On-song Bradford City are restoring the trust of its fanbase, as stroll at Rochdale underlines the rising togetherness

Rochdale 0
Bradford City 3
Stubbs 5, Ebanks-Landell 74 (OG), Banks 82

Words and images by Jason McKeown

No one wanted to go home at the end. The players and coaching staff soaked up the acclaim of a sold out Bradford City away stand, who serenaded them with joyous songs about how the Bantams are on their way to League One. For a football club that has spent large parts of the past six years leaving its supporters disunited, cynical and angry, the full time love-in at Spotland was a meaningful gauge of its ascent.

We’ve got our club back. Not, exactly, back to where we want it to be in the Football League pyramid of course. But back in terms of fans’ affection and pride for those who represent our badge. It’s felt like an awfully long time since a Bradford City team has attracted this level of adulation from its public. The Willbutts Lane Stand was absolutely bouncing. A sea of happy faces soaking up the joy of what could prove a huge Bradford City victory in the promotion run-in.

Success feels without our grasp. We can dare to dream.

The heady scenes were quite the contrast to the mood engulfing the rest of Spotland, where at the final whistle all three home stands were almost empty. Defeat for Rochdale, coupled with relegation rival Crawley’s 2-1 win over Tranmere, meant this was season-defining for the home side – but for all the wrong reasons. A mini revival ended abruptly, with reality calling.

Dale are now eight points from safety, with only four games to play. They’re done. A proud history of 122 years in the Football League is about to come to an end. When Scott Banks’ shot deflected and looped into the net to put City 3-0 up, a mass exodus of Rochdale fans followed. Those who stayed looked utterly crestfallen.

We can relate to how they’re feeling. It’s four years ago this very week that Bradford City’s relegation into League Two was confirmed in a Good Friday defeat at Coventry. The sense of betrayal, the despair, the fury – relegations are never nice. And Bradford City’s last one came in the middle of such a dark period for the club, one that has only really come to an end over the past 12 months.

And for those lean times we’ve endured, the enjoyment of afternoons like this feels even more rewarding. We’ve been through hell, but now we’re back.

This was a game City had to win and they did it with little fuss. “No drama, that’s how I like it,” was Mark Hughes’ post-match verdict. City were not entirely convincing throughout, but the gulf in quality between the two sides was considerable. The Bantams ultimately did their job, and for a club who have a DNA weakness of slipping up against sides at the bottom, that felt important. A positive sign of the stronger mentality that Hughes has instilled.

They laid the groundwork early doors. Just five minutes had been played when Harry Chapman’s charge towards the penalty area was illegally ended, and Richie Smallwood’s resultant free kick was headed home by Sam Stubbs. Hold the front page – a defender has actually scored for Bradford City! It’s the first time all season a member of the backline has found the back of the opposition net.

The quick breakthrough ensured that an away stand atmosphere that was fervent before kick off continued to rise in excitement levels. And as City initially dominated, the game could have been wrapped up inside the first 10 minutes. Dale’s interim manager Jimmy McNulty has introduced a play it out from the back style, but the startled home players looked ill equipped to deal with City’s press. Mistake followed mistake, and City smelt blood. As Dale struggled to get the ball out of their own half, City had a whopping 67% of the ball in the first 12 minutes.

But in a wearily familiar trend, they didn’t keep their dominance up. It was though it was too easy, causing City’s intensity to drop off. Dale suddenly got themselves up the pitch and began to build some confidence by keeping the ball. From the 12th minute onwards to half time, the strugglers had more possession and more attempts on goal than City.

It was all a bit sloppy from the Bantams. A brilliant Dale passing move saw Liam Kelly play Ian Henderson through on goal. The veteran forward took the ball around Harry Lewis, before somehow dragging his shot wide. Soon after a poor back header from Stubbs let Abraham Odoh in one-on-one with Lewis. The City keeper made a good block, though Odoh should have scored. “Despite the fact that we were nowhere near the races, we still managed to have some chances,” summarised McNulty.

City – who did hit the crossbar through a stunning effort from Banks – needed the half time break to sort out the issues. “Initially we were trying to win the ball back too quickly and over committing, and they were having a little bit of joy,” was Hughes’ verdict. “We needed to sort that out at half time, which we did.”

