The celebrations from 2012/13’s promotion enjoyed, and after a well-deserved rest, the players returned for pre-season training with the fitness regime of Nick Allamby – who spoke at length to Width of a Post – in the spotlight. New signings took a while to rock up, but eventually Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates were amongst those brought in. These moves pushed youngster Scott Brown out of the exit door, although he spoke to Width of a Post before completing a move to St. Johnstone.
The usual friendlies programme commenced with a 4-0 victory over Guiesley, before another tour of Ireland that yielded 4-1 wins over Athlone Town and Bohemians. Next up was Grimsby, were Yeates played a key role in a 2-0 success, before first team preparations were concluded with a 2-1 defeat to Championship Doncaster Rovers.
As excitement for the new campaign in League One began to build, Width of a Post took an in-depth look at all the angles and questions. Is the weather nice in League One? Are we expecting too much? And what of the players, including the back ups? A quick stop-off at Harrogate Town, where Luke Oliver played in a 1-0 win, and it was time to go.
It was a tricky start, but City earned their League One stripes with a promising 2-2 draw at Bristol City. In view of the League Cup miracle of 2012/13, bowing out at the first round this time, to rivals Huddersfield, was doubly disappointing. The players’ human after all.
At home, the Bantams began very well. A 4-0 thumping of Carlisle that could have been 10 – a magic atmosphere. A 2-1 loss at fellow newly promoted side Port Vale followed, before an impressive 2-0 victory over much-fancied Sheffield United and 1-1 draw at Stevenage. A good start, with Nahki Wells and James Hanson impressing.
The second indication that this wasn’t going to be a season of cup runs came during a harrowing night at League Two Hartlepool United, who recorded a shocking 5-0 win over the Bantams in the JPT. Luckily, September was a brilliant month league-wise, as City remained unbeaten. A 4-0 victory over last season’s League One play off finalists, Brentford, was hugely encouraging. A 2-2 draw against Colchester bringing an end to the 100% home record, but back-to-back wins over Gillingham (1-0, with new away tactics) and Shrewsbury (2-1, with Mark Yeates successfully filling a Nahki-hole) that pushed the Bantams up to fifth in the table.
Elsewhere in September, nostalgia was in the air when the 1998/99 promotion heroes were reunited for a special charity match that helped us relive some brilliant memories. Back in the here and now, Width of a Post looked in-depth at the form of James Meredith, Stephen Darby and Nahki Wells.
The month of October started so well, with a 2-0 victory over play-off rivals Walsall that placed the Bantams in fourth. But then form fell away badly, as both Nahki Wells and Andrew Davies (injured) were missed badly.
A shock 1-0 loss to then-bottom Tranmere was controversial, before a 1-0 defeat to Crawley, a hugely entertaining 2-2 draw with Preston, with Rory McArdle netting a late equaliser and Kyel Reid in stunning form, and then 2-1 set back against high-flying Wolves. The Wolves game featured a rare error from the otherwise in-form Jon McLaughlin but the atmosphere was at least memorable.
November was another mixed month for the Bantams, with the progress seen in August and September continuing to stall.
The month began with a dreary 0-0 at Crewe that ranked as the poorest league performance of the season to date – but even worse was to follow in the FA Cup, as the Bantams were humbled 3-0 by Yorkshire rivals Rotherham United and the winless streak continued. When a week later – in front of the Sky TV cameras – City went 2-0 to Coventry within just seven minutes, the sky was threatening to fall in on the season. But a Nahki Wells hat-trick helped the home side to come back and snatch a 3-3 draw.
Was this a turning point? An impressive 3-2 win at MK Dons the following Saturday – Wells measuring up well to the much-hyped Patrick Bamford – was a first win in seven games. Alas a home draw to then-bottom side Notts County, the Tuesday after, was disappointing. City ended the month on the edge of the play off spots.
Elsewhere, Width of a Post spoke to David Baldwin about all matters City (here and here), whilst speculation grew that Nahki Wells would leave in the January transfer window. Kyel Reid was still impressing but the stuttering form of Garry Thompson was a concern, especially as Parkinson continued to favour one group of players. Due to a lack of opportunities, Ricky Ravenhill went on loan to Northampton Town with our best wishes.
December offered Bradford City a daunting fixture list, and it proved to be every bit as tough as feared. The month began with a credible 1-1 draw at an excellent Oldham side, and another 1-1 followed at home to leaders Leyton Orient – Nahki Wells’ stoppage time free kick rescuing a point.
James Hanson was injured for the following two games, which both ended in defeat. The 2-1 to Peterborough United did at least include a belated first goal for Andy Gray since re-signing (he looked finished), but the Boxing Day 1-0 to Rotherham offered few positives at all. The month and calendar year ended with an improved 1-1 draw with promotion challengers Swindon, but City had fallen off the play off pace.
The focus off the field continued to be over Nahki Wells’ future – he was offered a lucrative contract but turned it down. As we prepared for the January opening of the Transfer Window, it seemed that City had reached a crossroads. So many questions. How could we move on without Wells? What to do about players like Matthew Bates? What about using some of the promising youngsters, who showcased their talents as the Youth team bowed out of the FA Youth Cup at Valley Parade?
At least Hanson’s future was sorted, as the striker signed a new three-and-half-year contract that offered him the chance to become a City great.
Traditionally, Bradford City have been low key in the January transfer window with very little business done. 2014 was a different story, however, as significant changes were afoot and there were numerous ins and outs. Only four league games were played over the month, meaning a lot of the attention was devoted to transfer matters.
