AS Bradford City kicked off on a sunny evening so calm and serene that it better suited a trip to a country pub than a football stadium on the outskirts of Scunthorpe, it was difficult to believe just how pivotal the next couple of weeks could be for the Yorkshire club.
The Bantams, who despite battling back to draw last night against Mark Robins’s side have now won just once in seven games, stand very much at a crossroads.
Talks have been continuing this week over a possible takeover by former Queens Park Rangers chairman Gianni Paladini, who sources close to the Italian insist fancies “one last hurrah” in football.
Just what plans Paladini has for the Bantams remains to be seen; like joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn he is bound by the confidentiality agreement that has been signed by the two parties.
But a speedy resolution – be that the takeover getting the green light or the plug being pulled – is expected due to every agreement having a strict deadline.
It is certainly in City’s interests that this be resolved quickly, not least because manager Phil Parkinson needs to know where he stands.
Not just in terms of whether his playing budget will match the £2.5m of the past two seasons, but also with regards either recruiting new faces or offering new deals to those who are out of contract this summer.
Of the XI that started last night’s match with Scunthorpe, seven are contracted for next season.
But for injury and suspension respectively, Filipe Morais and Rory McArdle would also have had a good chance of being involved to underline the solid base that Parkinson has to build on this summer.
Equally, however, the futures of Andrew Davies, Mark Yeates, Andy Halliday and Jon Stead need resolving and fast.
All four have played a big part this term, not least on that never-to-be forgotten day at Chelsea when City dumped Jose Mourinho’s men out of the FA Cup, and all four will be on the radar of other clubs.
Only the injured Yeates of the quartet did not feature against Scunthorpe on a night when Parkinson’s men struggled for an hour before Billy Clarke volleyed home his 13th goal of the season.
Up to that point, the best the visitors had mustered was a couple of efforts from Stead early in each half that had barely tested Luke Daniels.
Clarke’s clinical finish from an inviting cross from Stephen Darby ensured Bradford returned home with a point that, on the balance of play, was just about deserved despite Scunthorpe being the more enterprising for an hour.
The all-important breakthrough came on 26 minutes, as Gary McSheffrey swept in Hakeeb Adelakun’s cross after the visitors had been opened up down their left flank.
Twelve minutes later, the Iron went very close to adding a second goal when Neal Bishop – after adroitly slaloming his way through several attempted challenges – fired against the crossbar from 20 yards.
That, though, was as good as it got for the hosts despite it taking Bradford until the final half-hour to get their own game in order.
Paddy Madden had a couple of late shots but, really, City should have taken all three points with Tony McMahon wasting a golden chance at the finish.
The draw leaves City 10th in the table – one place better off than last year’s finish. Such a slight improvement in league standing, of course, tells only a fraction of what has been a year of giant strides at Valley Parade.
Not just on the pitch, either, with the club’s balance sheet expected to show an £800,000 profit on the back of the lucrative Cup heroics that saw Chelsea and Sunderland humbled and neighbours Leeds United beaten in Bradford for the first time in almost three decades.
Following on from the profits made four times in the previous five seasons, it is no wonder that Bradford now seem such an attractive prospect for investors such as Paladini.
The big question now, though, is which direction the club ultimately takes. Over to messrs Lawn, Rhodes and Paladini.
Scunthorpe United: Daniels; Clarke, Boyce, Canavan, Williams; Bishop, Osbourne (Lundstram 16), Adelakun, McSheffrey (Syers 86); Madden, Robinson (Van Veen 70). Unused substitutes: Anyon, Townsend, Wootton, Llera.
Bradford City: Williams, Darby, Routis, Davies, Meredith, Liddle, Knott (Halliday 77), McMahon, Clarke, Hanson, Stead (Dolan 77). Unused substitutes: Urwin, Zoko, MacKenzie, Webb-Foster, Mottley-Henry.
Referee: D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).
England manager Roy Hodgson will be at Valley Parade on Saturday as Bradford City mark the final home game of the season with a minute’s silence in tribute to the victims of the fire disaster.
Hodgson will be joined at the Barnsley game by FA chairman Greg Dyke.