AS the countdown to the new football season draws to a close, football reporter Leon Wobschall gives his verdict on Yorkshire’s clubs and offers his five key things that each team must improve.
THE 2014-15 season will forever be remembered by Bradford City fans for THAT FA Cup stunner at Chelsea in late January, with honourable mentions to the fine home slayings of Sunderland and Millwall.
City, backed by an ecstatic 6,000 travelling army, stunned the footballing world by coming from 2-0 down to beat Premier League giants Chelsea 4-2 in arguably the most remarkable cup shock of all time.
Gus Poyet’s Sunderland were also dispatched with aplomb, with the claret-and-amber afforded their second share of the national spotlight in three seasons, with Phil Parkinson deservedly named as the FA Cup manager of the season - following on from Nigel Clough’s award in 2013-14.
But what of the league, in truth, a bit of an ‘if only’ campaign for Bradford City, who flirted with the League One play-offs on occasions, before falling away.
Many fans would now gladly forsake cup runs for league progression, with City kicking off the campaign at beaten League One play-off finalists Swindon on Saturday.
Here the Yorkshire Post looks at five things that City need to address in 2015-16.
1: Sort out recruitment this summer with no off-the-field distractions.
There has been plenty of speculation in recent weeks about the future of City, with Gianni Paladini seeing his exclusivity period run out recently with the Italian businessman failing to conclude a takeover deal - although he has stressed that he still hopes to conclude something. Time will tell..
The uncertainty has put Phil Parkinson’s plans to re-sign players including the out-of-contract trio of Mark Yeates, Andrew Davies and Jon Stead on hold - with Chesterfield interested in the latter. Parkinson has also missed out on some early targets, including keeper Richard O’Donnell.
It’s a big summer for Bradford regarding recruitment as Parkinson has remarked upon and how Bantams supporters will be hoping that the recent takeover uncertainty will be put behind them, so that their summer transfer plans can now get fully into operation. Clubs who have difficult close seasons rarely do the business when the following seasons begins.
2: The Valley Parade pitch.
Two thoroughly lamentable, make that wretched, pitches caught all the Yorkshire headlines for the wrong reasons last term - Valley Parade and Hillsborough.
The fare on other at both was grim on what was akin to a ploughed field and while the Valley Parade pitch may have worked to Bradford’s favour against Sunderland, it did them few good turns as the season wore on and the pockmarked surface got worse and bodies and minds got tired as a result of City’s long campaign when they were victims of their own success in some respects.
It ensured that Bradford had to be pragmatic in home matches and go fairly direct at times, which can make them look somewhat predictable. A much improved surface would aid the club’s ball-players in the likes of Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke and add some strings to their bow.
3: More craft to supplement the grit
City’s commitment, work ethic and esprit de corps is commendable. They have foot-soldiers in the likes of Gary Liddle and Rory McArdle who every League One side needs and would take. But a bit more craft and attacking options in certain areas to supplement the likes of Morais and Clarke is needed to pose more questions to opponents, with the pre-season injury to Morais a most unwelcome development. At times, City were predictable last term. Not a great word, that.
Paul Anderson, with a decent reputation at the likes of Nottingham Forest will add ingenuity in that respect. As well Josh Morris, who impressed during two loan spells at Fleetwood, being another who can bring much-needed creativity.
4: Home form needs remedying
While Valley Parade proved a house of pain for Leeds, Sunderland and Millwall, among others last season, plenty more found it to their liking. Most notably Bristol City, who recorded an incredible 6-0 victory there on April 14 to clinch promotion in style - a bitter night when Bradford conceded six goals on home soil for the first time since the John Docherty era.
City’s haul of eight wins at home was the worst in the top half of the table along with Fleetwood and they actually won more games away from Valley Parade - nine.
Only five sides scored fewer goals, with the Achilles heel of poor home statistics, flaring up again - it has afflicted them several times before in the noughties. Yeovil won at Valley Parade and City couldn’t beat Scunthorpe, Port Vale, Gillingham or Walsall.
City beat just side at home in the top ten - MK Dons - and seven sides won there. Enough said.
5: Stop the late concessions
Cruel late goals conceded against the likes of Gillingham, Scunthorpe, Rochdale, Port Vale and Fleetwood cost City in the final analysis in their quest for last season’s play-offs, which saw them fall four points shy. Two defeats to basement boys Yeovil was also a grievous double wound. A little more care and attention at the end of games is required, maybe it is more mental than anything else.
Don’t miss your guide to The Championship clubs on Wednesday.