Season Review: Bantams provide highlight as White Rose season wilts away

DESPAIR: Hull City manager Steve Bruce. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
DESPAIR: Hull City manager Steve Bruce. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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NINETY-SIX games, a similar number of press conferences and the best part of 20,000 miles covered by planes, trains and automobiles.

That was my 2014-15 season covering the county’s football clubs and, on the surface, there has not been too much to show for those 10 months of largely toil.

Yorkshire clubs failed to claim even a solitary promotion in the Football League, the last chance dying with Middlesbrough’s hopes of beating Norwich City at Wembley on Monday.

But Hull City’s relegation last Sunday means there is, once again, no representation from the Broad Acres in the top flight. A sorry state of affairs and one that contrasts sharply with the Nineties when Leeds United, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Bradford City all spent time in the Premier League.

Plenty, therefore, to bemoan at the end of what the record books will suggest to future generations was far from a vintage year for the White Rose.

Scratch below the surface, however, and there were plenty of memorable moments that this correspondent was fortunate enough to witness while trekking from Slovakia to Sunderland and what, at times, felt like all points in between on behalf of The Yorkshire Post.

So, with there being three weeks until the first glimpse can be had of next season’s fixtures, here is my – sometimes, light-hearted – take on what has, despite the glaring lack of success, been an eventful campaign.

There is only one place to start in terms of my clear ‘Moment of the Season’ and that is Stamford Bridge on January 24.

Bradford City, fresh from having lost at bottom club Yeovil Town a week earlier, were not given a prayer before kick-off against a Chelsea side that had won all 10 of their Premier League home games to sit five points clear at the top.

Two goals down inside 38 minutes, the League One Bantams seemed to be in for a long afternoon. Then, though, something quite extraordinary happened as a new chapter was written into FA Cup folklore.

By the time Mark Yeates netted City’s fourth deep into stoppage time, all I could do was laugh at the absurdity of it all. A real ‘I was there’ moment that was made all the more memorable by a shell-shocked Jose Mourinho getting his Yorkshire clubs mixed up when speaking to the media afterwards.

“Is there any player in Barnsley... er, how do you say it?” asked the Portuguese as he turned to a by now alarmed-looking Chelsea press officer for help. “The team we played?”

After a whispered reply, Mourinho continued: “Bradford. Is there any of their players who can play for Chelsea?”

That, for me, was the ‘Quote of the Season’ – just beating Steve Bruce’s matter-of-fact response to Joey Barton literally hitting Tom Huddlestone below the belt at the KC Stadium in February. “You can’t go round hitting people in the knackers, can you?” asked the Tigers manager and it was difficult to argue.

Ditto Birmingham manager Gary Rowett’s theory on how best to handle Hillsborough’s notoriously poor pitch. “I told the players to just kick the ball as far as they could down the pitch,” might not have been a suggestion to please the purists but it was searingly honest.

Hull were unable to stay in the Premier League on Sunday, much to the disappointment of those of us who have enjoyed the hospitality of clubs who think nothing of plying the media with a three-course meal, free bar and even a pick n’ mix counter.

But Nikica Jelavic’s scissor-kick at Newcastle United was still my ‘Goal of the Season’, just beating the unstoppable Christian Eriksen free-kick that put Tottenham Hotspur in front at Sheffield United in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg.

The Blades, who had lost the first leg 1-0, hit back in remarkable fashion in the second half to level the tie at 2-2 before eventually bowing out but, as pulsating as that night and North Ferriby’s memorable FA Trophy triumph at Wembley in March was to cover, another fixture involving Nigel Clough’s men is my ‘Game of the Season’.

A play-off semi-final second leg is dramatic enough but United’s 5-5 draw at Swindon Town had everything but a happy ending, including a flurry of goals near the end that left reporters up against a tight deadline having to check just what the aggregate score was at regular intervals.

The flipside of such drama were those nights when the final whistle could not come soon enough. Huddersfield Town’s goalless draw at home to Wigan in September was one such occasion, the game so lacking in incident that both teams were reduced to playing for time long before the end.

Another difficult night came a month later at Morecambe when York City’s visit was played amid the tail-end of Hurricane Gonzalo, which had given the Lancashire coast a battering all afternoon.

Shelter is not easy to find at the Globe Arena so I am going to blame the strong wind for my truly lame attempt at punching the ball back into play when one lusty clearance headed my way in the press box. Alas, all I could do was divert the ball slap, bang into a fellow scribe’s laptop. Oops.

Thankfully, no lasting damage was done. I’d like to say the same about my reputation as a football tipster but a quick glance at The Yorkshire Post’s pre-season supplement suggests otherwise.

“Expect Fulham to lead the way in a tight Championship,” I wrote confidently, “closely pursued by Wigan Athletic as runners-up.” Hmmm.