Reality bites again

By Jason McKeown

It is dispiriting afternoons such as this that remind you just what a wasted opportunity this season has proven for Bradford City. With the biggest playing budget in 15 years, this should have been the year the Bantams pushed hard for a place in the Championship, competing with Barnsley at the top of the league.

Instead, a fixture pitting fifth-top against fourth-bottom produced the type of result that reflects the league standings. City could not live with their South Yorkshire hosts, who eased to a win with an impressive swagger. They scored three but could easily have netted double that. City couldn’t lay a glove on Barnsley, failing to even register a shot on target.

Of course, the Tykes have a playing budget that will significantly exceed City – but the Bantams are said to be in the top five of League One budgets. They should be able to compete better than they did here, and they should have competed better than they did in the earlier parts of this season. But last summer’s poor recruitment activity has seen the financial gifts of Stefan Rupp frittered away. He didn’t invest all this money for a relegation battle.

In the summer of 2017, the team that reached the play off final under Stuart McCall was broken up because of a refusal to meet certain wage demands. Yet there are now players on the books earning wages far higher than the 2016/17 side, some of whom can’t even get into the team.

This expensive yet dysfunctional squad was a strange inheritance for David Hopkin to have received when he took charge last September, and it continues to present headaches. The Bradford City manager had found a winning formula that led to a two-month resurgence in form, but the key components include players borrowed from other clubs. Those who took up larger portions of the inflated budget have disappointed to the point they are not in his plans, or have been dogged by injury. And so the squad needs more financial backing. Not, as would have been expected, to push City closer to promotion. But just to keep them in League One.

The heavy defeat at Oakwell underlined the urgency of new recruits in January. But with the likes of Josh Wright and Joe Riley having no future under Hopkin and said to be on significant money, freeing up funds could require further departures to add to the exit of the well-compensated Kai Bruenker. It’s all very well expecting Rupp to inject more money, but at some point the wage bill is going to have be trimmed. The wastage can’t go on forever. There’s still a mess to clean up.

Hopkin will be given the extra support he needs, and has demonstrated his ability to steer City from trouble. But this setback was a reality check of the size of the task in hand. Forget that fanciful talk of still reaching the play offs, this battle to avoid relegation remains far from won. It won’t be decided on afternoons such as this, against a high-flying team that no one has yet conquered on their turf. But it was an occasion for facing up to and accepting lessons. Where mistakes can be forgiven, provided they are not repeated.

Although bullish at full time when he spoke to the local media, Hopkin will probably reflect that in hindsight he got his team selection wrong here. A desire to move back to the 5-2-2-1 formation that has proven effective in away games was understandable, but with Jim O’Brien having left Valley Parade – unhappy the club wouldn’t back him by offering a longer deal – and Hope Akpan not fully fit, Hopkin’s solution for the important midfield anchor position caused too much disruption.

Paul Caddis – exceptional at right back since his November signing – was asked to take on the holding role. Ryan McGowan – who has made a solid return to the side as the right-sided centre half – was switched to right wing back. New loan signing Paudie O’Connor was thrown in straightaway for a debut. It was a lot of change to the defensive side of the team, when a settled backline has just delivered four clean sheets in five games.

The changes didn’t work out. Caddis’ influence was curtailed in the middle of the park. His energy getting up and down the right hand of the pitch could not be compensated for by McGowan. And the effects spread through the team, with Lewis O’Brien, Jack Payne and Eoin Doyle looking well short of their recent vibrant standards. There was an uncomfortable body language about the side. They just didn’t look themselves.

Hopkin responded to the charge of getting his tactics wrong by stating the players should still have shown him more. He is right to a point, but he shoulders some responsibility too. Ultimately, it is a reminder of just how lacking in depth this squad remains. The irony is that in Riley and Wright, Hopkin has round pegs who could have slotted into the round holes he had. But of course, no one would disagree with his reasons for overlooking them. Everything comes back to last summer’s farcical events.

It’s easy to forget now that City actually started this game very strongly. For 20 minutes they were on the front front, taking the game to a Barnsley side who initially were tentative and looked out of form. The high press saw home players harassed for possession in their own half, and mistakes were routinely made from those in red shirts. At one stage, City had 67% of the overall possession, but crucially only had a Nathaniel Knight-Percival header over the bar to chalk up as an attempt on goal.

