By Jason McKeown
From the road to nowhere to the road to redemption. Bradford City are back. They are fighting. They are believing. And they are winning. A measure of their rate of recovery came in this confident and emphatic victory that lifts the Bantams off the foot of the table. A win against Stuart McCall’s Scunthorpe United next Saturday and they might even climb out of the bottom four in time for Christmas.
What a turnaround in fortunes. At Valley Parade it was rain-sodden, bitingly cold and the lights flickered irregularly. But over 2018, Bradford City has navigated through darker storms than this wintry afternoon. And coming through the other side has given them a sudden resilience that is reaping rewards. It certainly gave them the edge over a brittle Walsall, whose own spirit was washed away in the West Yorkshire rain.
These type of performances provide so much satisfaction. City had to work hard for it in the first half. The visitors initially had a swagger both on the field, and emanating from the away section; understandably buoyed by the midweek FA Cup victory at Sunderland, and only one defeat in the last seven league and FA Cup games. By the end, Walsall looked demoralised, dishevelled and outclassed. City wore them down.
Two crucial first half saves from ex-Saddler stopper Richard O’Donnell – including blocking an Andy Cook header when the former Tranmere striker should have scored – laid on the platform for victory. Cook also hit the bar with another gilt-edged chance. In the first half at least, City suffered from the familiar defensive jitters and better teams than Walsall would have punished the gaps between the holding Hope Akpan and his defence. That said, the central defensive triangle of Akpan, Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Anthony O’Connor produced improved displays from midweek. They always have mistakes in them, but were brave and deserved their luck.
That allowed the Bantams to go in at half time a goal to the good after smart work by Lewis O’Brien saw Paul Caddis run onto a cut back and expertly pass the ball into the bottom corner. City had worked their way into the game and were starting to win their individual battles. The goal was a reward for their endeavours.
It was fitting, too, that the opener involved two players who are the catalyst for the club’s revival. O’Brien has never let his head go down and continues to deliver accomplished displays that belie his lack of experience. What a superb signing he has proved to be. O’Brien has tremendous energy levels, is always bold on the ball and covers every inch of the pitch. Exactly the kind of player we hoped we were getting in Josh Wright.
Caddis is proving a revelation since signing a month ago. His assurance and know-how have made a real difference to the back four, and his rampaging attacking style will bring the right back more goals this season. His reading of the game is excellent. A tough man, who has leadership qualities.
It was infectious throughout the team. A second half Walsall rally was expected but never materialised. Instead City continued to play with real quality, putting the game to bed by the hour mark. David Ball’s effort at goal found the back of the net via a generous deflection – from my view in the Kop, it should probably go down as an own goal – and minutes later the on-loan Rotherham man slammed home a loose ball to make it 3-0.
Ball spoke to the media afterwards about how much he is enjoying his football, now that others are back from injury and he is free from the shackles of playing a set midfield position. It is a fair summary.
David Hopkin – who from his time at Livingston acquired a reputation of long ball manager – deserves appreciation for boldly building a team around two number 10s, in Ball and Jack Payne. Both have repaid that faith commendably and are proving great to watch linking up. This Christmas tree formation has greater longevity than the festive season.
With George Miller a menace up top. And with Kelvin Mellor doing a steady job on the right hand side. City have a team of high-performing individuals; arguably with the only exception of the inconsistent Adam Chicksen. It is a strong bench too, as demonstrated by substitute Eoin Doyle sealing the game with a fourth goal. He, and City, could easily have had more. Walsall had given up the ghost long before the end.
The league table still makes tough reading, but it is becoming easier to look at. Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers’ defeats helped City climb two places. They are now only three points off 20th place Scunthorpe, making next week’s encounter a true six-pointer. There’s a lot of work left to do, but now there is hope when before it seemed hopeless.
“We’ve got our City back” bellowed from rain drenched supporters during the game’s final knockings. Hopkin earns great credit for achieving just that, but the players especially deserve the plaudits.
Just a few weeks ago, this squad was universally loathed by supporters for their perceived lack of commitment, pride and dedication. We might have blamed Edin Rahic for such poor recruitment, but the players were copping it too. And at a time where Stephen Darby’s illness caused us all to reminisce about the great history makers team of the recent past, it only further highlighted how much the new Bradford City crop just didn’t get it.
But now, those perceptions are changing. Warmer player-crowd relationships are growing, and as fans we are once again right behind the team. Well done, to these players, for toughing it out and proving you do care after all. Now, keep it going.
How timely it was too that the club should continue coming back together with the owner present to see it.The first home league match since Edin Rahic’s departure saw Stefan Rupp take in his first game of the season. He will have noted the visible scars of his former partner’s dismal reign, such as the swathes of empty Valley Parade seats, but he will have seen the soul of the football club has endured.
He still has a job to do in stabilising Bradford City , but Rupp will have surely noted the positive impact of Julian Rhodes in steering the club and the contrast to the dictatorial and devise approach of Rahic. He will have seen in David Hopkin belated success in getting returns from the significant summer transfer investment the German funded. And Rupp will have seen a Bradford City public soaked to the skin, but full of warm devotion towards their football club.