Indeed, the second half was a 45-minute display of City authority and assurance. They kept Dale at arm’s length, with the hosts not managing a single shot on goal until the 70th minute. Rochdale had plenty of the ball, but following Hughes’ instructions City did not overly chase it and leave gaps that could be exploited. They were also more direct, getting the ball quickly up the park where the front four could get hold of it and do damage.

Not that it was an attacking display quite as fluid as the Easter Monday success over Sutton. Whilst Chapman made some positive contributions, this afternoon became another example of his struggles to deliver consistently effective displays. He was taken off for the somewhat forgotten Thierry Nevers, who made a really bright impact on the left.

Nevers is not quite the touchline-hugging winger you might expect, but has pace and is intelligent in finding others. He popped up in different areas of the pitch, making him difficult to mark. “He’s a talented boy,” was Hughes verdict on Nevers’ impact.

Nevers won the free kick that ultimately put the game beyond Dale. Smallwood again swung over a delightful ball into the box, and the hapless Ethan Ebanks-Landell could only nod it into his own net. Smallwood deservedly soaked up the acclaim of jubilant City fans. Two assists, and another really strong all-action display, the Bradford City skipper continues to step up. Hughes reflected of Smallwood and City’s set-piece prowess, “I was pleased with our deliver today. We’ve been guilty sometimes of not quite putting the ball on the money, but not today.”

Eight minutes later, it was 3-0. Liam Ridehalgh’s cross wasn’t properly cleared, and Banks picked it up, stepped to the right and sent over an effort that took a huge deflection before looping over ex-City keeper Richard O’Donnell and into the net. It’s the second game in a row Banks has scored – both times with his weaker right foot. Hughes has been coaching the on-loan winger to not always cut inside onto his left foot, as it makes it easier for opposition players to predict and stop him. Banks has taken that on board with huge rewards.

That was the cue for a sizeable amount of Rochdale fans to head home. Those who stayed got to see the agonising moment of sub Devante Rodney hitting the bar late on. It was the sort of misfortune that relegated teams suffer from. But it wouldn’t have made any difference to Dale’s seemingly inevitable fate. McNulty rued, “After mistakes were made early individually, a lot of our boys never recovered mentally. We are in a critical, fragile position.”

In league position terms, nothing has changed for City. They stay sixth, and are still two points off the automatics with a game in hand. But Stevenage were the only close rival to win, meaning City have clawed level on points with Carlisle and Stockport, and still have a game in hand on everyone but Stevenage. In the race for promotion, City are coming on really strong and have just posted their fastest lap times.

For City and Hughes, there are two big takeaways here. The first is that, after recent criticisms of being too reliant on Andy Cook, the goals were shared out between others once again. In fact, seven of the last nine City goals have been scored by someone whose name isn’t A. Cook.  

So many players are hitting their top form. The restoration to a 4-2-3-1 has allowed Banks to demonstrate what he can do in an attacking position. Walker had another very good game. Alex Gilliead and Smallwood are playing their best football of the season – no one is criticising that partnership anymore. And the back four continue to be outstanding.

Amazingly, they’ve only conceded one goal in their last six away games – five clean sheets. Huge credit to Brad Halliday, Stubbs, Ridehalgh and Lewis, who have been ever-presents on that run.

The other big takeaway was the amazing atmosphere and strongest indications yet of the togetherness around the club. This is not the first occasion it has been evident, but it felt like it went up a notch here. The clearest demonstration yet that the bond between club and supporters has been restored.

It’s a fanbase in love with its team. More and more players are attracting their own chants. And when Walker and Cook were substituted and chose to walk off on the side of the pitch where City fans were located, they each got wonderful ovations. “There’s clearly a connection with the lads,” smiled Hughes when asked about the atmosphere created by City fans. “Our away following is on a different level to everyone else. It’s fantastic support, never taken for granted and always appreciated.”

I don’t think I’ve felt this proud on a Bradford City matchday since the heady days of 2016/17. All the utter garbage endured since Wembley 2017 severely damaged each and every City supporter’s trust and confidence in the club. We’ve kept coming, sure, and we’ve kept hoping it would change. But failure has followed failure. And you can only look on enviously at other football clubs giving their fans success and the wonderful atmosphere that it generates.