Against the run of play, Barnsley struck. Payne stopped tracking the run of Alex Mowatt, and Caddis was unable to get across in time to stop the cross. Jacob Brown was one of two Barnsley players queuing up at the back post, and headed the ball into the bottom corner.

At that point Barnsley found their verve and City reverted into their shells. It was an unwelcome return to the dark days of autumn when the reaction to adversity was so poor. After having a goal correctly disallowed Barnsley doubled their lead with a terrific passing move that began in their own penalty area. The former City transfer target, Kieffer Moore, applied the finishing touch, though Richard O’Donnell might have done better at keeping it out.

Despite a half time reshuffle that saw George Miller replace the disappointing Paudie O’Connor, with City going to a more conventional 4-4-2, there was no revival. They occasionally threatened by winning the odd corner or free kick; but Barnsley kept their opponents at arm’s length, whilst displaying a clinical professional edge to see the game out. There just wasn’t a moment to really encourage City’s huge away support that their team had the capacity to come back. Caddis was replaced by Hope Akpan, and in the final knockings Connor Wood came on for Jack Payne. But O’Donnell remained the busier keeper.

The superb Cameron McGeehan came close on three occasions. Mamadaou Thiam – who had a bizarre game where at times he produced moments of magic and skill and at others looked woeful – missed a glorious chance. In the 89th minute, Adam Chicksen earned his second red card of the season when he collided with Brown as the last man – a harsh call. Mowatt was played through for 3-0 in stoppage time. Referee Jeremy Simpson blew up for full time with Barnsley pushing hard for a fourth.

No City player performed at their best, though Anthony O’Connor and Knight-Percival deserve some credit for their displays. David Ball too was a willing worker. City have opened talks with the on-loan Rotherham playmaker about agreeing a permanent deal, but have yet to agree terms. An unfortunate mention for Wood, who was covering as left back in the final stages and had a dreadful time of it. For all the criticism of Chicksen, his absence for the next three games is a concern.

Since the start of November, Bradford City have played 11 league games – winning five, drawing two and only losing four. And those four defeats came at home to leaders Portsmouth, away at second-place Luton, up at third-place Sunderland, and now here at fifth-placed Barnsley. The pragmatic handbook of how to avoid relegation will tell you that these games against the top clubs are not what will define your survival chances. That any points gained in these games are a bonus, and limiting the damage to goal difference is the main priority.

It is games against teams around you that will make or break your hopes – and all five of City’s wins over this period were against sides around them in the table, or still looking over their shoulders. The Bantams have pretty much inflicted maximum damage on their rivals during these two months, and that is what they must keep doing.

So whatever mistakes were made here today, this was the game to make them. However downbeat we feel after this hiding, it shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the positive momentum of the last few weeks. Like every other City boss who came before him, David Hopkin will make mistakes. But he is proving to be a very good Bradford City manager, who represents our best chance of staying in League One. And if he succeeds, and when he, Julian Rhodes, Stefan Rupp can rebuild this squad, the future of this football club will look bright.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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26 replies

  1. I followed the game anxiously but intermittently from afar, and you were there, so I defer to your match analysis. Your comments on the the players & manager, and our season prospects, sound spot on to me, Jason.

  2. I am sorry to say DH got it wrong today! In his pulse interview he blamed Payne not chasing back for the first goal, O’Donnell for the second and the sending off of Chicksen for the third. Never once did he comment of changing a winning team. He claims Akpan did not start because of a risk of injury. Why then was he on the bench. Why change a winning formula that resulted in 4 wins in 5. Had he stuck to the team and structure that did so well over the last month or so, we may not have won but I am sure the we would have done better than 2 shots at goal and 0 on target. I expect to be marked down on this but truth hurts! If he had manned up and said he got his tactics wrong instead of blaming the team I would have respected that.

  3. Jason, where is the factual evidence to support your claim that the player payroll this year is the biggest in 15 years? Also, your claim that City are in the top five payrolls in League One appears to be quite outrageous since this season just past the mid point with no annual records available for this season. Last season the fifth highest payroll in League One was about six million. EFL Fair Play Rules restrict payrolls to a maximum of 60% of total Club revenue. City have no where near the ten million revenue required to support a six million payroll and stay within the EFL rules.

