|Bradford City 1|
|Harrogate Town 3|
|Burrell 45(+5), Page 62, Diamond 90|
Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)
This is a story that keeps getting darker. Bradford City’s season of underachievement slumped to new depths here, as they suffered the ignominy of yet another defeat to their upstart, noisy neighbours.
By the end of this miserable night, Valley Parade was not so much angry as silent. The famous old ground almost stripped bare of Bradford City supporters. The crowd was already noticeably down at kick off, and when Jack Diamond strode through late on to seal Harrogate’s triumph a mass home exodus took place. Even the stadium announcer seemed to sigh out loud as he announced six minutes of meaningless injury time. With Valley Parade left looking a shell of what it can be, the only noise came from Harrogate’s magnificent supporters, who provided wonderful backing to their players all night.
Fear the wrath of an angry Bradford City public, but be even more fearful of the point where apathy takes over and people start to give up. Bradford City are in a worrying place with their supporters right now. Those 2022/23 season tickets are going to prove a very hard sell.
What made tonight so frustrating is that this was actually much better from Bradford City. When after 12 minutes Matty Foulds latched onto a pass and hit a low drive that flew past Harrogate keeper Mark Oxley and into the net, it was though a switch was flicked back on and everyone suddenly rediscovered their confidence.
City were lucky to go ahead at that point but began to play with a purpose and swagger that reflected well on caretaker Mark Trueman. Lining up 3-5-2, but with wing backs Luke Hendrie and Alex Gilliead encouraged to attack, City got the ball forwards quickly and were impressive with the high press. There were actually a decent amount of bodies in the box when City went forward, and several promising attacks suggested they were on the brink of going 2-0 up. For long periods, Harrogate could barely get out of their own half.
They were aided by an enforced early substitution when Tom Elliott went off injured and Theo Robinson came on to good effect, harrowing opposition defenders and showing flashes of skill. Levi Sutton rediscovered his mojo and drove the team forwards. Gilliead fared well as a wingback and for most of the first half the three centre backs of Foulds, Yann Songo’o and Paudie O’Connor were solid.
But Bradford City’s capacity to hit the self destruct button remained on show. Deep in first half stoppage time they were on top and won a corner. Bodies piled into the box, but there weren’t sufficient numbers back to cover any counter attack. Harrogate won possession and outnumbered City defenders as they broke. Foulds did make a good tackle that saw the ball go out for a corner. But from the resultant set piece, Warren Burrell wriggled free of his marker and headed home the equaliser.
The Bantams were unlucky to go in at half time pegged back, and to their credit they started the second half pretty well. But when Foulds went down injured, defensive panic again ensued and a cheap free kick was conceded on the edge of the box. Lewis Page struck a beautiful effort into the net, although the positioning of Alex Bass was questionable. The on loan Portsmouth keeper is not proving to be the force he was billed to be.
It was a hard luck tale, but any self-woe simply doesn’t wash right now. City were playing Harrogate Town. That team we used to send a mixture of kids and reserves to play in a pre-season friendly every other July. Even with their impressive rise up the pyramid, Harrogate were below City in the table, with only two wins in their previous 11 games.
If you can do little but bemoan a lack of luck in such circumstances, you really are in trouble.
The players did at least keep fighting, with Oxley making a couple of important saves from Gilliead. But with Foulds eventually having to go off, the shape of the team suffered. Callum Cooke came on for the once-again-hugely-disappointing Matty Daly, but City’s number eight is not the player he was at the start of the season.
There was plenty of huff and puff from City, but the lack of quality damns them. Gilliead should have played Cooke in on goal but took the wrong option. And then in the 90th minute the wide player’s weak cross into the box allowed Harrogate to break and Diamond made it 3-1. The defending was pathetic, and gave the cue for the early exit home of thousands of City supporters, bruised by another night of real pain.
For Trueman, this surely brings an end to any lingering hopes he might have held of reclaiming the manager position he was stood down from last May. He had to demonstrate he offered something different to Adams, and to be fair he did so to an extent here. But there isn’t time for promising performances and faint signs of life. City need results as the pressure is really growing. They are not in serious danger of going down – 45 points is usually enough to stay up in League Two and City have 40 – but you don’t want the bottom clubs to get any closer.
The club must have been desperately hoping that Trueman could have won at least one of these last two games to give them breathing space on making this next managerial appointment. Of not facing intense pressure that risks them rushing this hugely important decision.
Unfortunately, such hopes have been dashed by these two worrying defeats.
These are set to be a really key couple of days for Bradford City. And there is perhaps hope of positive news that can bring fans together. Richie Wellens was a spectator here, which suggests he is interested in the vacancy. It hasn’t been the greatest couple of years for Wellens, but his achievement in getting Swindon promoted from League Two in 2020, coupled with a reputation for playing good football, would make him an attractive proposition to the Bantams.
Especially if Wellens joins with a bit more footballing support to help him succeed. Before the game, Paul Jewell took part in a Q&A up in the hospitality section where he talked about his passion for Bradford City and his desire to get back into football (but not as a manager).
“The club needs direction from the top,” he stated. “It needs identity. They need a manager with a vision. I’ve been manager of this place when it is full, and it is brilliant.”
Jewell worked with Wellens for a spell in 2017, when Wellens had his first experience in management at Oldham. And more relevantly, he was Director of Football at Swindon when Wellens got them promoted. There appears to be a positive relationship there. City could surely benefit from a Director of Football, and Jewell’s comments of late – not least in the Telegraph & Argus – would suggest an appetite to take on such a role at a club who, during the pre match Q&A, he kept referring to as “we”.
You have to hope that, even with the inevitable supporter backlash to this latest setback, the club makes sure it’s in a position to make a considered decision on the next manager. And of course, there might be other, better candidates than Wellens waiting to be interviewed that we fans don’t know about.
But still, Wellens (and Jewell as DoF) could be the antidote Bradford City needs to get back on track. And to bring hope and light back into a club that finds itself stuck in a very dark place.
Categories: Match Reviews