But right now, this feels like out turn. All the promise of a season of improvement is manifesting itself into something of genuine substance. There’s a warmth and affection towards the club that has been absent for too long. This is a group of players and management team who embrace the pressures of representing this football club and are feeding off the energy we’re giving them. A feedback loop of positivity is growing in prominence and significance.

We are on the cusp of something.

A happy ending is far from guaranteed. There’s still five games to play. A lot of teams are in the mix. The margins for error are incredibly thin. But whatever the fate of City’s promotion push, these are the occasions to embrace and to savour. An outpouring of happiness in the sunshine, after years of misery in the rain. And it’s why no one was in a rush to go home.

Categories: Match Reviews

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22 replies

  1. Yes we are pleasingly on song at the moment but it’s too early for the triumphant strains to be heard. We are now in with a real chance of achieving automatic promotion. With so few matches remaining the end is in sight but equally the margin for error is diminishing fast. Now is not the time to slip up – or for supporters to lurch from expectation to despair if we do unfortunately drop points in the remaining games. Before anyone gets carried away, it’s not a given that we beat Swindon. I fear the power of Charlie Austin, particularly in the air, and it would not surprise me if Platt is restored to match him up in size and stature. With two matches a week we need to use our chief competitive advantage – our big squad. It’s a long time since we’ve been in this position. We need to seize the moment and make history. The time is right: our timing appears to be right. Let’s do it.

  2. What an exciting race this is, almost more horrible than enjoyable to be part of but that’s why we are football fans.

    IF we beat Northampton I think 3 wins and 2 draws might be enough.

    If my maths is correct Northampton would have to win all 3 of their other games, Stockport and Carlisle all 4 of theirs to better that total. Stevenage would likely take the other spot.

    When was the last time the final game of the season had something of significance riding on it 99/00? Pretty sure 2015/16, 16/17, 12/13 we were already in the playoffs and can’t remember our relegation battles go down to the wire?

    Let’s not jump ahead though lots of work to do before Northampton!

  3. It will be great if we get promoted but it will take more than that for me to forgive Rupp for bringing Rahic to the club

    • Not quite correct. It was Rahic that brought Rupp to the club. It is Rupp that is still at the helm but he has got Ryan Sparks that manages the whole operation and it was Rupp that got Rahic to go. Sparks appointed Hughes and the rest is history. I feel confident with the current set up.

      • I think the contribution of a well known fan who flew to Munich at his own expense to make Rupp aware of Rahics antics has never really been appreciated by the fan base.

    • So my conclusion to this is you all loved Rahic😂

  4. A great result, a great feeling of roaring optimism, and a great WOAP article to capture the cautious excitement so well. Let’s hope that the momentum continues and gets us into L1.

  5. I have to disagree slightly, possibly on a technicality. The crestfallen Rochdale fans who stayed after it went to 3-0…some of them were quietly jubilant City fans. My brother and I were two of them. Was very hard to keep quiet and bite the lip each time we surged forward!!

    Whilst maybe not as fluent as the Sutton game we never looked particularly in danger and apart from the two Rochdale chances you mentioned I can barely ever remember the Rochdale fans around us getting excited.

    I personally thought Chapman played quite well. Picked the ball up a few times and drove us up the pitch and beat his man a few times. I thought he played well and looked a threat. He’s a typical high end League Two/lower middle League One winger. A good footballer who’s skilful and dangerous but faulters with end product. Whilst frustrating at times, he’s one of the better wingers in the division.

    Hopefully this continues and onto Swindon!! Keep it going please!!!

  6. I understand and empathise with the comment about Rahic.Let’s not forget it was the other way round.
    Perhaps the one thing we should be thankful to Rahic for (yes I know), is that he brought Rupp to City. In all the euphoria about Mark Hughes teams performance, we should remember Rupp is the one who has put money in, turned down a lucrative offer that would have given him his money back but destroyed the club, and backed his management team. It takes someone with a lot of integrity to stick with a club like Stefan Rupp has done.

  7. Let’s hope pragmatic football is dead and buried. Three wins and a draw with nine goals scored since Clayton’s injury. Begging the question, what was Hughes thinking while persisting with negative football and far too many draws?

    City have been blessed with quality L2 wingers. It’s nice to see them finally being used in an effective manner and City going for it.