    • I have sources. Up to you if you want to believe me or not.

      • Common sense tells me what you’ve been told is totally unrealistic with regards to a top five League payroll. The largest payroll in fifteen years may be some what realistic if you inflate the numbers by consolidating the senior and under 23 squads.
        Kai Brunker being well compensated also doesn’t make sense to me since he came from a fourth tier German club where according to Rahic wages are significantly lower. Plus, when he arrived Rahic said it would take 4 to 6 weeks for him to get upto pace and contribute.
        What I find particularly disturbing is the timing and reason for these financial disclosures.
        Especially, since we are halfway through January and patiently awaiting Rupp’s promise of financial support to Hopkin.

      • Why is it unrealistic for City to have around the fifth highest playing budget in League One? Look at the other clubs and tell me which clubs would have bigger.

        Sunderland obviously have the biggest budget, one that dwarfs almost everyone. Portsmouth have a big budget. Barnsley have a large budget. Luton’s budget is reckoned to be top 10 size. Charlton’s budget has been large but they have cut back. It’s not what it was two years ago when they were relegated to this division. Peterborough’s budget is probably decent. Maybe Oxford. Scunthorpe in the past had large budgets but their chairman recently revealed it was cut back significantly last summer. Burton came down from the Championship but again it has been documented that they have a low budget.

        I can’t see any others. So I don’t see why this should be considered so outlandish that City have a budget around fifth highest. Don’t forget, we signed 20 players over the summer and during August. That is going to have come at a considerable cost.

        As for last season’s figures you mentioned, it was a different division that included high playing budgets of Blackburn, Wigan, Rotherham, MK Dons and Bury who all exited the division, so it is clearly a very different picture this time around.

        On Kai Bruenker, I have it on good authority he was being paid around £2k a week. That is from a very reliable source. And other people in the local media have heard the same. I am as surprised as you by that. It doesn’t tally with what was said when he first signed. But, well, Edin isn’t exactly famed for his honesty is he?

        It’s worth noting we don’t have an under 23 squad. We scrapped the development squad in the summer.

        There is no sinister timing on these disclosures about highest budget in 15 years because they are not new disclosures. On WOAP we’ve written about it since early December, and the Daily Telegraph has reported it to, see link here: and in the Yorkshire Post here:

        The point I am making in the article is that we have the highest budget in years and yet are left scrambling to avoid relegation. There is no agenda in that comment. It was just something I took away from today. We spent a lot of money in the summer, but we have a squad a long way behind someone like Barnsley.

      • Peter Robinson the Burton Chairman confirmed post Man City that the average Burton pay was £2500 pcm. I would wager we are above that and that figure is at odds with the unattributed stats from “” ( who are they and what is their background?). I very much doubt are average pay is less than 2k as this is a figure some Conference teams are paying at present (Salford for eg…Adam Rooney allegedly up to 4K). Recent information with regard to the decent size of our budget seems to have come from within the club and given the straightforward nature of those who now run City I doubt it is anything other than a genuine and fairly accurate estimate

  4. Jason, my data on last season’s team payrolls is provided by City’s average weekly wage was £1,625 per week and ranked 15th in the League One payroll table. The claim that Brunker was earning close to £2,000 per week is at least 20% above the team average which really is quite unbelievable!!
    I’ve reviewed last year’s payrolls and the following list represents eleven teams that are currently in League One who last season paid wages that were higher than City’s average of £1,625 per week:
    Sunderland £14,310 per week
    Charlton 4,843
    Burton 4,559
    Barnsley 3,882
    Portsmouth 3,269
    Oxford 2,588
    Scunthorpe 2,462
    Peterborough 2,248
    Luton 2,101
    Doncaster 1,947
    Fleetwood 1,846

    It’s clear to see a lot of teams are circumventing the Fair Play Rules.
    Based on similar budgets this season City would rank in twelfth place in the payroll table. Interesting to note that Plymouth in fifth place represents about a £6.5 payroll. Likely double what City are paying.
    Jason, now I think you understand why I’m questioning your numbers and in particular the timing of their disclosure in the middle of the January transfer window re the promises made by Rupp.

