Air of optimism for 2018-19 shared by Bradford City and Sheffield United

THE PARALLELS between Bradford City and Sheffield United in 2018 are striking.

David McGoldrick of Sheffield United shoots during the pre-season friendly with Bradford City. Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage

First, both clubs welcomed in the new year occupying a play-off place in their respective divisions only to fall away. Horribly so in the case of the Bantams.

Then came a dose of managerial uncertainty at Valley Parade and Bramall Lane in the final weeks of last season, as both Simon Grayson and Chris Wilder publicly contemplated their futures.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Grayson went once the campaign was over, paving the way for last month’s appointment of Michael Collins.

Wilder, meanwhile, opted to stick around after being given assurances amid the on-going power struggle between co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Saud that this summer reached the High Court and remains far from over.

Bradford, not to be outdone by their Yorkshire rivals, also had a bout of boardroom shenanigans when former chairman Gordon Gibb revealed he was contemplating a possible takeover bid alongside life president Jack Tordoff.

The talk was quickly rebuffed by the club’s German owners, Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic. Nevertheless, an additional air of intrigue had been added to a summer of upheaval.

Grayson’s decision to walk away on the back of Stuart McCall’s controversial sacking last February left City facing what proved to be an exhaustive seven-week search for a replacement.

Collins, in charge of the club’s Under-18s last season, was the board’s eventual choice in a new-look management team featuring Greg Abbott and Martin Drury.

Yesterday brought the 32-year-old’s home bow and it turned into an encouraging opening night, albeit after a first half that had seen the Blades carve out a deserved two-goal lead.

Chris Wilder’s Championship side went on to win the game thanks to a late deflected effort from Billy Sharp.

But the manner of Bradford’s second half fightback, capped by goals from Jack Payne and Jordan Gibson, offered plenty of encouragement for the Football League’s youngest manager.

Less pleasing, however, was the sight of Charlie Wyke limping out of the action with a recurrence of the knee injury that recently prevented last season’s top scorer from training.

With Wyke, in the final 12 months of his contract, the subject of substantial bids from Peterborough United and Sunderland, City will be hoping the damage to their prized asset is not too serious.

In his place, George Miller, signed from Middlesbrough on loan 24 hours earlier, grafted hard but found openings hard to come by against a resolute United defence.

Twice, the 19-year-old looked to be away only for Jack O’Connell to anticipate the danger and execute a last ditch tackle.

Payne was the Bantams’ best hope of getting back into the game and his reward came just before the hour with a sweetly struck shot that flew beyond Dean Henderson.

The Huddersfield Town loanee is expected to be joined at Valley Parade today by Sean Scannell, who was in the stands for the visit of the Blades after agreement was reached between the two Yorkshire clubs over a potential move.

As for Wilder’s men, this was a useful run-out. Fleck was superb in midfield, while David McGoldrick proved a useful link-man as the former Ipswich Town striker looks to earn a contract at Bramall Lane.

Bolstering a strikeforce that is effectively down to Clarke and Billy Sharp, Caolan Lavery being deemed surplus to requirements at the Lane despite being on the bench last night, remains a priority for a club who recently sold David Brooks to Bournemouth for an initial £11.5m.

Aston Villa’s Scott Hogan and Sam Gallagher, the Southampton forward, are very much on United’s wanted list but, in common with many clubs in the Championship right now, getting a deal done is proving difficult.

Clarke, of course, will point to his 19 goals last season, a tally beaten by only Lewis Grabban and Matej Vydra in the Championship, as justification for why he again should lead the line.

His strike 11 minutes before half-time was a typically predatory effort, Clarke capitalising on lovely approach play from McGoldrick and Daniel Lafferty that opened up the hosts down their right flank.

It doubled United’s advantage, Fleck having fired in from 15 yards after just six minutes. Again, City had been cut open by the incisive passing of the visitors, George Baldock and Ryan Leonard this time doing the honours.

Once Payne had halved the deficit, Luke Steele, on trial after being released by Bristol City at the end of last season, came off the bench but he could do little to prevent the equaliser from Jordan Gibson nine minutes from time.

The Blades, however, were destined to prevail in an entertaining contest thanks to Sharp’s 84th minute strike.