Life in the fast lane as Bradford City continue to recover

Grimsby Town 1
Clifton 49
Bradford City 2
Novak 21, Sutton 45

By Jason McKeown

When you’re on a car journey, there is often that moment where you’ve endured the frustration of being stuck in a traffic jam or behind a very slow driver, but finally you get through and there’s a clear road ahead – enabling you to accelerate with glee.

That is what it feels like for Bradford City right now. The road rage has subsided and the engine is purring. The Bantams have found a higher gear, charging away in the fast lane – especially in the first half at Blundell Park, where City raced past Grimsby thanks to a pair of sublime goals. It tarmacked the way for back-to-back victories and seven points from the last nine.

It is a Bradford City win that lifts the club to 18th position – the highest placing for a month. They’re seven points clear of Stevenage and Southend. The bottom two sides do have games in hand on City, but with only five league victories between them you’d struggle to make a convincing case for them quickly catching up. The relegation fears are disappearing from the Bantams’ rear view mirror. Whisper it with caution, but the play offs are only 10 points away.

This was another evening when the caretaker management team of Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars greatly impressed. The settled 4-2-3-1 system – with same XI – provided the platform to another effective display. The balance of the team is much greater, with Elliot Watt and Levi Sutton doing a great job of protecting the defence, enabling the four attacking players in front of them to push forwards.

There is less adventure in City’s approach. Less freedom to express and attack in numbers. But the rigid, organisational style has been vital in turning around the six-game losing run that did for Stuart McCall. The recently sacked manager could often pick a team packed with forward-minded players in the belief that they would overrun the opposition. But he neglected to adequately consider the actual winning of the ball that would provide the foundations to successful attacking football. Trueman and Sellars have fixed this issue.

In the first half, Grimsby suffered from the growing restoration of confidence within the Bantams ranks. Compare and contrast the start to this game with the Oldham defeat just 10 days ago. City did not begin here with any notable attacking impetus. They did not race forward in numbers. But they also ensured they didn’t hand the initiative to the hosts by conceding a soft early goal.

It is not football to set the pulses racing, but it does lead to a very, very satisfying outcome.

21 minutes in, Callum Cooke sent over a cross that took a slight deflection. Lee Novak chested the loose ball down, before producing a glorious overhead kick that flew over the badly-positioned James McKeown and landed into the net. A goal of stunning quality. Harry Pritchard’s claim to the goal of the season – following his wonder strike against Cambridge on Saturday – was suddenly ripped out of his grasp.

Yet even more remarkably, Novak’s wonder strike was arguably eclipsed by City’s second. Billy Clarke angled a delightful through ball into the path of the late-charging Sutton, and the summer signing produced an audacious lob that McKeown had no hope of keeping out.

2-0, at half time, through two of the best goals you’ll see anywhere. The dark clouds that had engulfed City over recent weeks have firmly lifted.

But before any City supporter got too carried away, an early second half Grimsby goal from Harry Clifton put the game back in the balance. Ian Holloway – who had made a double substitution at half time – pushed bodies forward. The two ex-Bantams lining up as Grimsby’s wideman – Kyle Bennett and Filipe Morais – caused lots of problems.

But though Grimsby won the possession battle and bettered the overall shots and corner count, in truth City looked more comfortable than the scoreline suggested. Richard O’Donnell had very little to do, as his defence did a good job dealing with balls into the box. It was powder puff from the home side. At no stage did they seriously look like they were about to equalise. Although Holloway did claim, “I thought we played better than we did on Saturday, but we won Saturday.”

If there is a club that has especially suffered from the pandemic, it’s surely Grimsby Town. Back in early February, when McCall first took charge of City again, the Mariners had rocked up at Valley Parade with nearly 3,000 fans. They were reinvigorated by Holloway, and though the play offs looked beyond them it felt like they would be really set for a promotion push this season. But robbed of that sea of support at games, and after a seemingly difficult transfer window, Grimsby are drifting badly amid acrimonious takeover activity. They looked a side bereft of quality here.

