score. A second goal followed soon after the interval as the original Jamaican, Donovan Ricketts, took up a woeful position to collect a low cross. Any hopes of a fightback were extinguished after Eddie Johnson had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, a decision that so enraged Jermaine he was sent off for arguing with the officials. Daley had a quiet debut and was barely noticed.

18 months on and Ricketts’ contract expiry means only Daley remains at City of the Jamaican quartet, though his popularity has dipped lower than his country’s FIFA world ranking. Three games into his City career the manager who brought him back to England was sacked and Daley struggled to find form during a failed relegation battle. Last season bigger things were expected of him but form remained patchy. A good run of form before and after Christmas was rewarded with a new contract, but performances dipped again and he ended the season widely unpopular among supporters.

There’s no question Daley has some ability in his locker, as observed during some of his better games last season when he was a match winner. Yet for every performance like Lincoln, Accrington and Bury away there was Rochdale, Dagenham and Barnet at home.

Confidence appeared to be fragile and the laid back manner interpreted as lazy, with bucket loads of abuse flying in his direction from the stands clearly counter-productive. The line up and result will remain unclear for the opening game against Notts County, but what can be predicted is some fans will be ready to heap more abuse on anything City’s number 7 does wrong.

This sort of reaction is one Billy Topp is yet to be suffer. If Daley’s arrival was a big occasion, the full debut of the first player in six years to cost City a transfer fee was an evening soaked with excitement. Almost a year to the day of Daley’s first game, Topp took six minutes of his first start, against Shrewsbury, to show City fans what they had been waiting for since news a young Chilean was on trial broke the previous September.

Expertly controlling a long ball played towards him, Topp produced a great touch to twist past the defender and charge into the area before laying the ball into the path of the advancing Kyle Nix to score the opening goal of the night. Lack of fitness, which would become a common theme, saw him taken off shortly after half time but the potential was there.

Potential which has also yet to be realised. That night remains the high water mark of Topp’s time in England as performances failed to sparkle. There were some flashes of brilliance, but too often Topp looked a player still finding his feet and uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. His continuing battle with a muscular problem clearly didn’t help and his season was cut early so he could have an operation. Such problems haven’t stopped fans already writing him off and this week the club had to deny rumours Topp wouldn’t be coming back from a break in Chile.

In what is shaping up to be a big season for City, the contributions of Daley and Topp may prove more significant than anticipated. As the wait for new signings continues and supporters debate what next season’s first choice eleven should be, the names of City’s two overseas players rarely seem to appear. With Stuart known to be after another striker and new signing Chris Brandon classed as a midfielder/winger, this may initially be the case; but past history suggests neither will necessarily be consigned to a life in the reserves either.

As he builds a team he believes to be capable of delivering promotion Stuart will no doubt take a bit of everything he has learned during his playing and coaching career, and the events at Valley Parade 10 years ago will almost certainly feature in that thinking when City, of course, won promotion to the Premiership with a well-organised and talented bunch of players.

Two of its biggest stars were Peter Beagrie and Robbie Blake, but few supporters would have believed that would be the case the summer before. Both were considered enigmas – talented but inconsistent. Their popularity was generaly low going into that memorable season; with most supporters fed up with Beagrie in particular after a disappointing first season. His popularity was a bit like Daley now.

When we supporters fondly look back on events 10 years ago the memories are not that success came because manager Paul Jewell was given millions to spend in the transfer market, but the way he moulded his team and got the best out of so many. This particularly included Beagrie and Blake and, as Stuart scratches his head about how to bring out the best of Daley and Topp right now, a similar approach of good coaching, extra training and confidence building may just do the trick.

Playing with better players should also help as it did for Beagrie and Blake a decade ago. We know Daley can beat players and give full backs a headache, and by his own admission he prefers playing in front of a full back who’ll get forward. A strong midfield pair in the shape of a Gareth Whalley and Stuart will also help to get Daley the ball in the areas he can really hurt the opposition.

Stuart has already made the Topp-Blake comparison and the promising glimpses of Topp we’ve seen suggest he could be the tricky forward running at defenders and popping up all over the final third that Blake was that year. A pre-season of building up a good partnership with Peter Thorne could even see a replication of the Mills-Blake combination.

Improved fitness for both will also play a part and, as we impatiently wait for new signings and look forward to their big debuts, it’s hoped they will not just be better than those departed, but can bring out the best in those who can do better.