By Jason McKeown
“Tim’s advice is that it is better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb then half way up one you don’t.”Dawn from The Office
Here’s a question: if Bradford City had opted against sacking Derek Adams three weeks ago, would they now be dealing with five straight defeats?
I don’t think they would have been. Not because Adams was on the brink of brilliant results before he was unseated as manager, but because his form all season had been patchy yet without any back-to-back league defeats, never mind five on the bounce. The Adams’ formbook suggests he would have earned a point or two from the last four City matches, perhaps even ground out a win. In the shortest of short-terms on the field, the Bantams are probably worse off from making a change.
This is not in any way an argument to say that dismissing Adams was the wrong call. For me, it was completely the right decision. The situation had become about much more than just results. He looked a bad fit for the club. The way he operated, the styles and methods he deployed, and the manner he carried himself in post-match interviews, were all difficult to support or relate to.
Sacking him was a brave decision, but ultimately the right one to make.
However, as is so often the case when there’s a mid-season change in the dugout, there is some pain to bare from the transitionary period. To think, two games ago there was still talk about pushing for promotion. After Saturday, we’ve probably all given up checking the gap to the play offs (it’s 15 points by the way). There remains a small, but not ignorable, chance of being sucked into a relegation battle. But ultimately, it’s all about planning for next season.
And on that front, there was so much to be encouraged about from Saturday’s defeat to Swindon Town. After only one week on the training ground, we saw visible green shoots of the work of Mark Hughes and his assistant Glyn Hodges.
City played on the front foot. With purpose. They passed it around in a much more impressive style. They were methodical. Organised, but with attacking freedom. It was football to get you on the edge of your seat. That as a supporter you felt entertained by. Not perfect by any means, but something you could really buy into.
Valley Parade responded in the finest way possible. This was the best atmosphere inside the ground since August. The North West corner has this season become the home of the club’s most vocal supporters, but taking away this source of noise from the Kop has created a fragmented backdrop. And then there’s the performances on the pitch, which have been so flat. It’s all been a bit too quiet. Little to cheer. Plenty to boo.
But on Saturday, the energy was back. And everyone seemed to come together to loudly back the team. The North West corner was outstanding in its chanting, and it transferred across the ground with more and more people joining in.
For the first time since those heady days of August, Valley Parade felt united. The players inspiring fans, who in turn inspired the players. There were no groans, no mutterings and the players for their part did not hide. Everywhere you looked there was good old fashioned, honest effort – on and off the field.
A reminder, and a much needed one, of just what Bradford City can be.
When Alex Bass rashly gave away a stoppage time penalty and Jack Payne rolled the ball home to win the game for Swindon, the pain was at its sharpest. This did genuinely hurt. But not in a way where you wanted to turn on the team and boo them off the pitch. Whilst many fled for the exits, thousands stayed back to clap the players.
It was in some ways nice and reassuring to feel so pained by the defeat. In the recent years of decline, there has so often seemed to be this big gap between supporters and fans. Their failures were their failures, not necessarily ours. When we were upset, we were upset at the way they’d played, the way the manager had forced them to play, or the way the club was being run.
It has been rare, in recent times, to truly feel like you’re behind what Bradford City are trying to achieve. To be so desperate for them to win. In the same way you felt during the Phil Parkinson years, or Stuart McCall’s second spell in the dugout.
The emotions just haven’t quite been the same since, especially under Adams. When City have won this season, it’s improved your mood but hasn’t proved especially uplifting in the way it so often can be when your football team wins. When they’ve lost, the anger from supporters has felt overwhelming. All in all it just hasn’t felt great, and I’m sure I’m not the only fan who has felt disconnected.
What Mark Hughes’ appointment offers is a fresh start. And the manner he has gone about things so far – not least how he speaks before and after games – offers something to get behind. We always want Bradford City to succeed, of course we do. But this feels like a manager trying to do things the right way. Deliver the kind of football we want to see. Instil the type of passion we want to feel. And it’s something that seems worth investing into.
And that’s why, for how bad the form book looks, this doesn’t feel like a doomed situation anymore. Five straight defeats normally suggest a side in freefall, stripped of confidence and with no real clue what to do stop the rot. But it feels like City are getting better, not worse. If they keep performing in this way, adding in a bit more quality and cutting out silly mistakes, better results will come along soon. Especially when the likes of Charles Vernam and Jamie Walker return.
On the same day as City lost to Swindon, Leeds United’s new manager Jesse Marsch was beaten in his first game in charge. The American reflected after, “I felt the performance was more important than the points.” That seems a strange thing to say, but you can see what he is getting at – and it’s a sentiment that we can relate to at City.
If Adams had stayed rather than Hughes appointed, City would have probably dug out better results of late. After all, with Adams it was all about results and nothing more. But even if the league table under Adams would have looked better than it is right now, would you have been looking forward to the next game? To next season?
What Hughes has offered over these two games in charge is a vision of a more appealing Bradford City future. Better performances, which is in some ways more important than results at this moment. And that could be more crucial in the long run, as it sets up City – and supporters – for feeling more confident going into next season, compared to the path Adams was taking.
The challenge for Hughes and the club is that this utopian moment of the team being clapped off the field after five straight defeats won’t last. They do need results to match the performances. They need to start picking up points to demonstrate the way plotted forward can succeed. Patience is never indefinite.
We absolutely do need to see some rewards soon to justify our new-found faith. But as a starter at least, it suddenly feels good – and painful – to be a Bradford City fan again. Having spent the last few months struggling to feel anything.