Connell: ‘I wouldn’t swap my time at Bradford City for anything' (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Alan Connell: ‘I wouldn’t swap my time at Bradford City for anything'
It may not have quite the same ring as Einstein’s theory of relativity or Newton’s law but maybe one day the egg heads will come up with a winning solution to the Connell conundrum.
The formula ultimately eluded Bradford City, just as it seemed to with Paolo Di Canio at Swindon.
Neither managed to find the right way to accommodate a technically-gifted striker who just wouldn’t fit in to the established mould.
So Connell’s role was reduced to that of “uber sub” – something he did with great effect at the County Ground and in his first memorable season in West Yorkshire.
Of his 59 appearances for City, 40 of those were from the bench. When he did start, there were only six games when Connell lasted the full 90 minutes.
He didn’t possess the height and power to lead the line like James Hanson, nor the greyhound pace of Nahki Wells to feed off the flick-ons. So Connell was forever a square piece in a round hole in City’s rigid 4-4-2 make-up.
If they tried to do something different to fit round his preference for a more withdrawn role, it invariably did not work.
Connell’s departure for Northampton on Thursday has long been on the cards. Frustration has been the byword in recent months and he needed regular football again.
But as he joined up with fellow Bantam exiles Ricky Ravenhill and Matt Duke at Sixfields, Connell stressed that the highs of City’s amazing achievements in his first season will always outweigh the low moments.
“It was difficult to get a run in the side,” he admitted. “Obviously I was part of a strike-force that included Hans and Nahki.
“Hans has done great and is the focal point of how the gaffer wants to play. And Nahki has continued to improved at a rapid rate and turned into a multi-million pound player doing well in the Championship now.
“Last season as a club we had 64 games, which still meant plenty of game time to go round. That’s not been the case this time.
“But I wouldn’t swap my Bradford experience for anything. What we achieved will always live with me.
“I would be amazed if another League Two team ever does that again in our lifetime, winning promotion and getting to a major cup final.
“It creates a special bond among the players because we went through all of it together and also with the supporters.
“After years when they have watched Bradford performing below par, the fans suddenly had a team that did something incredible.”
Connell scored eight league goals during that campaign. Six of those were as a substitute, of which four either won or saved the game.
He also never missed in three penalty shoot-outs, including one past his beloved Arsenal. Connell certainly played his part as Bradford City history was made.
He added: “The closeness of that group was special and something I’ve never experienced. I’m sure that will never change.
“We always have a laugh and joke about popping up to ‘our lounge’ at the ground. But they are great memories.
“I hope we will do things to commemorate it in years to come. That would be really nice.”
His final City goal was a stoppage-time penalty to salvage a draw against Aldershot in March last year. This season has been a non-starter.
Connell’s longest run-out was the 63 minutes he got at Huddersfield in the Capital One Cup first round – his only start among 14 appearances.
And he can pinpoint the moment when he knew the writing was on the wall – the Shrewsbury home game at the end of September.
Wells was clattered by a defender and hobbled off with damaged ankle ligaments midway through the first half – and Phil Parkinson chose to replace him with Mark Yeates, not Connell.
Parkinson insisted afterwards that Yeates had done the second striker role many times before with him at Colchester. But in Connell’s eyes, being overlooked for a regular midfielder was the proof he was well down the pecking order.
“That was when it really hit me. As much as I didn’t want to leave, that was when I knew I had to.
“From that moment in the Shrewsbury game, it was always in the back of my mind. I had to move on for my career.
“I had a few offers to go on loan but it had to be the right one. I wasn’t just going for the sake of it.
“It was a matter of choosing the right club and the right time. I really believe I have done that.”
Northampton head to Cheltenham this afternoon bottom of League Two and six points off safety.
But Connell admits the heat of the survival fight was part of the attraction.
“Obviously having Ricky and Dukey here is a big help. They are good friends and we can still travel down together. But it’s a massive challenge, most importantly, and that’s what I need.
“When I look back on my career and recall the successes, I’ve had some great promotions and to stay up with Northampton now would be as big as any because of the situation we are in.
“If the club were just dawdling around in mid-table, I don’t think it would have had the same appeal.
“You want to be playing for something where every game means so much. I’m looking forward to that excitement and the pressure.”
City fans will watch with interest to see how the survival battle unfolds – and whether new Cobblers boss Chris Wilder can find a way of getting Connell on the pitch regularly.
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