As he surveyed the scene in the closing stages, perhaps Stefan remembered that Bradford City had defeated Walsall 4-0 at Valley Parade before. The previous occasion, in April 2016, to seal a League One play off spot, weeks before he and Rahic completed the takeover of the club.
And on that afternoon, where James Hanson netted a hat trick and Phil Parkinson was the manager, the sky shone brightly. The noise was deafening. The possibilities seemed infinite. And the potential of Bradford City was huge.
Get through these next few months, keeping the Bantams in League One, and Bradford City can be that club again. Rahic’s time may have finished. But if Rupp wants to stick at it, and this time works with the right people, at Bradford City he can still achieve what he originally intended to do.
Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion
Really enjoyed the game … i thought David Ball as been class over the last month .
Yes was so many empty seats one can only hope we can get them back next season into the ground with another cheap season tkt deal.
Full credit to DH having made decisions on his back room staff and not giving up with results earlier in his appointment.
Two empty seats were my wife and me. We were afraid of the black ice and the cold. So we missed it. What a shame. Well done city.
It was a battle to persuade my kids to go today. After almost a year of defeats, I had to keep the weather forecast a secret, get them wrapped up in many layers (which weren’t enough), get their mum to drop us near the ground. I‘d told them how many shots we’d had in the Tuesday Peterborough game, how many goals in the last few games, that things we turning.
Four rows back from pitch side, we were battered by the rain & wnd. Like most people, we moved seat to seat to get more shelter, and at 0-0, 20 mins in, my 13 year old asked if we could go home. We spent the last 15 minutes of the first half on the concouse, watching the match on the telly, having bribed them with hot chocolate & chips.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was, then, to see that performance, that effort, and that stream of goals. It was like winding back the clock. My thirten year old turned to me, towards the end, and said “…..I might be back next week, Dad”
I’m still in shock after the result. My expectations in recent months have dropped so low. However the green shoots of recovery are getting slightly bigger. Huge game next Saturday against Stuart McCall’s Scunthorpe United. As Jason says: now keep it going.
We won’t go down. Quote me on this.
I think it’s fair to say that we don’t actually have a bad squad of footballers on paper. Before this season started there was a lot of optimism about what we could achieve this season, but with an inexperienced ‘Head Coach’ and Edin’s meddling, it made it tough for this group of players to get started together.
As things turned from bad to worse, Edin grew more distant from the fans and the staff at Valley Parade and the club became more divisive than ever, it was never going to be simple to turn this around.
It turns out that Rahic leaving was actually the only thing we really needed.
Though the depth of this squad has been paper thin, our ‘first eleven’ with the likes of Doyle, Scannell, O’Donnell and Akpan should never have been where it is, and we do have the professionals at our club to take us well above the position we’re in. The recruitment of O’Brien, Caddis and Henry has added some much needed steel and experience also to a younger group of players.
Hopkin’s appointment has brought stability to this club, and he must be applauded for the way in which he’s stuck to the task in incredibly tough conditions.
Let’s all focus on getting out of the bottom four next weekend and then enjoy what’s going to be a wonderful away day on Boxing Day at Sunderland where there could well be over 40,000 fans in attendance.
All I know is it’s enjoyable to watch, support and read about City again, and I don’t think any of us would have it any other way.
We’re only 20 points of a play-off place. We could have hit form just at the right time!
I’m so looking forward to getting back to England on Saturday morning, having a few cold ones and a catch-up before heading to VP. Last time I was home for the Stephen Darby tribute night I boycotted the matches at VP because of you-know-who. No more.
No matter what happens we’re in for a great second half of the season. Hold onto your hat it’s going to be a roller-coaster.
If the match against Scunny and Stuart’s return had been a couple of weeks ago when Wreck was still with us then the mood and atmosphere at VP would have been very different.
Now that he’s gone everyone will be behind David and the boys and will happily take 3 points from Stuart and then wish him all the best for rest of the season.
I can’t believe how happy I am that the clown has gone and how excited I am to go back to BD8. Only 5 more sleeps before I’m on my way home to VP. Yay!
That thumbs down must be Rahic…….
I asked one of the central characters involved in `Hendriegate` if what happened at Yeovil could have such an effect on the club. That person, who is very involved in the professional game assured me that it certainly did have a profound effect on the team, and the resultant fall out was the reason for the downturn in results from the Yeovil game onwards. it now seems that the removal (largely by the fans) of the individual (Rahic) has become the catalyst for a complete change in attitude and their is a new positivity around the club. Its hard to believe that his antics bred the toxicity that has permeated every corner of Valley Parade and we should be tempted to minimise the efforts of Hopkin, JR, and others in halting the downward trend, and reversing the momentum. It was always about momentum to me. We had the year on year improvement from the arrival of PP, until January of this year, when everything took a nosedive. To me halting this downward spiral, and reversing this momentum was always key. We seemed to have repaired the split between the fans and there seems to be a new positivity. One could say a new `belief`! I was always very sceptical of the Rahic inspired `Believe` campaign as we were never told what we were supposed to be believing in, and ironically we were told to `believe` by someone who was economical with the truth.
So, a long way to go yet, even to stay in this division this term, but a new wind has blown through Valley Parade,. and it now seems that club,players and fans are united once again, and together we can arrest the slump.
As the kop chanted on Saturday “We have got our City back”.