The Bradford City 2021/22 season preview #3: Is this squad good enough to get promoted?

By Alex Scott, Tim Penfold and Jason McKeown

Won 16, Drew 11, Lost 19.

48 goals for. 53 goals against.

Bradford City’s 2020/21 record ultimately proved very disappointing. With the final points total of 59 meaning the 15th-placed Bantams finished 14 points short of the play off spots – and 20 points behind the automatic promotion places.

It is a very low base starting point, when assessing whether the 2021/22 Bradford City squad can take a big enough leap forwards to achieve promotion this season – especially when the target, understandably, is automatic promotion.

Whilst the 53 goals conceded last season isn’t too bad – although only one club in last season’s League Two top 10 let in more goals (and that team, interestingly, was Derek Adams’ Morecambe) – there is clearly a huge improvement needed at the other end.

We’ve run the figures of League Two top three finishers over the past 10 years. The graph below would suggest City need to find an extra 25 goals this season to reach the required standard, whilst probably needing to marginally improve defensively.

It is true that Bolton managed to finish third last season despite only scoring 59 goals, but their success was hugely dependent on an outstanding defence that conceded just 13 goals over Wanderers’ final 22 matches.

The next question is – how likely, historically, is it that a team with a 2020/21 record like City can improve by such a big margin to finish in the automatics the season after? Well, assessing the records of each League Two top three finisher for the last 10 years, and their performance the season before, we’ve found it is a rare occurrence. But not completely unprecedented.

Burton Albion (2013/14 to 2014/15), Oxford United (2014/15 to 2015/16) and Cambridge United (2019/20 to 2020/21) are the three teams who have successfully achieved the level of improvement need to go from mid-table to top three inside 12 months. If City can do what Cambridge United managed last season, we’d all be very happy.

The big question is: do we see a big enough improvement in the 2021/22 Bradford City squad for that to happen? Can we get extra 25 goals out of this season’s team compared to the mediocre goal return of 2020/21? And can the defence be as good – if not better – as last term?

Over a three-part series we’ll examine the 24 players Derek Adams hopes will have the quality needed to deliver success. Starting today with the goalkeepers and full backs.

(Statistics from and

1. Richard O’Donnell

Goalkeeper. Age 32. Final season of contract.

Last SeasonTeam(s)StartsMins %*GoalsConcededWhoScored Rating
Richard O’DonnellCity2861%3466.64

*Percentage of total possible minutes played over the season

By Alex

Watching Harrogate’s Josh McPake being given the freedom of the right half of the City area before burying a curling shot into his far corner, another up-and-down season for Richard O’Donnell met a familiar and premature end. After being named club captain, the April defeat at Harrogate saw him dropped for a second time for back-up Sam Hornby.

Now, a few months later, entering the final year of his contract, O’Donnell once again in his career finds himself uncertain of a starting berth. This isn’t an unusual occurrence for him, he’s only started more than 40 games in a league season three times since his debut in 2007. But yet again facing an uncertain future, he has to prove himself, competing once more with Sam Hornby.

Although he lost his position twice last year, he can make an arguable case of having the better season of City’s keepers last season, with higher save % leading the team to perform almost as well to how they did with Hornby, despite O’Donnell facing many more shots a game. Though in truth they were much of a muchness.

From his actions so far in this role, Derek Adams has shown his tendency to favour experience which will bode well for O’Donnell, though as demonstrated last year, his place is by no means guaranteed. Entering a contract year, O’Donnell will be hoping a stronger defence in front of him can provide him the platform to demonstrate his value at this level.

What a good season looks like: Playing the balance of games against decent competition, maintaining himself as a starter at this level, setting himself up for another starting contract in League Two next season. Richard O’Donnell in 2020/21

What a great season looks like: Establishes himself as the clear number one against a perhaps more favoured competitor, and behind a strong defence is a reliable contributor in a promotion chasing team. Ben Williams in 2015/16.

13. Sam Hornby

Age 26. Goalkeeper. Two seasons remaining on contract.

