The summer of 2014 was played out to a soundtrack of playing budget cuts and departures of key members of the History Makers team. It was a time of uncertainty and worry that the club was regressing. As the new season approached, there remained notable gaps in the playing squad.
As part of the change came a new approach – the diamond formation, given its first public outing in the opening friendly at Guiseley which the Bantams won 3-0. The now-annual tour of Ireland followed, with City beaten 3-2 by UCD before defeating Shelbourne 4-0.
Back in England, a trialist XI featuring Chris Routis were defeated 2-0 by Ossett Town. The first team ended their pre-season campaign with two home games and two draws – 0-0 with Championship Blackburn Rovers and 1-1 against League Two Hartlepool United. In-between these matches, another Bradford City XI won 3-0 against Bradford Park Avenue.
Meanwhile the squad revolution continued with a sad departure to the club’s longest-serving player, Jon McLaughlin, and arrival of highly-rated Sunderland stopper Jordan Pickford on a season-long loan.
On the eve of the season, David Baldwin spoke to WOAP about the hectic close season and the club’s hopes for the new season. Previewing the campaign, we highlighted the importance of the three-year plan, looked at the challenges facing Parkinson, considered how Stephen Darby will handle the captaincy and highlighted the role we supporters will play.
From day one the tone was set: this was going to be an exciting season. City began with a visit from Coventry, were 2-0 up before the Sky Blues pulled it back to 2-2 with a minute to go. Straight from kick off, a revitalised Jason Kennedy charged forward and crossed for James Hanson to head home a dramatic winner. What a game.
The good form continued with a 1-0 League Cup win at Morecambe via the Hand of Aaron, a 0-0 draw at Walsall and impressive 3-1 victory over Crawley. A 1-0 home defeat to Peterborough dampened the mood, but the month ended with another away win – 2-0 at Rochdale – to keep City cooking.
And then there was the League Cup second round. The reward for victory in Morecambe was a home tie with bitter rivals Leeds United. In truth, the hatred had eased over recent years, but it was still a night of passion and another brilliant moment in Phil Parkinson’s time at City. The Bantams coming back from a goal down to win 2-1 with goals by the outstanding Billy Knott and Hanson. A first victory over Leeds in 28 years. These were happy times.
In contrast September was a mixed month, beginning with three straight losses. The first – 1-0 to Oldham in the JPT – wasn’t too big a deal, but defeats at home to Yeovil and Swindon firmly punctured early season optimism. Typical of City, they then earned a 2-1 victory from a daunting trip to the MK Dons, who did get revenge by knocking the Bantams out of the League Cup a week later.
The struggling striker began the month well by scoring a badly-needed goal in a 2-0 win over Crewe – a first home victory since the opening day of the season. But Mclean continued to display poor form, with the Bantams losing 3-1 to Barnsley and 2-0 at home to Sheffield United. The latter his final appearance for City.
Mclean was an unused sub during City’s 2-2 draw at runaway leaders Bristol City – Christopher Routis netting a late equaliser – and again at Boundary Park Oldham, where the Bantams were defeated 2-1. Parkinson announced Mclean could leave on loan, and two weeks later he was off to Peterborough United. A major mistake, resolved to a point.
This was the turning point of the season. A 2-1 away victory over Halifax Town in the FA Cup, inspired by Billy Clarke and Filipe Morais, got the campaign firmly back on track. It proved to be the first of seven victories in nine games that took the Bantams to the end of the year.
A week after Halifax, high-flying Preston North End were overturned on their own patch with a brilliant goal from Mark Yeates. A 1-1 draw at home to Gillingham saw City concede a last minute equaliser (not for the last time over the next few months) but a 3-1 victory over Leyton Orient kept spirits high. Jon Stead was in great form.
A place in the FA Cup third round was up for grabs, all City had to do was defeat Conference strugglers Dartford at Valley Parade. They displayed true professionalism to get the job done (especially on a day where the club and fans were distracted by a critical newspaper article over the Valley Parade Fire) and a week later Billy Clarke’s stunning goal defeated Chesterfield.