Indeed, City might have made the game even safer, coming on stronger in the closing stages thanks to the positive impact of Clayton Donaldson and Kurtis Guthrie. A particularly brilliant piece of link up play between the pair saw the ball worked to Cooke at the far post, and he all the time to pick his spot. But the shot on goal lacked conviction, enabling McKeown to block. Had Grimsby earned a late equaliser, Cooke’s miss would have felt extremely costly.

So where has it all suddenly gone so right for City? As ever, there are many reasons rather than one overarching factor. Though Trueman and Sellars deserve credit throughout.

Firstly, the tactical switch to a back four has paid huge dividends. Especially the removal of Ben Richards-Everton, who was badly letting everyone down. Sutton has added bite to central midfield, whilst also helping Watt rediscover his mojo.

The second factor is the return of key personnel who were badly missing during the final few weeks of McCall’s reign. The returning Novak’s influence is there for all to see – two goals in four games since finding fitness, making it eight goals in 18 games since his January arrival. He is proving to be an inspired piece of business left behind by Gary Bowyer.

Clarke has been instrumental as well. All of City’s best moments this season have occurred with Clarke around the team, and when McCall lost him after the Oldham FA Cup loss, there was simply no like for like replacement. Much was said early doors about whether Cooke and Clarke can play in the same team. But the record with the pair in the side (City have won 60% of the games Clarke and Cooke have both started) compared to when one or both are unavailable (City have won just 6% of these games) is incredibly stark.

Whatever the feelings about McCall’s performance as manager, there is no denying that the injury list during his final few weeks was a really telling factor in the poor run. At the absolute worst moments – the losses to Oldham in the FA Cup, plus Cheltenham and Carlisle in the league – there was nothing on the bench. McCall had no options that could seriously improve the team in the closing stages, and they became weaker each time. The difference tonight – with Guthrie, Donaldson, Gareth Evans and Austin Samuels options to come on – was huge. In those final 20 minutes, City grew stronger and successfully kept Grimsby at an arm’s length.

The third point is the players are trying harder. Harry Pritchard has not exactly been subtle in his criticism of life being a little too easy under McCall, and evidently the recent bounce does not reflect well on the City legend. But there is little doubt, also, that a few players really let the former manager down for the way they performed. Watching the two O’Connors mop everything up tonight was great to see, but can they both claim they were showing the same level of application a few weeks ago?

That the players are showing more effort and endevour is great credit to Trueman and Sellars. But it will also be likely because of a desire to impress the next manager, whoever that might be. And perhaps, for some, with an eye on the transfer window. They key question is can these players maintain these levels of workrate and dedication? Past history offers reasons to be sceptical for now.

Finally, this is a team that is not facing the same level of adversity as it was a few weeks ago. They’ve taken the lead in all three games so far. And whilst scoring first is hardly a guarantee of success – look at the Oldham cup loss and Cheltenham league defeat – this is not a team with a great record of coming back from a losing position. They’ve gained only five points so far this season from losing positions. It is a team that gives up.

The latter factor remains the biggest question mark against giving Trueman and Sellars the job just yet, if – as reports suggest – they are increasingly in the frame to be appointed full time. They have done a brilliant job reviving sagging spirits and turning around a worrying league position. Tactically, it’s been very good. But there are bigger tests for them to face. Perhaps only when they endure a set back can a decision really be taken on giving them the job.

But the biggest thing they’ve achieved so far is enabling the club to slow down the urgency of recruiting the next Bradford City manager. It’s working really well right now, so why rush in to change it again for the moment? Especially if the long-hinted recruitment manager comes in to take a lead on the fast-approaching January window.

There are big doubts about whether the caretaker team is the right one to take Bradford City forward at this stage of their careers, and in light of the challenges the club still faces. But for now, there is absolutely no reason why Trueman and Sellars shouldn’t take the team at Tranmere on Saturday, and indeed the home game against Port Vale on Tuesday. They’ve more than demonstrated they can keep the car running.