Last SeasonTeam(s)StartsMins %ConcededClean SheetsWhoScored Rating
Sam HornbyCity1839%1966.40

By Tim

What a difference a year makes. Last summer, if Sam Hornby had been out of contract, he would’ve been released. He’d dropped behind George Sykes-Kenworthy in the pecking order under Gary Bowyer, had an unconvincing loan spell at AFC Fylde and been completely ignored when Richard O’Donnell was injured, with a loanee brought in instead.

Without much league experience, and with that season behind him, would he have got a league club? Or indeed, with non-league struggling worse than most with the financial impact of Covid-19, would he have got any contract?

It’s the lot of a number 2 goalkeeper that they only really get a chance when the number 1 either loses form or gets injured. After a season and a half of waiting, Hornby finally got his chance when Richard O’Donnell got injured and he took it – far more Matt Clarke than Rouven Sattelmaier. He offered something different to O’Donnell – an inferior shot-stopper, but a more active sweeper and more commanding in his own box – and it was considered a bit of a surprise when O’Donnell got his place back. However, by the end of the season Hornby was back in between the sticks purely on merit, and fully earned his new deal.

It’s not clear who will be the number 1 keeper this season – much like 2012/13, with an experienced former number 1 and a younger challenger. Hornby will be aiming to take the spot from O’Donnell permanently and keep it.

What a good season looks like: He’s not the automatic first choice, but by the end of the year he’s established as number 1. Jon McLaughlin in 2012/13.

What a great season looks like: He takes the number 1 shirt from the very beginning and doesn’t ever look like losing it, despite O’Donnell’s best efforts. Paul Henderson in 2004/05.

2. Oscar Threlkeld

Age 26. Right back and Central midfielder. Two seasons remaining on contract.

Last SeasonTeam(s)StartsMins %GoalsAssistsWhoScored Rating
Oscar ThrelkeldSalford2962%026.72

By Alex

A self-described right back who “can do a job in midfield”, Threlkeld joined City in the summer on a two-year deal, reuniting with manager Derek Adams.

After a youth career at Bolton, Threlkeld won promotion with Adams at Plymouth in 2017 as a 22 year old as their starting right back, quickly becoming a ‘fan favourite’ following a previous loan spell. He suffered an injury early in the following season, missing Plymouth’s inconsistent start, returning at Christmas coinciding with their upturn in form as they made a late run for the League One play offs.

Following a curiously short and unsuccessful spell in Belgium with Waasland-Bevern, Threlkeld returned for the death rattle of the Adams era at Home Park, before returning to the north west with Graham Alexander’s Salford after they poached Argyle’s Chief Scout the previous January. This was a broadly successful spell, though Threlkeld ended up spending most of his time in midfield last season.

It’s clear Threlkeld and Adams are close – excellently explored by Leon Wobschall here – so it evidently wasn’t a surprise Threlkeld followed him to Valley Parade. Finn Cousin-Dawson is his likely competition at right back, a similarly defensive minded full back with far less experience, and potentially decisively, no previous relationship with Adams, Threlkeld will have every opportunity to make the right back position his own.

There’s no question that Threlkeld can be the starting right back at this – and higher – levels under Derek Adams. After a few stop-start years, he now has the chance to settle back down and get the career that began with so much promise back on track. If he can repeat the two seasons that followed his move to Plymouth, both he and his boss will both be looking to extend their stays at Valley Parade.

What a good season looks like: Re-establishes himself as a starter in an above average to good team at this level, proving a reliable contributor on City’s right hand side. Simon Ramsden in 2009/10

What a great season looks like: Quickly becomes a key contributor from right back, providing defensive solidity and a competitive mentality, finding ways to contribute positively on the attacking end. Tony McMahon in 2016/17.

3. Liam Ridehalgh

Age 30. Left back. Two seasons remaining on contract.

Last SeasonTeam(s)StartsMins %GoalsAssistsWhoScored Rating
Liam RidehalghTranmere1534%006.46

By Alex

Another one of Adams’ new signings, Liam Ridehalgh joins City after an eight-year run at Tranmere where he participated in their run from League One down to the National League and back again. He eventually lost his place in Tranmere’s team last season to the more “forward thinking” Calum MacDonald, before returning after Keith Hill’s departure in the play offs as Tranmere fell to Morecambe.

