At 5pm on Saturday against Swindon Town the Bradford City fans, players and all connected with the club looked on with envy as they watched a jubilant set of players in red and white celebrating with their fans as they leave League Two worthy champions. In stark contrast the City fans exited Valley Parade as the curtain draws on yet another season with the same feeling of previous campaigns – could do better.
Back in August before a ball had been kicked I was optimistic under Peter Jackson that Bradford had a chance of challenging for a play-off place, shows what I know given what has happened over the past ten months!
The opening month of the season hadn’t elapsed before Jacko left the club as Bradford became the first club in the Football League to change managers. For one game only Colin Cooper took temporary charge and guided the club to a comfortable win over Barnet. Cooper didn’t land the role permanently and shortly after ex-Charlton gaffer Phil Parkinson took over at Valley Parade, Cooper left to join the coaching staff at championship side Middlesbrough.
Throughout the course of the season the squad has evolved massively, the majority of the summer recruits have left or hardly featured under Parkinson as he brought in his own players. Prior to Jackson leaving he almost guided City to a memorable victory over Leeds in the Carling Cup as the Bantams dominated at Elland Road for a large portion of the match before running out of legs towards the end and narrowly losing 3-2.
From a personal point of view I’ve not been overly impressed with Parkinson as a whole this season but at the same time I do believe he is the right man to take City forward. Ultimately he’ll be judged more on next season rather than this campaign. Once he’s had a summer to bring in his own players and ship out the dead wood in the ranks I’ll be hopeful that City can at least compete towards a play-off place.
There have been a few highlights during the course of the season, the run to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern semi final was a highlight whilst it also enabled many City fans to have the bragging rights over their neighbours for a short period of time as Bradford knocked out Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town all on penalties before crashing out away to Oldham which on paper would have been the easier tie compared to the previous three rounds.
Another major highlight has been the emergence of Bermudan striker Nahki Wells. The young striker has been a revelation since breaking into the side, and he is now a permanent fixture in attack. Wells was snapped up by Jackson on a free transfer last summer from Carlisle and if he keeps progressing I’m sure in due course bigger clubs will come sniffing around – hopefully the City board will have Wells tied down on a long term deal, so if clubs do come calling at least Bradford can benefit financially.
Elsewhere on the pitch giant defender Luke Oliver, who scooped nearly all Player of the Year awards for this season, has been consistently solid at the back. Under the failed regime of Peter Taylor, Oliver had been a far cry from being the fans favourite which he has now become. Playing out of position at times Oliver simply looked a liability but he is a completely different player now, clearly benefitting from playing in his natural position. Oliver has excelled at the back this season and his partnership with on loan Andrew Davies has been a plus point to Bradford’s season.
Aside from Wells and Oliver I struggled to pick out many other star performers from the season. The likes of Kyel Reid and Andrew Davies have done well, Reid in patches and Davies has been solid enough all season long. Let’s be honest with the squad City have they should have done significantly better this season.
On the pitch results have been inconsistent, hence the reason why City are likely to finish 18th. On any given day the Bantams have been capable of beating the top sides whilst being more than capable of getting turned over by the likes of Hereford and Macclesfield. Away from home results have been poor, with Bradford’s first away league win not coming until mid December away at Southend and ending the season with only four away wins to their name – if next season City are to be successful their away form needs to be significantly better.
At home their form has been good, only Crawley have left with three points in recent months. Prior to that the last team to take all three points from Valley Parade was Rotherham last November. Unfortunately though the Crawley game won’t be remembered for the Sussex side taking the three points, it will be remembered for the post-match brawl which brought national coverage to both sides for all the wrong reasons, City had three players sent off and Crawley two after the final whistle – subsequently Crawley had an extra player banned following an FA hearing.
As the curtain draws on this campaign, Parkinson has already started to show his hand with regards to letting players leave the club. Craig Fagan, Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell have all left the club, whilst Steve Williams and Mark Stewert both on loan at Inverness and Hamilton respectively look set to leave the club permanently. With players leaving it frees up some of the budget immediately for Parkinson to bring in his own players. I would expect more players will be leaving Valley Parade over the coming weeks when the gaffer starts to fully implement his stamp on the side.
So everyone heads away for the summer holidays and the gates shut at Valley Parade for yet another season. Yes it has been disappointing on the whole but it won’t take long for the excitement and expectation to start building for next season once one or two signings arrive. Fingers crossed City can compete at the right end of the table, I for one am getting fed up of looking at the bottom end of the table and for a club the size of Bradford within League Two they should really be challenging at the right end of the table. That is the task Parky has for next season – and I generally hope he can give the long suffering Bradford fans the one thing they desperately crave, promotion out of the bottom division.
Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger
Mark tweets at @scully87