Bradford have taken the mantle of League One’s nearly men. At the end of every season, when you’re perusing the final tables in the Football League, you tend to find Bradford around 5th, ready to lose in the play offs.
Things have turned pretty sour at Valley Parade over the past year or so though. Gone is long term manager Stuart “he got pissed and fell off a car once” McCall, who was initially replaced by everyones favourite rhetorical question asker - Simon Grayson.
It didn’t quite work out for Grayson though or his eventual replacement, Michael Collins, who was sacked just six games in to the current campaign. The Bantams are obviously in a state of flux as new gaffer David Hopkin looks to get this parade back on the march, so what a perfect time to play them! Hopefully.
To find out if we are facing Bradford at the right time, we caught up with Mark Douglas of the Evening Chronicle, a boyhood Bantam.
RR: When I got in touch to ask you if you would be up for doing this feature, you said that you can’t imagine Sunderland facing anyone as bad as Bradford. So I have to ask, why? What’s going so wrong?
Well that was before Tuesday’s hard-earned 1-0 win at Wimbledon and I was probably being a shade melodramatic but the point still stands - we’ve gone from one of the strongest sides in the division to one of the weaker ones thanks to the misadventures of our German owners Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic.
To cut a long story short Rupp is the silent partner while the controversial figure of Rahic, who is very much the front man and self-proclaimed Director of Football, has taken a hands-on role that has alienated fans, managers and players. He sacked club legend Stuart McCall with the team in promotion contention - hugely unpopular - and the Scot later said he deserved a medal for putting up with Rahic for so long. Rumours of interference in team selection - which Rahic denies - are rife while he was prominently involved in recruitment during the summer.
Perhaps his biggest mistake was appointing Michael Collins, a 32-year-old part-time coach of the under-23s, as first team manager following Simon Grayson’s departure. It was a move that proved disastrous - he lasted four weeks into the season before being fired with the team low on confidence and in the bottom three.
The team Rahic built looks weak up front, vulnerable at the back and low on creativity. The co-owner wanted to bring in young players who would have re-sale value but there isn’t enough know-how or nastiness in the side, who have been far too easy to beat.
David Hopkin is Collins’ replacement and his objective looks like salvaging this mess. But the wider problem of the divisive Rahic remains and it’s far to say Bradford is no longer a happy camp.
RR: The managerial situation has been a bit “Sunderlandy” for Bradford in 2018. I want to ask about Simon Grayson first though, given he was just coming off the back of his short spell on Wearside. He never really looked like the right fit for us, for a number of reasons, so I’m interested to know why things didn’t work out for him at Valley Parade and why he didn’t extend his stay?
MD: Grayson seemed like the perfect appointment when he took over from McCall: his CV had promotions from the third tier at Leeds and Huddersfield on it and that was his aim.
But he was taking over a group that was demoralised and rife with factions and he really struggled to stop the rot. He eventually settled on making us hard to beat and strengthening the defence but it was dreadful to watch and the results were appalling.
I think Grayson would say that the situation with the owners didn’t help - and Rahic’s desire to have a big say in football matters and blueprint was why he didn’t stay - but he didn’t endear himself to Bradford fans by saying in his first press conference he was a Championship manager and giving the impression he was doing us a favour by managing us.
Given what happened with Collins, he probably thinks he had a lucky escape but there weren’t too many City fans upset he didn’t stay.
RR: To carry on the Sunderland-like managerial merry-go-round, you sacked young manager Michael Collins after just six league games following his promotion from coaching the youth teams. A harsh decision or was it clear that he wasn’t up to it? What have you seen from David Hopkin to suggest he will be an upgrade as well?
MD: I felt sorry for Collins, whose only experience of management was working with the under-23s at City on a part-time basis. My hunch was Rahic appointed him as he’d be easier to control than an experienced manager and that was how a lot of fans felt too. He certainly didn’t have the final say in recruitment.
But sacking him was the right decision: the team looked like it had no idea what it was doing and he was flailing from the moment results started going against him.
Hopkin has had a difficult start - the team lost 3-2 at Blackpool after leading 2-0 with five minutes remaining - but there are signs he’s getting them sorted out.
They have kept two successive clean sheets and Hopkin is a no-nonsense sort who believes in hard work and being difficult to beat. He’s a massive upgrade on Collins.
RR: Onto the game and trying to move onto more positive aspects for a second, who in the Bradford side do you think could cause us some problems? Anyone shine in your midweek win over Wimbledon?
MD: Jack Payne is the man. He’s not been in the side in the last few weeks but he’s the most talented player we have - he’s on loan from Huddersfield after starring for Blackburn last year. He’s a number ten or attacking midfielder and he can pick a pass and score a goal. He’s the danger man, although Hopkin sacrificed him at Wimbledon to get more height in the side.
RR: Flipping that one around, who are you worried about in the Sunderland side?
MD: Josh Maja would be the one. He’s such a big talent and he’ll cause problems for any side in League One. I think any decent side will cause us problems, though. Survival will be a success for City this year.
RR: How do you expect David Hopkin to approach this game and what do you think his starting line up will be?
MD: I think he’ll keep with the philosophy of the last two games: making us difficult to beat and trying to keep the team in contention for as long as possible. They’ve conceded some silly goals and I think that was the key thing - making us hard to defeat. Whether that’ll be enough against one of the best teams in League One is another thing entirely.
RR: Finally, can we have a score prediction please?
MD: My optimistic hat says 0-0. Realistically I think Sunderland - who, until the FA Cup game under Gus Poyet had a brilliant record at Valley Parade - will win 2-0.