Categories: Match Reviews

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25 replies

  1. A great summation of my thoughts about the current “turnaround”. On other social media sites the injuries are not seen as a factor in form under Stuart. Indeed the current form is been used disrespectfully by some to beat him with. The return to a back 4 along with the returning players as undoubtedly made a huge difference and is the reason we must still now use this transfer window to prepare for such circumstances returning. Indeed what happens to the system currently employed where the o@connors, novak, Sutton to get injured. Bigger tests to come indeed. What has happened to the head of recruitment announcement? The next window is important in us getting through this season, whilst the summer window and the fact that we will only have 7 contracted players gives us an opportunity to hopefully get a balanced squad that can challenge. Does the current management team have the know how to succeed in this area? And will we get to find out? i still think that experience would be the way to go if that right candidate is there but we can only say well done to what they have both done in the past few games.

    • Well said. I agree with every point you make. Easy to be blindsided at this point and think the garden is all rosey

    • Have to agree here that we shouldn’t be getting carried away just yet. Too soon and why not drag a new appointment out now to see what happens. If Paul Hurst wants to go back to Grimsby – good luck to him or he can wait a bit longer to see if he has a sniff of joining City. Last 3 games have been much improved but we’re far from world beaters yet & Tranmere will be an interesting game. Time to take some deep breaths

      • I’ve got to agree with the other posts. Whilst I’m delighted with the massive turnaround in fortunes, I’m still very cautious.
        As has been pointed out in several posts T&S are novices to this role. That’s not to say they’re not talented coaches but I wonder if they will be able to deal with the inevitable bumps along Jason’s road?
        One of McCalls failures according to others was his inability to turn around a losing run.
        T&S have yet to see a result gained from a losing position, not to mention a positive result following a defeat. These will be a true test of their credentials.
        It might be suggested giving them until the end of the season to see what they can do. Come the summer, if they’re not up to it, any new manager will at least have a the opportunity for a good clear out given the number of players who’ll be out of contract.
        The big risk for me is the plsyers; we’ve seen players suddenly turn things around only to revert back to form. They did under Hopkins 2 years ago. But the wheels came off on Boxing day at Sunderland.
        If the boys can get this team to fire on all cylinders until then end of the season then they deserve the job.
        But if they don’t then we could end up losing to very good coaches from our set up. It’s a big risk.
        I’m glad I’m not in Ryan Sparks position. Do you stick or twist?

  2. We have seen experienced managers fail to end poor runs of results and turn around the players performances on a regular and recent basis down at VP. And if the rumours of Hurst being favourite to take over is true then we can add him to the list of managers who has recently had to endure more defeats than victories at his last two clubs.

    Trueman and Sellars have demonstrated they can turn around hopeless team performances and results and produce victories in combination with good solid performances. It’s not been victories by fluke.

    They can obviously turn individuals into a team and at the same time improve each of those individuals performances. What they need is the help with recruitment. We have had the Owen Doyle’s of this world that experienced managers were unable to get the best out of so I don’t think the Club would be taking a risk in bringing in players that Trueman and Sellars wanted because the evidence so far shows they know how to fit square pegs in square holes.

    Hurst is another gamble, do we stick or twist? For me it’s stick with T and S and support them with the type of infrastructure we keep crying out for. They know the players, the culture of the Club and the strength and weakness of the academy set-up. If they have a downturn in results and struggle they will be no worse than what we have had from the experienced guys before them or the the rumoured favourite who may end up beating them to the permanent role.

  3. I’m cautiously optimistic. Hard not to be. Yes it’s only three games. I am fully aware of that but it’s the mood and manner that has changed most dramatically not just results. Two weeks ago I was broken by city. I’d reached a low and an apathy I didn’t think possible. The apathy a coping mechanism. A way to not feel the pain anymore. But even I am now looking up at the 10 point gap rather than down at the 7 point gap. Appreciate its way too early to get carried away but as a supporter of a club I adore, this feeling is the one I want. The feeling of looking forward with excitement and over-zealous optimism. Plotting the games you think we’ll win draw and lose a month at a time and targeting the rise up the table should other teams suddenly just stop accumulating points! Surely I’m not alone in doing that?
    My friend texted me less than a week ago saying city were 50/1 for promotion. He outlined the potential for a change in spirits and direction saying it’s got to be worth a tenner. I told him save your money. It’s a lost cause this. At any time over the last 30 years of supporting city it would have been me sending him that message and encouraging the possibilities and the optimism and how definitely this is possible. Hopefully these last three games are starting to restore my blind emotional optimism for the clubs fortunes. Hopefully….

