On the eve of the new season, WOAP writers Phil Abbott, Nikhil Vekaria and Dhriti Ahir share their views on Bradford City’s prospects for the League Two battle ahead.
How are you feeling about City’s chances this season?
Phil: We all know it is the hope that kills you and almost every year we fall into the same trap of over-stating our chances. The stats are not great for City when it comes to relegation bouncebackability, but there are plenty of other signs to alert even the most pessimistic and battle-worn fans of positive things to come.
Have you ever met a cash-strapped bookie, for example? Well with the Bantams as favourites for the title, there has to be something in that. Have the bookies been hoodwinked into the same sense of positivity around Valley Parade as us fans or has the team that has been assembled in double quick time so much better than the rest of the pack?
I certainly think that if we can keep the squad fit, we have a great chance of promotion. Will that be as champions? Not sure. The Salford juggernaut, along with its entourage of hungry pressers could demand the top spot with a strong start. My own prediction is that we might start a little slower than we would hope, but by 10 games in, we will be up there in the mix and stay there for the rest of the season.
Nikhil: Positive. After spending the entirety of last season feeling like going to games was a chore, I’m actually optimistic that I’ll enjoy going to Valley Parade again, albeit in League Two.
Everything that has been said or done in pre-season seems to have hit the right notes, with Gary Bowyer getting most of his signings in early and the noises around team spirit and morale coming out of the club being positive. As well as this, pre-season performances have generally been quite good, although I have my doubts about how much they can tell us about what will actually happen once the season kicks off. However, I think we’ve signed well and players like James Vaughan, Ben Richards-Everton and Paudie O’Connor should be top players at this level, whilst Gary Bowyer on paper is one of the best managers in the division.
A lot will hinge on how those in last season’s squad will adapt to League Two, but there does appear to be reason for promise, with Jordan Gibson looking especially reinvigorated. I strongly believe City should bounce straight back this season and I think we’ll definitely be in and around the play offs at least.
Dhriti: I think we as the fans have to try this season and make Valley Parade a fortress and make the opposition feel nervous when they play against us. The pre season game that stood out for me was against Liverpool, as all the fans came together as one and stood by the players no matter what. And I’m hoping that we can give the same effect to the players throughout the season.
I feel like we have a strong chance against the teams in League Two as we have both experienced and young players in our squad. I think that we need to forget the events that happened last season and make sure this is an incredible season filled with memories and prosperity – which is what our club deserves.
Which new signings are you most excited about?
Nikhil: James Vaughan, Clayton Donaldson and Paudie O’Connor are probably the stand-out names from this summer’s signings, but the one that I’m really excited about is Matt Palmer. He’s a midfielder who’s impressed in the divisions above and I think his style should complement that of Hope Akpan nicely, allowing us to hopefully dominate games from the middle of the park, which was so rare last term.
My major concern with Palmer’s signing is the January recall clause, but I accept that’s probably what is needed to attract players of his quality to League Two. The defensive signings look generally strong too, but I’m excited to watch how Tyler French develops. He appears to have a lot of the qualities needed to be a centre back at this level and if he can adapt to league football, I think he could be a really good bit of business.
James Vaughan’s goal record at this level speaks for itself and his leadership will be vital for City, whilst Clayton Donaldson will bring some much-needed experience too. In addition to these signings, players like Joe Riley and Jordan Gibson have looked invigorated in pre-season and could contribute a lot if this continues into the campaign. The final mention, albeit not a new signing must go to Sean Scannell; it’s hard to imagine many better players in the division if we can keep him fit.
Dhriti: Personally, I can’t wait to see James Vaughan play in a City shirt as he has Premier League experience and leadership qualities as well. Since he is also the skipper, he will be one of the vocal in the dressing room. In my opinion, he is someone who the fans can relate to and he is also a player who young fans will aspire to be like. He is someone who I think is the leader that we need to guide us in League Two.
I also can’t wait to see the new defensive partnerships that we might see during the season, the likes of Tyler French and Ben Richards-Everton who will bring the height that we lacked last season. I also believe that Gary Bowyer has more options depending on the opposition that we are facing – which is a huge positive for us.
Phil: The excitement I have for our marquee players is muted only by the fear of losing them to injury. We have taken a few gambles by bringing in/retaining players who are, on the face of it, too good for League Two, but have unenviable injury records. If we can keep Vaughan and Scannell fit, and Donaldson causes the sort of problems to opposition defences like he has in pre-season, then we could have a great year. Up front, we seem a little short of experience without them.
There are also a number of players coming in who have been given either a breakthrough into league football, or a second chance. Jordan Gibson seems to have had an excellent pre-season and if he can do his talking on the pitch, this really could be his breakthrough year. With the likes of Tyler French looking to make an instant impact, there could be plenty of genuine competition for places across the back too.
There ought to be an interesting battle between the sticks this year, with Sam Hornby looking like he is very close to matching, or even superseding Richard O’Donnell for the number one spot. That is a positive thing for both of them.
