Ahead of a battle at the bottom, we spoke to Jason McKeown of The Width of a Post for this edition of the Opposition View, Bradford v Plymouth Argyle.
How has your season panned out so far?
It has been a major disappointment. We went into the season with an increasingly unpopular chairman, Edin Rahic, who embarked on his final throw of the dice trying to reverse the tide. But his ludicrous decision to give the vacant manager job to the untried and inexperienced Michael Collins – the 32-year-old Bradford City under 18s coach, who was still playing part-time football for FC Halifax Town – backfired badly.
Rahic’s silent business partner, Stefan Rupp, sanctioned the biggest playing budget in 15 years. But the new squad, which was far too hastily ripped up after the 2017 League One play off final defeat, has been badly put together. After a poor start, Rahic sacked Collins. David Hopkin came in but has inherited a mess. By November, the club was bottom of the league by seven points. Rahic’s position was untenable, and fortunately Rupp reacted by taking steps to remove him from his post.
That was December, and City’s form did pick up, allowing us to catch up with the other strugglers. But form has started to drift again, with last week’s home defeat to Fleetwood seeing the team booed off.
With the mood remaining dark, Saturday’s game with Plymouth Argyle is huge for us.
And how did the January transfer window go?
A touchy subject! Stefan Rupp had publicly vowed to back Hopkin in January if the club was still in trouble, but all that came in were a handful of loans and free transfers. In Rupp’s defence, he has discovered the club’s finances were left in a worse-than-known state by Rahic, meaning his priority is to cover a shortfall said to be approaching £2 million. He also took steps to make sure City retained prize loan asset Jack Payne, by increasing the amount of wages the club covers.
Nevertheless, City failed to really strengthen in January, and those brought in are yet to really hit the ground running. Hopkin has prioritised experience, and the moves to bring in Calum Woods, Jacob Butterfield and Billy Clarke will hopefully pay off.
Despite still sitting 23rd, does form look like picking up at all?
We had a promising November, a superb December but then a mixed January. The bounce that followed Rahic’s departure has faded, and the grim struggle against Fleetwood leaves supporters deeply worried. It feels like the team is falling back into bad habits. We are especially poor in reacting to going a goal behind. We’ve gained just one point from a losing position all season, which is nowhere near good enough.
The first goal will be huge on Saturday.
What tactical style would you say you’re playing right now?
Hopkin has built a side around two number 10s – Jack Payne and David Ball – which for a time saw us produce some excellent attacking football. Lewis O’Brien has been excellent alongside them in midfield, with striker Eoin Doyle belatedly finding form. With no wingers, playing through the number 10s has worked well.
However, in recent weeks it has become obvious that opposition managers have figured us out. Payne has been denied time and space, and that has stopped City as a creative force. Last week Fleetwood parked the bus in this way, causing City to resort to long ball that was totally ineffective.
It has become obvious that we need to change our tactical style, but there are doubts we have enough alternative options in the squad to play a different way. \
Are there any players who have stood out especially this season?
Jack Payne has been terrific. There were rumours of him moving to Millwall in January, but City have kept him.
I think it suits him to play at Valley Parade at this stage of his career, as the team is built around him. As he showed last season when he swapped a loan spell at Oxford with a period at Blackburn, he becomes less of a key figure in a team higher up the league. At City, Payne is highly valued and loved by fans. If we stay up, I’d love for us to sign him permanently.
And any real weak links you’re worried about?
We struggle to keep clean sheets and our back four always seems to have a mistake in them.
Who or what comes to mind when you think of Plymouth Argyle?
You came to Valley Parade last season when we were flying and you were bottom of the league, only for your manager Derek Adams to do a job on us and win 1-0 with a dour, defensive approach we couldn’t overcome. So I can’t say I admired your style of football, but definitely had respect for Derek Adams.
I think you have an excellent fanbase and always bring a good following to Valley Parade. There are plenty of clubs who are less than an hour from Bradford who don’t bring nearly as many.
Which Argyle player, if any, would you like to sign?
The Graham Carey of last season, and the Graham Carey who produced that outrageous skill which lit up social media last weekend.
How do you see the rest of the season panning out for Bradford?
Ask me after Saturday! Our season is on a knife edge. If we lose to Argyle, you’ll hear the sound of thousands of Bradford City supporters chucking in the towel. Realistically, the battle will run on with more twists and turns to come. I was confident we would stay up at the turn of the year, but that belief is now chipping away.
And how about for Argyle?
You’ve enough quality, and a manager with a a streetwise edge. 15-17th.
And finally a prediction for the game?
A 1-1 draw that helps no one.