The week in review: Hughes’ calm persona is what’s needed right now, reasons to not dread January window, and safe standing set to return

By Jason McKeown

Mark Hughes is no heart-on-his sleeve McCall or deluded Derek, and his calm personality is exactly what Bradford City need at moments like this

Stuart McCall could never quite practice what he preached. On the occasions a Bradford City team he managed did very well – such as topping League Two in September 2008 – the Bantams legend would highlight the importance of staying level-headed, saying, “We don’t get too high with the highs, or too low with the lows.”

McCall lived up to that philosophy during the high points for sure, but ultimately couldn’t avoid getting too downbeat in difficult moments. Transmitting his gloomy mood onto others, at a point where cool, calm leadership was needed.

Of those who have taken on the difficult challenge of managing Bradford City, McCall is in good company on that. The pressure of defeat has seen many crack. Derek Adams – the very antithesis of McCall – struggled to hold it together in many post-match interviews when in charge of the Bantams last season. The strain clearly showed, as he typically attempted to blame everyone but himself.

And that’s why Mark Hughes’ weekend comments, after back to defeats to high flying Northampton and Leyton Orient, offer some encouragement that we do have the right man at the helm to revive this troubled football club. Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, Hughes declared, “These two games haven’t been what we wanted but no dramas we’ll work to get back on track. We’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. Everybody knows that.”

Hughes was no doubt unhappy about what he saw at Brisbane Road on Saturday. And inside the dressing room harsh words would have been aired to the players. But to the outside world, Hughes remained calm and rational. Confident in his players’ ability to remain up there. Keen to move on rather than dwell. He rightly talked up the club’s decent league position after 20 matches, which matters more than the last two games. “We’re at the top end of the table and will be at the end of the season,” he added.

No one expects a defeated Bradford City manager to be doing cartwheels, but getting too caught up emotionally with a short-term set back – being too low with the lows – doesn’t help anyone. Walter Smith once said of managing Rangers that “you’re never more than two defeats away from a crisis”, and that’s certainly something we can relate to at Valley Parade.

Football is a volatile sport where moods can change so quickly. The spiral of doom and gloom quickly occurs in these parts. We’re very good at talking ourselves into panic mood, further increasing the pressure on all involved. The manager has to rise above that, and you can argue that we’ve not had someone in the dugout capable of maintaining a calm persona since Phil Parkinson.

More than anything, Bradford City has lacked resilience over the last few seasons. Good starts to the season are not unusual, but when cracks start to show the dam breaks all too easily. Everyone can get sucked in, including the manager. But no club can succeed if it’s always on the edge of imploding. Set backs happen at every football club on the planet. The ones who ultimately triumph are those who quickly bounce back.

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be concerns about the last few results. City have gone from conceding an average of 0.77 goals a game over the first 18 matches to letting in three in each of their last two games. The midfield is struggling to protect the defence, and support the attack. Outside of Andy Cook’s superb 16-goal haul, no City player has netted more than three goals. And only eight City players have got on the scoresheet all season.

When we see Hughes react to the defeats against Northampton and Salford in the cup by fielding largely the same team again, we can point the finger and question his apparent unwillingness to address the problems. He seems to be hoping that players who have suffered a dip in form will suddenly come good again, whilst ignoring a number of solid options in reserve who arguably deserve their chance. When City welcome Rochdale to Valley Parade a week on Saturday, it will have been exactly three months since they won at home.

But still, the league table looks good. City are sixth with 33 points from 20 games. At this stage last season, they were all the way down in 13th – eight points worse off. They’re playing good football that is largely enjoyable to watch, and have a generally likeable bunch of players who are giving their all for the club. There’s not a lot wrong right now.

The defeats of late have been disappointing, especially as they’ve emphatically demonstrated a difference in quality between City and the teams in the automatic promotion places. But overall City are moving in the right direction. We are a good side at this level, with more to come. Hughes knows that, and that’s why he conveyed a sense of perspective.

As fans we can get too low with the lows. It’s part of the rough and tumble we sign up for. But the person steering the ship isn’t panicking. And neither should we.

It’s time to avoid repeating the mistakes of the January transfer window, and there’s reason to believe the club will do much better this time

As the World Cup dominates the screens and attention at the moment, Sky Sports has quietly dropped the latest series of their behind-the-scenes show on Salford City – Class of 92: Full Time. Covering the 2021/22 season and the start of this campaign, the presence of Gary Bowyer as Salford manager means there’s plenty of watching interest for Bradford City fans. But it’s the appearance of another former Bantam who perhaps offers the biggest talking point.

