This week officially marks the halfway point of the 2020/21 League Two season. Like almost everyone else, Bradford City have recently had matches postponed which means we’ve only played 21 out of the 46 fixtures. But with a blank midweek, WOAP writers Nikhil Vekaria, Mark Danylczuk, Mesh Johal and Ian Sheard review the season so far and how they’re finding the remote supporting experience.
How would you rate this season so far out of 10?
Nikhil: 2/10. Despite the optimism due to the turnaround in recent weeks, I went into December genuinely concerned that we’d drop out of the Football League, so I find it tough to rate the season any higher than that.
Seeing a club legend in Stuart McCall leave obviously wasn’t nice (although I fully agreed with the decision) and performances have generally been very poor for the majority of the season. I do think there’s a bit more optimism around the club at the moment and I can see us turning the corner, so there are small positives to take, but I simply can’t rate a season highly where we went into December in genuine relegation trouble.
I’m also not fully convinced we’re totally safe yet, although I’m certainly more hopeful than if you’d asked me this question a month ago.
Mark: 3/10. It is difficult to give anything more than an above average rating in a season which has dropped us almost to the foot of the Football League pyramid and rekindles memories of the darker days of the 2010-12 era.
There have been some absolutely dire games and periods where it’s been very difficult to get excited to watch City even when there has been little to do during these times. However, the current mini resurgence under Trueman/Sellars provides some optimism for the months ahead.
Ian: 5/10. At the start of the season I would have asked for minus as our performances were on a par with those of the dreaded Peter Taylor era. The defence for me was a worrying area. When Staunton got injured it looked as though we had forgotten how to defend or even what the word meant. It appeared as though the rest of the defence was looking to a teenager to guide and lead them.
The goals conceded in McCall’s final game v Oldham were shambolic. However, recently we have remembered how to defend and appear now to be turning the corner. Have we a potential to get higher than 5? I would hope so!
Mesh: 2/10. From iFollow issues, empty grounds, to Stuart McCall’s sacking, the whole lockdown football experience has been one to forget.
Which game have you enjoyed the most?
Mark: Mansfield away. Not many to pick from and for me, this just edged the 3-0 home win against Southend in November. Although Mansfield were woeful, this game will probably be remembered more for a rather comical own goal from the keeper and a wonderfully worked second City goal with a delightful Pritchard backheel and Connor Wood slotting home.
Ian: Grimsby away. If only for the two amazing goals scored. That and we also looked like a team again. McCall spoke about the importance of getting Novak back and I think this game perhaps proved that. The bonus of that game was that it was Holloway’s last game as well. It almost proved the point that the draw at Crawley and the victory against Cambridge were not flukes.
We actually looked like a team, which we hadn’t done for a while. We’ll never know what went on with the players and Stuart but whatever it was seemed to be forgotten.
Mesh: Cambridge (h). For the first time this season this squad showed some fight. The failing experiment with three at the back was gone, and instead there was a solidness about the side. This was a proper Bradford City back to the walls win in a cold and wintery Valley Parade.
Nikhil: Crawley away. Even though we didn’t win the game, it was the first time I’d seen the players show any proper fight for the shirt this season. Although that should be the absolute minimum, it was something that had been lacking in performances up to that point.
I also thought the actual performance was a lot more organised and looked more cohesive and I felt that you could see what Mark Trueman and Connor Sellars were trying to do, which made me more optimistic going forward. I think we’ve probably played better since (the performance against Cambridge was exceptional), but the timing of this one means it pips that as my favourite game of the season so far.
Which game have you enjoyed the least?
Ian: Oldham. You can take your pick from any one of the games with the Latics. I think McCall summed it up in his final post-match interview when he mentioned the players (one in particular) who should be ashamed of his performance. I remember watching the game and listening to Stuart afterwards and thinking that was it.
I honestly believed at that point that we were in a relegation scrap and we would be playing Halifax in the league soon enough. The thought of Bradford City out of the Football League was starting to become a real possibility.
Mesh: Newport (h). “Hit the ground running” was the war cry from Callum Cooke. The resistance lasted all of 43 seconds. It summed up how weak and fragile the team were under Stuart McCall.
Nikhil: Barrow away – but take your pick! There are so many games that could have been awarded this accolade, but I think Barrow takes it for me. A really poor result against a newly promoted side who I think will probably struggle this season, made worse by the fact that even at 1-0 down, I never really had any belief we’d get back into it.
This one also came early enough in the campaign that it really hit home just how much trouble we could find ourselves in. I think before it, I thought our poor form was probably just a blip.
I’d also like to caveat this answer by saying I missed the home game against Newport County, although I think they’re just a much better side, with a much better squad than us – I’m not convinced that Barrow are.
Mark: Oldham away in the league. There have been many poor games this season but this one stands out being a 5th straight league defeat which left us sitting above the relegation zone on goal difference and ultimately sealing Stuart McCall’s fate as manager.
Who is your player of the season so far?