Scunthorpe United were next. Struggling near the foot of the league, the Iron produced a superb display that saw them earn a draw through another last minute equaliser. No matter, City ended the year with back-to-back victories over Fleetwood Town and Gary Jones’ Notts County, leaving them in fifth at the halfway stage of the campaign.
This was the month when Bradford City shook the football world; when they defeated the best team in the country, on their own patch, after giving them a two-goal head start. Chelsea 2 Bradford City 4. Dubbed by some as the biggest FA Cup upset of all time.
They got there through beating Millwall in round three. A 3-3 draw at the New Den – with two goals from Billy Knott – was followed by a 4-0 thrashing of the Championship club in the replay. Bring on the Chelsea. Not all of us got to see it, but those of us who did will never forget one of the greatest days in the club’s history.
Not surprisingly, league form suffered somewhat in view of this major distraction. City were excellent at home to Rochdale, but playing with 10 men for 80 minutes ultimately cost them. Yeovil – struggling at the foot of the table – completed an unlikely double over City. At least the run of league defeats ended with a late Morais goal earning a 1-1 draw at home to Colchester.
Parkinson – more popular with fans than ever – was furious about the increasingly dreadful state of the Valley Parade pitch.
The two-front assault – FA Cup and League One promotion – continued in impressive style. City’s first fifth round appearance since 1997 was a happy occasion, as Premier League Sunderland were defeated 2-0 in front of a full house at Valley Parade, the game controversially not shown on TV. Bring on the quarter finals.
In the league, a 2-2 draw at Port Vale felt like a defeat given City had been 2-1 up going into injury time. Two days later the MK Dons were defeated 2-1 by City, a week before Sunderland. Following the FA Cup victory, the Bantams beat Leyton Orient 2-0 before drawing 1-1 at home to Walsall.
The FA Cup adventure came to an end, but only after pushing Reading hard in the historic quarter final game (see how we ranked the occasion against history here and here). The first game at Valley Parade saw a tension-filled 0-0 draw (the game almost over-shadowed by major ticket distribution problems that need long-term planning to avoid repeating), before the Bantams bowed out in the replay in Berkshire.
So focus back on the league. A 1-0 win over Crawley was followed by 1-1 draws at Coventry and Notts County. The second half of the month saw three successive home games which produced mixed results. A 2-2 draw with Fleetwood included a 2-0 lead been blown in the last five minutes. Oldham were sent home beaten 2-0, but then a Tuesday night 1-0 loss to Chesterfield felt pivotal.
With time running out, City were in the play off hunt but needing a strong ending to make the top six.
It was all set up to be an exciting end to the season. The Bantams in the hunt for the final play off spot, with a number of massive promotion six-pointers against local rivals.
Alas, despite April beginning with an outstanding 3-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers on Good Friday, the excitement fizzled out and a wretched run of form extinguished hopes of a top six finish.
After the Doncaster win, the Bantams lost 3-0 at home to Preston on Easter Monday after being reduced to 10 men early doors. A 1-0 loss at Gillingham the following Saturday was another nail in the coffin, and then a truly abysmal 6-0 home defeat to League One champions Bristol City (who earned promotion with this emphatic victory) all but put paid to dreams of Championship football.
It became mathematically impossible after a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United that at least restored some pride. Billy Clarke was on target, and City’s top scorer also found the net in a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe United. The season ended with back to back 1-0 wins over Barnsley and Crewe respectively. In the end the Bantams finished in a highly impressive seventh place position, just four points shy of the play offs. What might have been…
Despite the disappointing ending, attention was quickly diverted to off the field matters that included a controversial book about the Bradford City Fire. It was also confirmed that rumours Gianni Paladini was in talks to buy the club from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes were true. We were unsure if this was a good idea and offered a cautious hello to the Italian.