    • Well said. And get a quid on the promotion bet.

    • Bradford have won one and drawn one playing a decent type of football Crawley & Cambridge and won a game playing a scruffy type of game,playing against what I call big boot football teams.Before we think about changing management let’s look what happens in the next two games,and then the next two.and if were in a strong position gave these two lads,to the end of the season.And go from there,we have nothing to loose and everything to gain.onwords and upwords.

  4. City’s dramatic transformation is due to going back to basics and keeping it simple. The current coaches have done a great job of player assessment and utilising the appropriate tactics for the squad’s skill level. Sad to say, improvements that appear to have been beyond Stuart’s coaching capabilities.

  5. Those goals were a joy, and the first time in a long while I was actually looking forward to kick off. I share your caution though. At some point there will be new injuries, a suspension…the test of management is to adapt and deliver over a 46 game season.

    I see a lot of talk of taking the pressure off a managerial appointment. But i have concerns when i read comments like “ There’s no clarity on day-to-day and what’s happening tomorrow” from Conor Sellars. Who is doing the planning for the January transfer window? At what point will the club properly start laying foundations to drive sustainably forward?

  6. Excellent report; thanks Jason.
    Firstly, how refreshing to read about back to back league victories. I think that is the first time that that has occurred this season.
    Secondly, having now seen Novak’s goal, what a superb finish. I think that it was Sutton who did well to keep the ball in play before passing to Cooke.
    Thirdly, reverting to a back four seems to be one of the reasons why we are performing better along with the return to fitness of certain players.
    Fourthly, how can you mention the points gap to seventh place?!? Ever the optimist!
    Finally, let’s hope that our car is serviced and MOT-ed to help us maintain our league status.

  7. A great summary again Jason. As usual your comments are spot on and not a knee jerk reaction, of total conjecture, like the vast majority on social media.
    Let’s hope the new boss and recruitment manager begin to improve our beloved club.

  8. Suddenly supporting City has become a pleasure! I think in his piece about new manager bounce, there was a bit about luck. I am not saying for a moment that T & S have not galvanised the team, set them up to their strengths BUT we’ve won courtesy of three “worldys”, the defending for Grimsby’s goal was woeful. If not for O’D’s last gasp save on Saturday …..
    It’s brilliant and we can enjoy the moment but Lady Luck might have just changed.

    • Lady luck has nothing to do with it. From looking like a team that could realistically concede 5 or 6 a game to conceding 2 in 3 games (one an own goal) and our keeper having little to do in those games is down to one factor only, the coachimg and management of this team. And this with the same set of defensive players (bar Hosannah who is injured). T and S are just doing the things that seemed completely oblivious to a tactically inept McCall. And i say that with a heavy heart as someone who saw his first games for the club as a teenager.
      Football at its finest really is a simple game, the more complicated you make the less chance of success you have. Trueman and Sellars have gone back to basics and put square pegs in square holes. 7 points out of 9 as opposed to 4 points out 30 is your answer.

  9. got to keep these 2 in charge until they prove they’re not up to it – very impressive how quickly they’ve identified and fixed the issue. This also highlights Stuarts shortcomings unfortunately. The likes of AOC and Guthrie suddenly look like capable footballers again and Sutton and POC looking like real gems – is this really down to a change in system? Possibly.

    This recent bounce does though cautiously remind me of a couple of Xmas’s ago – Edin left, Hopkin was in charge and we suddenly started winning games. That didn’t last long and we went down. I wonder if there is a short burst of euphoria when a poisonous element (sorry Stuart, very harsh on you that) leaves the building.

    Club now needs to back these 2 in the window and keep talking to and looking for potential managerial replacements – hopefully not needed. We need to act quickly if it all turns to sh*t again.

    City have been a joy to watch in the last 3 games particularly how they have dealt with opposition attacks and crosses into the box and how they’ve stayed calm in possession – they seem to have the right balance between making the pass or hoofing it away – it all seems so much simpler and clearer.

