Matthew Crichton: Mark Hughes is someone that has been linked with managing Sunderland many a time in the past. What was your initial reaction to him dropping to League Two with Bradford?
Jason Mckeown: It was a stunning moment. He was appointed in February and I think it’s fair to say absolutely no one saw it coming. We’d just got rid of another manager – we can rival Sunderland for regular managerial changes – and the general feeling was who on earth would want to take on one of the most unstable hotseats in the country.
For Hughes to be interested in the job was a massive shock and also a huge confidence boost at a time when the club and fans were at a low ebb. He remains very popular.
MC: Hughes guided Bradford to 14th, with a fairly inconsistent record. Do you think it was a case that he needed to clear the decks and start fresh?
JK: It’s fair to say Hughes inherited a tough situation with the club well off the promotion places and already around 14th. Hughes went about changing the style of play. It took a while for results to come through, but you could really get behind the more attractive football on show and the way the players were having more of a go.
By the end of the season, Hughes was getting both performances and results. It’s going to be really interesting to see how he does with a transfer window and full pre-season behind him.
MC: Heading into the new season, are you now optimistic that a promotion push can occur?
JK: Definitely more so than in recent seasons. We look to have been smarter in the transfer market and have a manager with a brilliant track record at a higher level.
The club feels a lot more united than has been the case over the last few years. The pieces are there for us to really have a go.
MC: In terms of recruitment, Bradford recently signed striker Vadaine Oliver, who has hit double figures in the last two League One seasons. Do you think that signing was a clear statement of intent?
JK: Oliver is an interesting one in that, as you say, he has been prolific the last two seasons, but never before that. Oliver seems to have really found his confidence at Gillingham and you just hope he can keep that going.
In the past we’ve signed many forward players with up and down goalscoring records and they’ve always seemed to struggle at Valley Parade. We can be a bit of a graveyard for strikers. On paper though it looks a good move and shifts the dial upwards. Oliver is certainly the player we will look to for the bulk of the goals this season.
He is, as you ask, a statement of intent though. A player at the peak of his powers who has flourished at a higher level. He should make his debut in the friendly against Sunderland.
MC: In addition to Oliver, the likes of Richie Smallwood and Harry Chapman have also dropped leagues to join Bradford. Do you think Hughes is helping to display just how big a sleeping giant your club is?
JK: Without doubt. We’ve always been a big club in the lower leagues, but that hasn’t really been reflected in recruitment in recent years.
Smallwood had an offer on the table to stay at Hull but chose to come here – which says a lot. Chapman is clearly a player of great potential and could really flourish.
Compared to recent years where we’ve signed so many journeymen footballers, there’s been a genuine ‘wow’ factor to some of our signings.
MC: Bradford came up against Sunderland’s Jack Diamond twice last year during a loan spell at Harrogate. What level do you think he is capable of playing at?
JK: Diamond has always impressed against us, going back to 2020/21 as well. He’s the sort of player you go home from the match talking about and wishing he played for you.
I don’t watch him week in week out though, and the fact Harrogate have had been a flaky side with lengthy spells struggling over the past two seasons suggests Diamond still has a way to go. Given Sunderland’s return to the Championship, I find it difficult to see him being a regular for you any time soon. Though I certainly wouldn’t write him off.
MC: In terms of pre-season, where are Bradford at in terms of fitness and getting a settled eleven together?
JK: This game with Sunderland will be our fourth friendly. So far, we’ve been giving opportunities to a wide range of the squad and there is no concrete first choice XI forming yet.
I think the lineup against Sunderland could be telling. There’s only one more first team friendly after this so you’d imagine Hughes is starting to develop a good idea of who should be first choice.
MC: If you had to guess, which eleven players do you think Hughes will select, and how will Bradford set up tactically?
JK: As I mentioned earlier no real idea what team he will go for. Tactically we’ve been playing the diamond for much of pre-season but I’d expect us to go back to the 4-2-3-1 Hughes played last season. We recently played Derby at home in a friendly and Hughes began it 4-2-3-1.
MC: Sunderland are unbeaten in their last three matches against Bradford; what is your prediction for the final score?
JK: Derby gave us a bit of a football lesson ten days ago, which was a surprise given their well-documented struggles. I would expect Sunderland to be in much better shape so this is a tough game for us.
You should win comfortably but hopefully we give a decent account of ourselves. I’ll go 3-1 to Sunderland.