For the cameras decide to focus on Tom Elliott during the first episode of the new series. They talk about the difficulties Elliott is experiencing since his move to Salford from Millwall in January 2020. The narrator explains how Elliott has endured significant injury problems since he signed, restricting him to just 14 appearances (0 goals) over 2020/21. This campaign is proving little better for Elliott, who continues to be blighted by injury, lacks form and ultimately is struggling for confidence. “When I came here from the Championship, everyone was saying ‘he’s going to rip up this league’, but I did my shoulder, did my groin,” Elliott tells the cameras. “I just want to kick on and get full fitness.”

It’s revealed Elliott is one of Salford’s highest paid players and insinuated they need a striker they can rely on to be fit and firing, especially with their play off hopes fading. When later in the show Elliott is shown to be injured again – he misses another month of action – Salford act. Bowyer brings in Matt Smith in the January window, and Elliott is made surplus to requirements.

“My injuries have set me back a lot”, Elliott reflects on his career, before conveying his disappointment at leaving Salford. “I didn’t think there was a chance I was going, I thought (Smith signing) was competition. But I spoke to the gaffer and it’s not likely I will get the minutes I want. It is what it is.”

So Elliott heads out on loan. We all know his destination, and how badly it turned out for him at Valley Parade. No goals from two starts and five sub appearances for Bradford City. After picking up yet another injury, 11 minutes into February’s home defeat to Harrogate, Elliott missed the rest of last season. He is currently without a club.

Watching Elliott’s difficulties at Salford on the documentary, I couldn’t help but feel a mix of sympathy for the player and anger at the suckers who signed him. What, really, were we thinking in bringing Elliott in on loan last January? Did we do any homework on his recent injury problems? Or was it just a lazy signing?

I think we all know the answer, as we did with the arrival – that same window – of Nathan Delfouneso from Bolton, who was similarly ineffective. Everyone knew we needed more goals and to take some of the burden off Andy Cook, and yet the poor recruitment in the striker department finished off fading play off hopes and consigned City to another mid-table finish.

But that was then, and things are different now, right? You certainly would expect that to be the case this January, following last summer’s arrival of Stephen Gent as head of recruitment. There was a notable improvement in the calibre of players brought in during the close season, and a feeling that at last City were recruiting wisely. So far, that opinion has largely held up. Not every summer signing is working out, but given 17 players were brought in that’s to be expected.

Those in the know say that Gent is a huge asset to the football club. Someone who City are very lucky to have. Middlesbrough were apparently loath to let him go and there is some expectation that Gent will one day move onto bigger and better things.

Crucially, we can be confident that Gent has spent the last few months planning for the January window. Watching lots of players, trying to find those gems who can address the weaknesses currently in the City team. He will have a list for Hughes. Answers to the questions that the manager is struggling to solve. It means there should not be a repeat of last January’s scramble around in the bargain bucket for players who are well past their prime.

Standing is set to return to Valley Parade, but the club and supporters need to come together to end this fragmented matchday atmosphere

I’m guessing you haven’t read the minutes of the Bradford City Supporters Trust’s recent meeting with the club. 20 years on from the Trust’s formation, it continues to struggle to recover its reputation after the ill-advised involvement and defence of Edin Rahic during his final days at the club. So I read them for you to save you the time. And one item of note are plans to bring safe standing back to Valley Parade in the near future, in a similar way to a number of Premier League and Football League clubs.

As someone who misses the old standing Kop, this sounds brilliant. But the proposed location of the standing area is less inspiring. The club are planning to trial 800 railed seats in the North West corner, the current home of the so-called atmosphere section.

Nothing against the lads and lasses in this part of the ground, who do their best, but the atmosphere at Valley Parade has become too fragmented by them moving out from the back of the Kop. There’s now two groups of vocal fans chanting during games (those who stayed in the Kop and those who moved). The whole atmosphere has suffered. It was a worthy experiment, but it’s failing.

Introducing safe standing in this part of the ground suggests a long-term commitment to keeping the atmosphere section, and with it the unintentional continued splintering of City’s home support. In recent years we’ve gone from being one of the most atmospheric grounds in the country to one of the most muted. Bringing in safe standing in the Kop would be fraught with difficulties, not least from fans who’ve had the same season ticket for years and who wouldn’t want to stand or give up their spot to make room for such a section, but surely it’s worth a wider dialogue across supporters?