    • I think with respect we will have to agree to disagree. I don’t know much about but if you think that is a reliable source good luck. I speak to well connected sources including people who have or were working for the club, and I trust that what they tell me is accurate.

      As I say, other people in the local media are aware of Bruenker’s wage too.

      • Jason,just one final fact vs your unnamed source rumours. The above data comes from an article written on May 13 by the Plymouth Herald on their PlymouthLive site.

      • Great. And having read through the original website article on this matter they provide absolutely no evidence of how they have calculated each club’s average player wage, including where they have got the information from. FWIW, I remember when these stats were released last May that City’s were disputed, on account that the high number of development squad players (at the time) pushed our true average down.

        You’ve made your mind up on this matter, I respect that. I don’t want to have an argument. All I can do is refer back to an article I wrote last June about our editorial approach ( I have a range of contacts who provide me with background information about what is happening at the club. These sources are well connected and have proven reliable over many years. And what I’ve been told (and others have heard the same) is that there several current members of the squad are on wages which are notably higher than what City have paid in the past. It has been well documented (and it seems you accept) that we have the highest budget since 2002. We also know Stefan Rupp is a very wealthy businessman with substantial resources. I don’t see why you find it so unbelievable that, looking at this season’s League One, it couldn’t be in the top five of League One budgets. But I respect you for having an alternative view and I hope you respect me for having a different one. Let’s shake hands and move on.

    • £1.4k was the average League One wage in 2009!. That is the most reliable stat i can find and taken from PFA published information and quoted on the Sporting Intelligence Website if you care to look. I would not be surprised if that average figure has not increased by at least 50% in the last decade

    • Jason
      The morning after Burtons Man City debacle Peter Robinson confirmed their average wage as £2.5k per week (Radio 4/Today Programme). You may recall that Burton were keen to hold onto Akpan but Clough confirmed to local press that they could not compete with us on his wages. I think we can draw the obvious conclusion that we are paying substantially more than Burton and well in excess of the average stated in this thread.

  5. Sorry, Portsmouth is ranked fifth at £6.5 million payroll.

    • Jason, certainly no hard feelings on my part. We must agree to disagree on this matter.

      • I was aghast when I saw the reported earnings of players who can’t even get in the match day squad. It appears that, when it came to players pay, Rahic’s actions flew in the face of the heavily skewed performance related rewards that were originally preached.

        There are, indeed, some highly paid individuals plying their trade at the Pulse Stadium, and I would imagine Jason’s comments are accurate.

        Julian has indeed been left major financial problems to resolve and, anyone expecting major signings in this transfer window needs to temper their expectations. The main issue will be moving players out who are earning fat pay packets……..with the luxury of Saturdays off.

      • As a final word on this, on Tuesday 15 January Simon Parker has reported that City’s wage bill is “among the top six”

      • Parker’s unsubstantiated comments appear to be using the same unnamed source. The only possible difference is that Parker is implying that City had a top six payroll budget last season. This would conflict with what Stewart McCall said in his interview with you last year.

  6. This is somewhat pointless. Even if Jason is slightly incorrect it does not alter the point he is making, which is that the salary budget of City, arranged by Rahic, does not represent value for money. I feared a bad defeat yesterday, because I think Barnsley are a very good team.
    City got a reality check. I personally still really fear relegation, and hope Hopkin can motivate, plan and strengthen to avoid it.We clearly need more strength at “full back” and wings and hope we can keep Payne.
    Does anyone have any comment on Patrick now he has returned?

  7. Cyprus Bantams comments are spot on. As good as Barnsley are they really did put us to the sword after 20 minutes of sparring to see what we were all about.

    It was all too easy down our left hand side and defensively the formation was wrong and it was if the last 5 games never happend and we were still stuck marrooned at the bottom of the league on 17 points.

    After the game as we struggled for an hour to get out of the carpark many Barnsley fans comments that this city side was easily the worst side to visit Oakwell this season.

    Payne has been on fine form as has Obrien so maybe expectations have been raised too high to go to a top 6 team and get a positive result.

    What i found so disappointing was the lack of responsibility taken by Hopkin after the game for the strange line up and the ease in how Barnsley rolled us over.