Mesh: Lee Novak. Goals win games and without Novak we looked toothless in attack. His presence up top is vital in ensuring we stay in League Two.
Nikhil: Paudie O’Connor. Simply put, I think he’s the best player at the club. He always seems to stand up when needed (bar the red card at Forest Green) and I think he’s shown a real quality to his game, especially since the managerial change.
I think he’s got the ability to play at a higher level than League Two and I can see him becoming a real leader for the club in our (hopeful) march up the divisions over the next few years! I feel it’s important to have a solid centre-back that you can build a defence around and feel that Paudie is a player who can offer that, with regular consistent performances.
A special mention also to Bryce Hosannah, who’s looked excellent when available.
Mark: Connor Wood. Mr Consistent in my opinion. Always provides an outlet on the left with a decent cross, puts in a shift defensively and rarely to blame for a poor performance.
Ian: Reece Staunton or Lee Novak. For such a young lad, Staunton’s performances have been mature and consistent. Yes, he makes the odd mistake and perhaps get caught too far up the pitch on occasions, but he seems to keep the team together.
We are now seeing the work put in at the youth level under Trueman and Sellars is now paying off and obviously having a positive effect on the defence and team as a whole. If we can manage to keep him fit, motivated and at Bradford City he could be future captain. He reminds me a bit of Andy O’Brien. I would confidentally predict him flourishing under the current management.
I always remembered Novak from his time down the road as being one of those players that seemed to always score but never really got the recognition for it. A town fan I know spoke highly of him and said he was always a fan favourite as he was always ‘there’. I wouldn’t say I was overly impressed with him to start with but he has recently shown what an asset he can be to the club.
He is confident, a leader and (as he showed against Grimsby) has the ability to score some impressive goals. He seems to work well with Clarke at the moment and hopefully that partnership with the younger lads can help us to climb the table.
What is your assessment of the manager situation?
Nikhil: I have mixed opinions. I think it was definitely the right decision to get rid of Stuart McCall as performances under him had been awful and I couldn’t see where the next positive result was coming from. On top of this, I felt he had a tendency to overcomplicate things with his team selection and tactics, something I feel has been proven by the positive results achieved under Trueman and Sellars after a switch to what I’d argue was a ‘simpler’ system.
However, I’m still not convinced by the ‘until further notice’ wording in the announcement of the two youth team coaches being placed in interim charge. It feels a bit like they’ve had faith put in them but only until we go through a bad run or someone ‘better’ becomes available. I’d also be very surprised if the long-term plan after sacking McCall was to promote them permanently, so I’m slightly sceptical of the decision after a few good performance.
However, as I said above, the performances and tactical changes have shown really positive signs and I do feel that we’ve began to turn the corner. I have slight concerns about the long-term sustainability of the appointment and how things may go if we suddenly hit a bad patch or ‘get worked out’ by opponents, but I do think they deserve to be given a chance.
The emergence of younger players into the first-team will also hopefully continue and I feel that Trueman and Sellars are the best men to be in charge of this process.
Mark: Handled correctly. I think the club have taken the correct approach with the interim appointment of Trueman/Sellars. It was important to keep going with the current run and not worth disrupting the current momentum.
I think duo arguably earned a bit longer in the role and City rightly gave them some experience and assistance behind the scenes with the appointment of Lee Turnbull on the recruitment side, particularly for the January transfer window. If the situation turns it will be interesting to see how the management duo cope and if there is a serious regression, the club would seemingly look to shift quicker to an alternative permanent appointment.
Ian: Progressive. After the disaster of Michael Collins I was sceptical about putting Trueman and Sellars in charge. However, after the Crawley game where we actually looked like a team and remembered how to defend, it seemed the logical choice. We may or may not find out what happened with the players and Stuart, what good it would do if we did I would question.
My own theory is that maybe McCall tried to get them to play like a team they were not. Last time he was in charge we had players like Wyke, Meredith and Cullen. A team of decent players that wanted to play attacking football and were good enough for a shot in the Championship.
I don’t think tinkering with the formation and allowing creative freedom works for the current set of players or any team in League Two. The football we played under Parky wasn’t pretty but it got us out of the league. As attractive as attacking creative football looks, it doesn’t work in League Two I don’t believe.
A more organised, solid, gritty team is what is required and appears to be what is happening now. A team that will grind out a 1-0 result out on Boxing Day at Tranmere will do for me. Hopefully our sudden ability to defend again and score goals will continue and we’ll climb the league. Should we have opted for a more experienced manager? Maybe but they reason why they are available is because they’ve failed somewhere else.
Mesh: Short Term. Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars have provided us with a much needed bounce and their contract extension is deserved. However, the next full time appointment will be defining in Ryan Sparks’ short tenure as CEO.
Trueman and Sellars might continue in the job for the long haul but Sparks needs as much time as possible to make the right call and explore all available candidates and avenues.
In part two, the panel look at expectations for the rest of the campaign and how they’re finding supporting Bradford City from afar.