Safe standing/railed seating is potentially the most significant change to Valley Parade since the Premier League days. We need to make sure it’s a positive move that boosts the matchday experience – and improves the level of backing the team receives.

Categories: Opinion


12 replies

  1. Balanced article and reminded me of the saying ‘Rarely is anything as bad as it seems and rarely is anything ever as good as it seems’

    All three options are on the cards:

    A good run on the second half of the season and people will compare this to the L2 promotion season under Parky.

    A mediocre run and we stay where we are near the top but no play-off.

    A bad run and we could drop right down as a few recent seasons has shown us.

    So basically it’s a trust issue in Gent and Hughes to have identified what the issues are and if necessary bring in players who can play this formation better or play the alternative formation, if one has been identified. Failure to do this and I worry it’s going to be a boring repetition of the last three months at home where there has been little to inspire fans and get them out if their seats.

  2. Does Hughes know enough about lower-league football players to pick effectively from any list Gent gives him for the Jan window? Who will fans be scapegoating at the end of the season if City fails to get promotion, Hughes or Gent?

  3. This is definitely a trust issue. Hughes appears to be remaining calm but at the same time he’s trying to walk back promotion expectations. Claiming “we’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season” is definitely a step back from “our goal is promotion this season.”

    • Rubbish. There or thereabouts means we will be in the promotion picture.

      The goal (aim) is promotion we may fall short but that doesn’t change the goal of the club or Hughes.

      Some fans may have an expectation of promotion that’s very different.

      • Ask yourself, if the goal is promotion this season then why change the message in mid season? Clearly, Hughes is moving towards a more realistic message based on the current status of the club. Transactions in January are likely to make a further revision to expectations that hopefully are more positive.

  4. Great read Jason, very well balanced and agree almost entirely. I think on the goals front probably a little harsh on Banks and Wright based on GPG. For one reason or another they’ve only played just over half the games and over the course of a 46 game season both would be on track for 10 goals. Bring Walker into that and it looks like a frontline that if you keep fit can get the goals required.

    For all Chapman’s brilliance we need him to contribute more in front of goal if he continues to play number 10. A shame as he has been my favourite player to watch this year.

    Not every signing will work out but of the 17 we’ve got more right than wrong in my opinion and it’s far from an overhaul required we need to keep moving in the right direction.

    I think Stockport are going to be big contenders. Hearing their billionaire owner has put his hand in his pocket for Tshimanga. Madden, Tshimanga, Wootton feels very good for a side who have already found their form after a poor start.

  5. Not too concerned atm. All teams go through lulls in results and performance. Trouble is we supporters lack patience. Quick to get on the back of the manager and team. I’m guilty as anyone. No walkovers in this league. You have to fight for every point.
    I believe Mark has sussed his squad and I expect some players will be moved on in January on loan or permanent. I feel a centre half, midfielder and up front striker is needed. I think it’s likely that the list is already in place and conversations underway.
    I have complete faith in the squad, manager and backroom staff. Please no more disruptions. Slight improvement with additions will get us there.

  6. Anyone who thinks MH and his team were going to solve the dogs dinner he inherited within 1 transfer window is delusional. If we are lucky we may get out of this league after 2 windows but realistically it would be 3/4 but with this it’s more likely we would have a better chance of progressing in L1. The overhaul has been necessarily chaotic since may last year. Highly likely the only way MH will not reach 3/4 windows will be the lack of knowledge and patience from the moaners behind him in main stand getting on his back every home game if we aren’t winning at half time! He doesn’t need it and neither do the patient realistic fans need him to walk away. I would say it’s 50:50 wether he is driven out through lack of patience or that we succeed in promotion. 🤞🏼 here.
    PS any idea where Liam Ridelgh is these days?

  7. Simply put, our central midfield has to be improved. A Nigel Pepper / Dave Syers type box to box midfielder is needed, Smallwood and Gilliead are too safe and too soft and provide zero creativity and goal threat. We need another striker to help Cook, I struggle to see Angol getting enough goals and Oliver is looking like an expensive mistake. A commanding centre half wouldn’t go amiss either, Platt, Odusina and Songo’o have been largely disappointing. Lots of work to do in January if we are to get promotion.

  8. Has any of our back 4 scored a goal this season? I can’t think of any but any promoted side would expect 10 from fullbacks and centre backs.

  9. No none from defence

    17 from 2 players who are strikers
    10 from 5 players who are attacking mids
    2 from 1 player in central mid
    Nine from any other position

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