Final day Bradford City flourish adds to growing list of reasons to be optimistic about next season

Bradford City 2
Angol 13, Walker 69
Carlisle United 0

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

The season is over and yet this feels like the beginnings of a really exciting Bradford City story. They go into the summer in buoyant mood after this 2-0 success made it three straight victories. Something is stirring and there is substance behind the hype.

City have finished well short of their original goals, but end the season with a purpose and a clear direction forward. Evidence of Mark Hughes’ transformative powers continues to emerge. And he has his Bradford public right behind him.

Here, for a game with nothing riding on it, Bradford City set a new club record attendance for a fourth tier match. With the aid of a strong Carlisle United away following – who were sadly let down by a minority of Cumbrians failing to respect the minute’s silence to mark the anniversary of the Fire disaster – more than 18,000 were present. All to watch a League Two contest to decide who finishes 14th. You don’t get lower league crowds like this in any other country in the world.

The bulging attendance contributed to a tremendous atmosphere that inspired the Bantams to success. It wasn’t the greatest game to watch, but the warmness that greeted every good piece of City attacking play, every successful tackle and two well taken goals was testament to the enthusiasm levels that Hughes has reinstalled in supporters.

Indeed, at times it’s hard to believe Hughes is managing the same group of players that Derek Adams set up so dourly. Under Hughes, City pass the ball with a crispness that incorporates everyone, even goalkeeper Alex Bass. When they go forward they do so in numbers, producing one touch passing moves that are full of invention. It is genuinely wonderful to watch. And this is not yet a Mark Hughes team.

City had the edge here. They began with a quiet confidence and turned up the tempo as they crossed the half way line, taking an early lead when Charles Vernam’s cross-shot was flicked on by Lee Angol and past Carlisle keeper Mark Howard.

That goal set City up for a performance where they always looked more likely than Carlisle to strike the next blow. Walker forced a good save from Coleman and then missed an absolute sitter when he steered a wicked Luke Hendrie cross over the bar. Dion Pereira couldn’t apply the finishing touch to a smart corner routine.

Carlisle – who had been warned pre-match by manager Paul Simpson not to allow their standards to drop – were not short of effort. Kirstian Dennis missed an even bigger sitter than Walker. The game became more heated as the visitors’ frustration grew. On half time Hughes even had an altercation with the Carlisle coaching staff. A moment that only further cements his popularity with Bradford City supporters.

At the other end of the popularity scale were two former Bantams who lined up for Carlisle, Jordan Gibson and Omari Patrick. Back in January both players had scored against the Bantams and chose to goad City’s travelling support. It wasn’t forgotten, and both endured a barrage of abuse. Some of it seemed good natured, but it sadly crossed the line into personal abuse. They are two young lads who tried everything for City and sadly it didn’t work out. Their January celebrations were misguided, but do they – and for that matter one of the pair’s dad – really deserve the C word?

Patrick helped to create one of the biggest cheers of the day when his attempt to run at goal was halted by a terrific Paudie O’Connor sliding challenge that prompted roars of approval. It was stirring stuff, but what shouldn’t be forgotten was the great piece of Patrick skill that saw him beat two City players before O’Connor intervened. With 9 goals in 22 starts since rejoining Carlisle in January, Patrick has provided the sort of goal return City’s own January transfer window arrivals could only dream of. Without the history, you’d argue Patrick is the sort of player City should have been looking to sign.

In the second half, the pattern continued with City always having the edge and Carlisle struggling to have much impact – only Scunthorpe have netted fewer goals than United’s season total of 39, and they had just three shots on target. In the centre of midfield, Elliot Watt and Alex Gilliead were terrific. Yann Songo’o and O’Connor gave nothing away at the back. Vernam and Pereira were quieter than they can be, but Walker and Angol proved handfuls to Carlisle.

The second goal duly arrived when Walker ran through on goal and finished clinically. Only moments before it, Carlisle argued they should have had a penalty. Their protests to the referee continued as Walker soaked up the applause of the Kop.

With the game settled, Abo Eisa made a long-awaited appearance from the bench after his lengthy injury absence and caught the eye.

Callum Cooke also came on for what looked every inch – at least from his body language – to be a final City appearance. The fact his emergence on the field was overshadowed by fans chanting the name of the player he replaced, Walker, said it all. As Cooke – who’s star has fallen so badly this season – prepares to depart, Walker has become the new number 10 darling of Valley Parade. “Jamie Walker, we want you to stay” was the chant. Hopefully, the on-loan Scot was listening.

The final whistle saw the return of the lap of appreciation which thousands stayed back for. Players brought their families around with them – Hughes was joined by young family members decked out in Bradford City kits – and the emotion from some was palpable. Richard O’Donnell got a great reception as he surely brings to an end four years at the club. Others clapped and posed for pictures on the pitch knowing they will now go onto new pastures. Some may go higher up the leagues, but they will do well to find bigger stages than this.