    • This IS pragmatic football. Getting the ball in good areas and putting the odds in your favour rather than a fixation on a single method. The slow build up was precisely the opposite of pragmatism. But I do agree, I’m glad that Hughes saw sense, and he deserves credit for that.

  8. Generally it’s all seemed pretty unconvincing this season and particularly so @ VP. To think that just 4 more points garnered @ VP would have seen us in an incredibly strong position right now. Still, somehow and at times seemingly despite ourselves, we’ve managed to hang in there and now find ourselves in a mightily tantalising position. One things for sure, there’s absolutely no certainty about this but if we keep focused & play with the same skill & determination of our last few games then the timing of our final charge could perfect. 🤞

    • Every team in the division can probably say the same thing to be fair. If only we’d won this and that game etc. That’s sport though, and occasionally faltering against struggling sides is not exclusive to us.

      We are where we are, but we do seem to be peaking at absolutely the right time, which is the most important thing.

  9. The intangibles felt great yesterday. The crowd. The atmosphere before the game. The atmosphere in the ground.
    I’m praying we can keep this up
    But I also looked at the tangibles last night. City are top of the form table for both last 6 and last 10 games.
    What more could we ask for?
    Well it’s simple isn’t it. To be top of the form table at the end of the next 5
    Another game down. Another win. On to the next.
    Swindon and Gillingham will not be easy but 6 points out of that would be a great return and one we do need. Obviously. I can see gills being a tough game and then us bouncing back against Northampton and crew setting up a last game celebration….

  10. Cursory Statto analysis of the table right now:

    – Our tracking form, whether looked at over the last 3,4,5 or 6 games is joint top in the League, with Leyton Orient. So that’s a long and consistent enough form to be defined as proper momentum.
    – No one would bet against Leyton Orient securing automatic promotion, given their buffer…they are potentially within a single game of being certain of that. There are only 3 teams mathematically capable of denying them an automatic promotion- the 2 teams below them, and Bradford.
    – With the top 7 as tight as it is, goal difference is likely to be crucial…so the fact we have improved that by +5 in the last 2 games is a real boost, taking our net GD to 4th best. We may not overhaul Leyton Orient, Stockport or Carlisle’s goal difference, but our now superior GD to Stevenage and Northampton could be vital.
    – An obscure stat, but no team in the league have won all 3 of their last 3 matches; which underlines to me that all clubs are getting knackered, losing players to injury, and struggling with the final leg of a marathon season.

    • Orient are already up courtesy of us having to play Northampton we can’t both catch them.

    • No Orient are promoted. They can’t drop out of the top three. I think some are getting confused with being champions where yes they can be caught albeit unlikely.

      • Orient are not definitely promoted yet. City, Northampton and Stevenage can technically still catch them.

        Orient will be promoted if they win on Tuesday or if either of City and Northampton fail to win.

      • Hmm yes just checked again and your right absolutely right.

        It looks like the only way they can not go up is if they lose every game and then City and Northants win all theirs but draw v each other. As a win for either in that game would keep Orient in top three by pushing the other out.

  11. Thanks for a great article.
    So pleasing to see a Bradford City side finally making quality count in matches, & for long periods of this match, who’d have thought we were actually in the same league as Rochdale? For now, at least?
    One slight thing though, I can’t agree with the article, when it’s written that we as Bradford City fans know the pain that Rochdale fans are currently feeling. Thankfully, we simply can’t relate in the slightest to the nightmarish situation of seeing your beloved club slipping out of the football league. Experiencing relegation is awful, we all can empathize totally with that happening, but to drop out the league really must be a truly horrible feeling.
    I’m not a young man as you might have guessed, & can remember vividly when our neighbours Bradford (Park Avenue) dropped out, & grown men in the city were brought to tears. Also of course Halifax Town, Workington, Hereford, Southport, York City, & most recently Scunthorpe United who will be playing next season in National North. Without money, & alot of it, Rochdale will find Non-League to be a very tough & unwelcoming place to be, but I do wish them well. Us Bradford City fans have indeed been through some terrible & dark times on the pitch, but thank God we’ve never had to watch our club lose its football league status, & I prey we never do.
    Surely, what this important win signals now, is that the future is a bright one for Bradford City.
    Up the Bantams!

  12. Win at Swindon and it is possible we could slide up to second ! No one would be happier at that moment than me, and Stefan Rupp 😉

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