What areas of the team still need strengthening?
Dhriti: In my opinion, I believe that neither the attackers and nor the defenders need changing as we have quality players who have many attributes. The midfield, on the other hand, has good players – but I think that we need a player who needs to be the glue in the starting 11. We need to have a player who is the main link between the defenders and attackers. If Gary Bowyer hasn’t finished his search for a player then I think this sort of player should be the one we are looking out for.
A player who has a lot of questions marked next to his name about his future is Eoin Doyle who has been linked with a move away from the club. He is someone who is not as consistent on goal as Donaldson and Vaughan. If he does leave, a replacement would need to be ready to walk through the doors at Valley Parade straightaway.
I would like to see Doyle stay as he is a player who can support Donaldson and Vaughan when we are being more attack-minded.
Nikhil: I still think we could do with one more combative central midfielder, a must for a long season in League Two. I like Hope Akpan and some of the youngsters have shown promise, but over a long season, I think we are still slightly short of numbers in the middle of the park. A tough-tackler with recent experience of League Two wouldn’t go amiss.
I think we generally look pretty strong everywhere else, but I’d be slightly concerned if Eoin Doyle was to be sold and not replaced. However, if he does remain at Valley Parade, I’d be more than happy to go into the season with the current strike force.
The final position I do still have concerns over is in goal. Richard O’Donnell didn’t convince me last season and whilst Sam Hornby has looked strong in his pre-season outings, he hasn’t got a huge amount of league experience under his belt. I’m hoping that the two of them will push each other on and that we’ll be okay in this area, but I wouldn’t complain if another experienced goalkeeper was signed.
Phil: I think we all recognise the need to have competition in all areas of the pitch and the flexibility to change formation and tactics dependent on the opposition. We have certainly added height, which so brutally exposed us last season.
Have we added the physicality too? Partly, I would say. Therefore, I think we still need to beef up the midfield with a tenacious, no-nonsense tackler to go alongside the more direct, attacking players. It will be interesting to see if Eoin Doyle stays and, if he doesn’t, replacing him quickly (and with proven quality and experience) is going to be essential.
How confident are you about Gary Bowyer?
Phil: Gary Bowyer oozes professionalism. Everything he has done and said since his arrival has chimed positively with the fans. He seems to have the knack of saying and doing the right thing. He is clearly well respected in managerial circles too.
He appears to have planned pre-season to the nth degree, with calculated and meaningful friendlies designed to test a number of combinations, formations, tactics and temperament. He has not been afraid to mix things up, for the sake of winning a game. The team look much fitter than last year and he has built a squad early to allow them to gel.
Until the season kicks off, we won’t know just how successful this has been, but I get the feeling he has been studious and meticulous in his planning. I think he is the man for Bradford City at this time and I am confident that he can get us out of this league. I hope it is this year!
Dhriti: I believe that Gary Bowyer is someone who knows what he wants from his players and he is someone who the fans have belief in. He is someone who has done it before with Blackpool and I feel like he can repeat that success with our club.
Bowyer is someone who has chosen his new players very meticulously and he knows what sort of team he wants to showcase to the fans throughout the course of the season. He knows that his players will have to give 110% week in week out to meet the demands of fans.
Nikhil: Very. He’s said all the right things and made all the right moves this pre-season, but Bowyer also has the record to back it up, succeeding in this division with Blackpool before and guiding them to an immediate return to League One. I think he’s tactically astute and knows exactly what is needed to get out of this division, whilst his signings have filled obvious holes in the team.
I’m confident in his ability to get us out of this league and also confident that he will know how to deal with any blips in form – something bound to happen over a long season in this division.
Where do you think City will finish?
Dhriti: I’m hoping that City will be in the mix for the play offs as we have a strong and refreshed squad. Salford and Plymouth will be teams who are our toughest competition in this league. Bradford City is not a club that should be playing their football in the fourth tier and I think that Gary Bowyer is someone who has the ability to take us back.
This is our time! I believe that the 2019/20 season is going to be great. Bring on the weekend!
Nkihil: 3rd. With Bowyer in charge and the squad we have, I think City should be aiming for an immediate return to League One. I’m wary that we never do it the easy way, but I do think we would be underachieving massively if we didn’t at least make the play offs.
Sides such as Salford and Plymouth look strong and it certainly won’t be a walk in the park, with League Two always being notoriously close. However, I believe that over 46 games, our quality should tell. Automatic promotion is my prediction.
Phil: I think we would all be disappointed if we didn’t make the play offs at least and indeed, with the squad we have assembled, we really ought to be doing so. Anything less will be another significant under-performance.
For my money, the bookies are rarely wrong and I think there is a genuine chance of automatic promotion. I think we will be pipped at the post by Salford or Plymouth, but, in predicting a second place finish for City, I would take that every day of the week.
Whatever the outcome, we won’t do it either the easy way or the conventional way, will we? We’re Bradford City FC!