For those players who do stay at City this summer, exciting times appear to lie ahead. Hughes has quickly stamped his personality on the team. Now, with the help of new head of recruitment, Stephen Gent, he has the chance to bring in players who can truly take the club forward.

In some ways, the last day of the season is one filled with illusions, at least last day occasions like today when there is nothing to play for. There is typically an extra warmth from the crowd in recognition that this is the last time we’ll be together for a while. The players’ failure to have achieved more over the season is partially forgiven if not forgotten. With no pressure, players can excel and produce performances they struggled to muster months earlier, when it really counted. And it’s easy to walk away from the ground with a misguided sense of optimism for the following season.

But there is more to it here. I think you’d have go to back five years for the last time home games were played out to such a positive backing. Not just today, but in all of the matches since Hughes took charge. For so long it seems, there’s been a real disconnect between the club and its fans. That has not gone away. But on Valley Parade match days at least, there is a togetherness at last. And that’s the foundations that could lead to better times.

So the story of 2021/22 closes with a lack of a cliff hanger but with positive vibes. And it all suggests the next chapter is set up to be a thriller.

Categories: Match Reviews

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10 replies

  1. Great game today. City thoroughly deserved the result. They should have scored more. There were some great interplay and passing. I have to say Hendrie’s was first class. Didn’t do his cause for a new contract any harm.
    Please try and keep Vernan and Watt. Gillead was my man of the match. He was all over the place. I would go as far as saying the team that played today would get us promoted.
    Thanks Mark for the way you have turned a mediocre team into winners. I’m falling in love with the team again. I see no end of possibilities. Vernan, Walker, Pereira and O’connor. Get yourself signed up for next season. It’s going to be a roller-coaster to promotion.

  2. Whilst I agree playing in front of a big crowd at City is a pull , 4 grand a week in front of 8 thousand elsewhere beats 2 grand a week at City with 18 thousand there all day long. Unfortunately !

    • We’ve invested plenty at the top end management now we need to see the same investment into quality on the grass. It will certainly buck the trend for our absent chairman but I would be happy to be surprised if he did.
      Thanks WOP for the constant quality of writing skills you all show year in year out. Can I ask WOP….why the black and white images all the time? Is it to reflect dark times at the club in general? I would say colour would add some vibrancy to your great site..
      All the best anyway.

  3. The one positive to come out of this very disappointing season is Mark Hughes and his professional approach. Hopefully this will continue into next year. Poor recruitment has been a chronic problem. Going forward I honestly don’t see how a foundation for promotion can be attained if City bring in 5 or 6 loanees similar to this season. All you have to do is look at what happened at Swindon Town. Promotion and relegation in consecutive seasons with a heavy reliance on loanees.

  4. Another season ends far more optimistically than once seemed possible. Now the focus turns to which players the manager wants to stay and which of these, themselves, want to stay. We should not despair if the two don’t coincide: there are plenty of good players out there. We must make assurance doubly sure that we get the right ones! We must back the manager’s judgment.

  5. A strong, positive and enjoyable performance to end the season. I agree with Cyprus Bantam about Gillead today, he was constantly breaking up their play and winning the ball back. It’s fantastic how much Hughes and Hodges have transformed so many of the players in the short time they have been here. I’m as excited about possible promotion as anyone else next season, but personally I’d still be happy if we are putting in performances like we have in the past few weeks consistently, even if we didn’t get promoted, because it’s enjoyable and exciting to watch. Hughes must be given time, even if promotion is not attained next season. I’d rather be watching exciting, entertaining football in League 2, than drab hoofball in League 1 if that makes sense. Anyway, exciting summer coming up and roll on next season. Thanks to WOP for the continued excellent content this season.

  6. Enjoy your reports , never biased , called as it was . Well done

  7. A good end to the season. Lets hope this is not a false dawn. Wembley at the very least, would be a good target for 2022/23

  8. Sensational news indeed that Jamie Walker has signed. I love everything about him, his style, balance, aggression and exceptional skill. He reminds me of those old-fashioned Scottish all-action inside forwards – characterised by Ally McLeod as buzz bombs. I can’t remember when I was last so excited about a signing. What a statement of interest- and the day after the season ended.

  9. Jason, I have to disagree about the game being difficult to watch at times.
    I thought this was the best game I’ve seen in a very long time.
    We played with a confidence sadly lacking for too long. Some of the quick passing when going forward was a joy to watch.
    As much as the Scunthorpe game was hard to watch this was a complete contrast. That result against Scunny though seems to have got a monkey off our back. The last couple of games is where the hard work MH and co have put in finally began to pay off.

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