The contract extension for his competitor MacDonald signalled the end of the 30-year old’s time on the Wirral and Ridehalgh chose to return to this side of the Pennines closer to where he grew up and started his career, at Huddersfield’s academy. Interestingly, he’s come to City to replace Connor Wood, very similar himself to the man who replaced Ridehalgh at Tranmere.

Ridehalgh is described on as someone who “likes to play long balls” and “clears the ball out of defence often”, two characteristics which shouldn’t be surprising for a Derek Adams signing, and alongside Threlkeld, should provide extra solidity in City’s backline this season.

He should, under Adams, have a good chance to make the left back position his own. It seems likely in Adams’ back four his main competition would come from Reece Staunton, and Ridehalgh should certainly have the upper hand in that battle to begin the season at least.

After last season where he ultimately became sidelined by a more ambitious alternative from full back, Ridehalgh has managed to land on his feet at Valley Parade with a clear route to a starting position, in a team suited to his style. A potentially shrewd signing by City, and with a two-year contract secured for the 30-year old Ridehalgh, he also has an opportunity to return to League One next season.

What a good season looks like: Consolidates his place in the team as a defensively-solid and reliable contributor at left back, in a team suited to his strengths. Waitrose Marcel Seip in 2011/12

What a great season looks like: Grows into the responsibility of an experienced leader in the defence, making the left back position his own. Paul Heckingbottom in 2003/04.

24. Finn Cousin-Dawson

Age 19. Right back and central defender. Three seasons remaining on contract.

Last SeasonTeam(s)StartsMins %GoalsAssistsWhoScored Rating
Finn Cousin-DawsonCity2041%006.46

By Tim

Finn Cousin-Dawson was the unexpected breakout success of last season. He managed a couple of starts in holding midfield under Stuart McCall, before forcing his way past Tyler French into the team on the right of Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars’ revamped back four.

His performances were generally decent, and he was solid enough defensively, albeit somewhat limited going forward for a full back. He did have his ups and downs, and took some time out of the side once Niall Canavan had come into the side and nudged Anthony O’Connor across to right back, but came back fairly well at the end of the season and fully earned his new deal.

He’ll be hoping to follow this up with a similar number of appearances this season, probably as Oscar Threlkeld’s understudy at right back.

What a good season looks like: He follows up his breakthrough season with another consistent set of displays, and while not a regular is still a solid squad member. Carl McHugh in 2012/13.

What a great season looks like: He follows up his breakthrough season by adding an extra attacking dimension to his game and forces his way into the team at right back. Luke O’Brien in 2008/09.

14. Matty Foulds

Age 23. Left back. Final season of contract

Last SeasonTeam(s)StartsMins %GoalsAssistsWhoScored Rating
Matty FouldsCity01%006.08

By Jason

Considering his minimal involvement after signing last January, the retention of Matty Foulds during the summer raised a few eyebrows. In 2020/21 he was restricted to three substitute appearances that collectively added up to just 42 minutes of action.

It’s difficult to form any conclusive judgements about Foulds based on those fleeting appearances. But the fact he was unable to make a better fist of dislodging Connor Wood – when the left back’s form wasn’t especially brilliant – doesn’t speak huge volumes for Foulds’ first team prospects.

With Liam Ridehalgh’s experience, pedigree and – no doubt – wage earmarking him as clear first choice left back, Foulds will start the 2021/22 in a familiar position of trying to force his way into the team. The cup matches – where he will surely get some game time – will be crucial in trying to make an impression, but his own prospects ultimately hinge on whether Ridehalgh can bring his best form to Valley Parade. 

What a good season looks like: He performs well in cup games and gets a run of league action at some stage, possibly because of injury or suspension to Ridehalgh. Curtis Good in 2012/13.

What a great season looks like: He capitalises on any struggles Ridehalgh experiences and steals a march for the first choice left back slot, impressing everyone with his defensive excellence and composure on the ball. Andrew Taylor in 2005/06.

Continues tomorrow with a look at central defenders and defensive midfielders.

Categories: Season Preview


2 replies

  1. Northampton Town also achieved the level of improvement required from 2014/15 to 2015/16 improving from 12th place to 1st place (61 pts to 99 pts).

  2. Good research, thanks for the interesting article

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