Firstly, the New Year kicked off with a miserable 3-0 loss to then-bottom side Notts County, at Meadow Lane. Nahki Wells was ‘injured’ and therefore not available for selection. By the time of City’s next match, 10 days later, Wells had completed a shock transfer to neighbours Huddersfield Town. The deal was probably better than it looked for City, but it was still an emotional moment as we said goodbye to a player who had provided so many special memories. It also left us questioning where we are as a club and what the future priorities should be.
Less than 24 hours after Wells’ departure, the Bantams saw out a 1-1 draw at home to Bristol City, with loan arrivals Jordan Graham and Aaron Jameson sat on the bench. Wells’ replacement was quickly found, as Aaron McLean joined the club from Hull City. He made his debut in a lively 2-2 draw at Sheffield United and performed well, the visitors inspired by Gary Jones to come back from a 2-0 half time deficit but losing Kyel Reid for the rest of the season. (The less said about Mark Yeates’ and Jason Kennedy’s performances the better.)
Back to the transfer market. Kennedy was shipped back to Rochdale. Adam Reach rocked up on loan from Middlesbrough, and was quickly followed by Doncaster’s Kyle Bennett and Huddersfield’s Chris Atkinson. City drew 0-0 at home to Preston on a Tuesday night, after which Alan Connell, Ricky Ravenhill and Luke Oliver departed before the January window closed shut.
So all change then, but a month of three draws and a defeat meant the poor form continued and left the Bantams stuck firmly in mid-table, still with some work to do in order to remain clear of the relegation places.
February saw Bradford City’s season slump to new depths and relegation concerns grow, before finally that dreadful run of form was ended with back-to-back home victories.
The month began with a 2-0 defeat to promotion favourites Wolves – James Hanson and Andrew Davies were missing, and the team’s cause wasn’t helped by Nathan Doyle getting himself sent off after less than half an hour. Crewe Alexandra came to Valley Parade the following week, with Gary Jones inspiring the Bantams to come from 2-0 and 3-2 down to snatch a point. When three days later City lost tamely at Carlisle, the pressure began to grow on Phil Parkinson – although the majority of fans remained firmly behind the manager.
Cue the much needed wins – a pair of 1-0s against Port Vale and MK Dons. We were full of praise for Port Vale match winner Carl McHugh (here and here). Elsewhere on Width of a Post, we reported on Mark Lawn’s appearance at the Skipton Bantams meeting and recalled what we were all doing this time a year ago.
With promotion hopes long extinguished, March was all about climbing past the 50-point barrier and ensuring another season in League One. Two victories, one draw and four defeats over the month certainly could have been a better record, but it was one that left them on 48 points. So nearly there.
The month began with a dismal 3-2 home defeat to then-bottom Stevenage. City twice took the lead but were deservedly beaten by a last minute wonder-goal; they were not helped by Andrew Davies hobbling off injured yet again. A trip to second place Brentford the following Saturday brought another loss, although a fun day out, before a much-needed three points were taken home from a Tuesday night tussle in Colchester.
Next up was the return of Peter Taylor as Gillingham manager, a 1-1 draw showing promise and particularly memorable for Aaron Mclean finally getting off the mark in claret and amber. But what followed were two shocking performances, with defeats to Shrewsbury and at home to Walsall. Ending the month with another trip to a high-flying London side – Leyton Orient – didn’t exactly bode well, but amazingly City pulled off a shock 1-0 victory. Mclean on target again.
Elsewhere, loanees dominated talk. Adam Drury rocked up from Leeds in early March, Adam Reach extended his stay, and at the end of the month Jonathan Stead arrived from Huddersfield. Overall another tough month with Phil Parkinson under pressure, but City were getting there.
Whatever the pressure on City, who went into April with some work still to be done, the perspective of where we had been two years ago should have dampened the criticism directed at Phil Parkinson. Yet however he was feeling in the early stages of the month, it turned out to be an excellent April for the City manager. Survival was confirmed, and he was voted the great Bradford City manager of all time.
City moved a step closer to another season in League One following a 0-0 draw at Coventry City; although the Saturday after came a shockingly bad 3-2 loss to Oldham that showed work still needed to be done. Back-to-back clean sheets followed against play off challenges Rotherham (0-0) and Peterborough (1-0) – the latter result all but confirming survival.
Although an Easter Monday loss to Swindon Town was disappointing, the job of staying up was done due to other results. And the month ended with a 2-1 victory over Crawley Town, thanks to a late Garry Thompson goal. An improving Aaron Mclean was also on the scoresheet.
Even though it had only been a 49-game campaign compared to the 64-match marathon of the year before, it had felt like a long season. It was one which came to an end at Prenton Park, Tranmere, with a 2-1 Bantams victory relegating the hosts and ensuring an 11th-place finish for Phil Parkinson’s men. Not bad indeed.
No sooner had the final ball been kicked that thoughts turned to the retained list – who is going, and who is staying? Garry Thompson and – gasp – Gary Jones were the biggest names to be released. We were gutted about Jones in particular, with emotional goodbyes here and here. Better news was that Rory McArdle was staying after signing a three-year deal, but there remained great uncertainty over many others, such as Stephen Darby and Nathan Doyle.
Elsewhere Width of a Post named Stephen Darby our player of the year and reflected back on a progressive campaign, with members of the writing team playing pundit here and here. Parkinson had done a good job overall, in what was a very tough League One. We supporters had largely had a blast, as we travelled in high numbers on the road.