  10. The success of Trueman and Sellars will not have gone unnoticed by other clubs.

    If Sparks overlooks them for the permanent role, I’ve no doubt much bigger clubs will come knocking, for them to work in their Academies, given their proven expertise in that area.

    Would they be prepared to settle back to working in their original jobs at City, after enjoying their spell in the limelight? So the view that we should make an external appointment, as we can’t afford to lose the good work they are doing with the youngsters, may be flawed anyway.

  11. I would not like to have the management decision to make. Good luck with that one RS. How we did not have the foresight to sign Morais given our lack of wide options beggars belief. Only topped by the Wurzels decision to sub him off with Bennett their two most threatening players. Nice work Holloway.

  12. They have also made us realise that we don’t need to get a lot more players in to attain a reasonable lg position come May 2021. Many more players will be out of contract at the end of the season giving us greater choice and not be ” blackmailed ” in January.

  13. It must be tempting for Ryan Sparks to keep Trueman as head coach and just bring in a Director of Football like Lee Turnball to do the recruitment?

  14. I wish Stuart had been given 2 more games, with the players coming back. He was hamstrung with the players available, removing BRE was obvious, but replace with who? Novak seems to have the respect and ability to lift the team around him.
    The criticism about how easy training was is interesting, but if you already are 4/5 key players down, would you want to risk those remaining?
    Having said that, I hope the current 2 get a few more games in charge as their start looks promising and the believe is coming back! Only 10 points off the playoffs!

  15. For once solutions to current conundrums seem fairly straightforward now that the two jewels that are T and S have been discovered at the bottom of the Valley Parade drawer.
    1) Keep T and S on enhanced contracts to the end of the season. Then review.
    2) Immediately appoint recruitment supremo to oversee much-needed squad strengthening in January.
    3) Allow T and S to use their knowledge of the academy scene to appoint their replacements in that sphere until end of season.
    4) Review all arrangements and appointments in May.

    All these proposals are based on remaining comfortably above the relegation area as a minimum criterion.
    If things start to go pear-shape again and the above condition is in danger of not being met, return to panic mode.
    Finally, a pat on the back for Mr Sparks who, in keeping with his promise, has remained unflustered since his appointment. His calls have been spot on incuding his contract extension for McCall which should be viewed as a silver (hardly golden) farewell to a City legend who has always answered the call.
    Onwards and upwards.

  16. Excellent summation of the situation so far. The change in morale is remarkable and there for all to see.
    The same players are there that McCall had but it was his intransigence to change things around that caused the massive slump. The Trueman Show starring Peter Sellars with the rearranged cast is certainly a hit!

  17. If It’s Not Broke Don’t Fix It…….

    Leave the 2 Heroes in charge until they think they have took the team as far as they can with no pressure, and then they can drop back into their day to day roles with the youth development as mission accomplished, by this time the manager market could be flooded with more choice than just rushing with a knee jerk reaction, at the moment it’s not broke, so why fix it and with the recruitment staff coming in and working with Trueman and Sellars, I am sure between them, they would know what type of players would help strengthen the squad for the January window and then the newly appointed manager if we need one will have a full strengthened squad to work with from good foundations put in place, no pressure now.

  18. I don’t know what your all so unsure about is it city winning 7points out of 9 or the great find in Truman & Sellars stepping up to the plate or maybe you think were about to wake up to find we are bottom of the league, Just a couple of weeks ago there wasn’t many players fit to wear the shirt, Now there are many Hero’s doing a manful job and a team being forged into shape and playing well, By the time we get into January it may be more obvious what players will be a good fit for the team especially if you let T&S stay the distance. Play basic football well and to your strengths and run with it.

  19. Great read ,now let’s make sure we get what is needed an experience manager with a success on his C.V and what contacts he can draw on ,the last point is vital to this season which just maybe we can turn round with a great start from the standing duo who I hope will now go back into the shadows with a future attachment to the first team squad, I just hope the owner dose not feel everything is now ok and go for the cheap option and we end up back at square one.

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