    The fans deserved better who travelled in large numbers to support the team. Shame the the team didnt do the same. On the budget i believe Scanell, Payne and Doyle amongst others ate earning 4 to 5k a week however the team was so poorly put together that it will take 2 season to put us on an upward projection.

    Hopkin is the man to move us forwrd however, we are in a relegation dogfight and losss to Barnsley wont ultimately relegate us. However losses to Southend will so although bitterly disappointing yesterday was a win against Southend will be a massive move towards safety and we need those 8 wins ASAP to achieve this.

  8. I hope for five wins out of next 7 but I fear a real dogfight and it may well be 55 points for safety this season. So that means roughly same number of points from last 19 as first 27 – not sure whether that’s too big an ask!

    Certainly back to reality with a big bang – next 2-3 games season defining. Win 2 we’re on course, lose 2 and it’s League 2 here we come. Forget the rest around us we have it in our own hands.

  9. Slightly recitent to post but are we shooting ourselves in the foot by not not playing some of our most highly paid signings on at least the bench ?

    The decision to not play Jones/Riley/Wright and if fit Gibson/Colville/Clare/Patrick/Mellor and when/if fit Reeves is to me unprecedented in the last 30 plus years. The nearest example I can think of is benching Carbone and not playing Andy Tod, the former was to persuade him to leave and the latter to avoid a further payment to his old club.

    We had a weaker bench yesterday than on New Years Day in front of the biggest league away support in the last few years.

    We still have a big squad and I’ve no idea if anyone will come in for our unwanted contracted players but feel it’s a reasonable question to ask and discuss.

  10. I didn’t go so cannot comment on the game as a whole but after watching the highlights I think the 2nd goal wasn’t a blunder…the shot wasn’t far out.

    However the flack Chicksen gets startles me. I’ve been quite a bit this season (home games) and the difference between Wood and Chicksen is profound. Wood works hard however he doesn’t have the nouse which Chicksen has compared. In the Aldershot replay, you could see that Chicksen knew where to be whereas Wood had to instructed where to be. Chicksen’s biggest downfall is that he simply isn’t Meredith. Replacing someone who is adored by fans is hard.

    I looked at the team sheet yesterday before the game and quickly realised that we would struggle to get much from the game. This game reminded me of the Parkinson era where he would prioritise certain upcoming games.

    My feeling about City hasn’t changed, I believe we will stay up, however yesterday certainly through us back down to earth after the recent run.

  11. I am apprehensive as we approach the mid point of the January transfer window. Hopkins declared a while back that he intended to do early business, but we didn’t….Scunthorpe added 3 (then Tony McMahon) quickly, and moved from below us to 16th in a week.

    So far, we have added just another loan player…with the news that our imminent next addition would also be another loan player..but we’re in a chasing pack for him (Sam Surridge). By our next game on Saturday, we could have seen all our strongest players (Payne, O’Brien, Ball, Miller) recalled. That’s probably too pessimistic, but underlines the vulnerability of reliance on players that are not our own.

    Despite an apparent lack of squad depth highlighted by a weak bench and lack of competition for some places, the news so far has been about exits, albeit apparently fringe squad or development players. This highlights, as you say, that there is a real focus on trimming costs…and no hint at this stage that Rupp has an appetite to put capital to buy new recruits, to shore up the season.

    I’m hoping my fears are proved groundless by 1st February…but right now, it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy roller coaster ride to the end of the season…..

  12. Hopefully todays news will have cheered you up Andy! 🙂

    • O’Brian and Payne staying is a massive boost to our hopes of staying in League 1. If we don’t sign anybody else though it’s still a massive battle. If we sign more on a loan then as long as they help us stay up that’ll be enough, but building for next season will be ‘interesting’ whatever division we are in.

      Come the closed season some will be out of contract (like Jones), but some are here till 2020. If Wright gets no offers for instance City will be paying his wages next season.

      All I hope is that we manage to stay up. That’ll prove Hopkins and the club have the backbone for better, and we’ll be better off for it. If we go down fighting most of today’s 15,000 will probably buy a season ticket; but sadly ‘most’ will probably mean 8,500 at best. Still magnificent, but not enough to pay for Wright and someone worth a wage as well.

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