D3D4 Bradford City Correspondent Tom Love looks at The Bantams chances ahead of the new season…
After missing out on promotion to the championship by the finest of margins last season, Bradford City are expected to make another play off push this season.
The Bantams saw a shift in style in the 16/17 campaign after gaffer Phil Parkinson departed for Bolton Wanderers and club legend Stuart McCall was appointed into the hot seat. There was a visible change from the solid and direct but effective 4-4-2 under Parkinson, to a more fluid, attacking approach from McCall’s charges. The question is, can they go one better this season and reach the championship?
It’s been a busy summer at Valley Parade with key players moving on to pastures new. Cup conquerors Rory McCardle, Stephen Darby, James Meredith and Billy Clarke have all departed as well as the instrumental Mark Marshall leaving for Charlton and the impressive Josh Cullen returning to parent club West Ham. It can be argued that Cullen, Marshall and Meredith were the three standout performers last season and it will be interesting to see how replacements Jake Reeves, Alex Gillead and Adam Chicksen perform respectively.
The recruitment drive, headed by the conversant Greg Abbott, has been focused on a quicker, sharper calibre of player. Notable additions include Paul Taylor from Peterborough, Shay McCartan from Accrington for a rumoured £200k, Dom Poleon from AFC Wimbledon and the aforementioned Reeves, signed from the same club for a reported £150k. It’s refreshing for City fans to see likeable chairmen Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp investing in promising prospects, a sign of ambition following on from splashing out £250k on big striker Charlie Wyke in January. In addition to these signings, City have also brought in some exciting youngsters with striker Omari Patrick and midfielder Dan Pybus impressing in pre-season giving more options to McCall.
Replacing defensive stalwart McCardle is one area that has failed to be addressed thus far, however the experienced Scottish international Gordon Greer joined the bantams on their Austria/Germany tour and left a lasting impression on the manager with a deal looking likely to be tabled soon. Should Greer sign he will slot in next to one of the left-footed centre backs in Nat-Knight Percival or Matt Killgallon with the charismatic Tony McMahon on the right side of defence and the energetic Chicksen on the left. There’s also a possibility of McCall utilising the former two as wing backs and have Romain Vincelot drop in as a third centre half.
One area the bantams struggled in last term was getting goals from Midfield. Everyone will be expected to chip in to ease the pressure on Wyke and Alex Jones up top. Nicky Law is likely to remain as a tucked-in left midfielder but needs to make more forward runs in order to get into goal scoring positions, Reeves will be given license to use his boundless energy to get in and around the box as well. The Bantams could utilise a 4-3-3 with two of McCartan, Poleon, Gillead and Jones either side of number 9 Wyke and the industrious Tim Dieng drafted into the middle of the park. The flexibility in the team is what stands out from previous years, all manner of formations can be used. 4-2-3-1 with McCartan as an attacking midfielder is also an option.
Home form is going to be key for the West Yorkshire side, after going all last season unbeaten at home they need to keep Valley Parade a fortress, and use the vociferous 19,000 strong crowd to their advantage. A league high of 19 draws last season was what hampered any automatic promotion hopes for the Claret and Amber army, turn them draws into wins by being more ruthless in front of goal and it will give them a great chance of competing at the top again.
Bradford City have had year-on-year progression over the last 5 years, it will be a challenge to keep that going but an exciting one for the players and staff as well as the fans from a viewing angle. Switching the club ethos from an accomplished and well-versed set up towards a more inexperienced but potential filled one could be seen as a risky and fans may have to be patient. However it would be hoped that in the medium to long term it will be a fruitful exercise for all concerned with the club.
Words by Tom Love.