When poor results followed the poor football which disillusioned so many Bradford City fans, Gary Bowyer’s sacking became a question of “when” not “if”.
Two years to the day after the defeat at Oldham Athletic which brought the end of Stuart McCall’s second spell as manager, Bowyer paid with his job for another Boundary Park loss.
If the 48-year-old’s position was starting to feel untenable in the toxic atmosphere of a second successive Saturday where the Bantams lost 3-0 away from home, the timing was still odd from the club’s unpopular German owners.
It was only 45 minutes before the scheduled kick-off at Oldham that Bowyer’s final signing was announced.
Glenn Middleton is a 20-year-old midfielder loaned from Rangers to supply the bullets for the forward line Bowyer reshaped last week. By the time he and they make their debuts, it will be for another manager.
In the transfer window’s final week, Bowyer allowed captain and top-scorer James Vaughan, plus League Two’s leading scorer Eoin Doyle, to leave. In their place came Lee Novak and Kurtis Guthrie, signed for undisclosed fees too late to debut in Lancashire.
Bowyer leaves a seemingly fractured club, but not an irretrievable situation. A third spell as manager for Stuart McCall, the bookmakers’ early favourite, would seem a quick-fix if bridges between him and the board could be rebuilt.Stuart Rayner
Dylan Mottley-Henry played and Luke McGee was on the bench, having joined earlier in the window.
That Bowyer was given the scope to reshape his squad like that – Middleton was his 20th signing in the 336 days since becoming Bradford’s fourth manager of 2018-19 – but not the time to reap the rewards was odd. Presumably the paucity of Saturday’s performance left the board feeling they had no choice.
A precariously-hanging advertising board at Boundary Park delayed the kick-off by 30 minutes. Bradford started later still, 3-0 down at half-time.
Defeat dropped them out of the play-off places for the first time since September.
It was not meant to be like this.
With League Two’s biggest support-base and a budget befitting that stature to sign experienced strikers Vaughan and Clayton Donaldson in the summer, automatic promotion was the expectation.
Those sights have been readjusted with chief executive Julian Rhodes describing the sacking as “necessary to compete for a play-off place.”
But it was more than just results which saw supporters turn on Bowyer, many were deeply unhappy too with the quality of the football.
Bowyer was unfortunate a toe injury restricted Donaldson to just 15 league starts. Vaughan did perform, to the tune of 11 goals, so letting him go was a big call. Now someone other than Bowyer will live or die by it.
The grapevine was full of rumours a personality clash was behind Vaughan’s departure, so to hear Doyle say: “I was in the manager’s office most days asking to leave”, during his mid-season return was ominous.
January’s decision to recall Doyle from a season-long loan always looked a game of cat and mouse to extract the best possible deal, but that Swindon got 23 goals out of the player, when Bowyer could not get any this season either side of his loan was damning.
Getting goals – or even shots – from anyone was tricky by the end, with only 12 efforts on target in the final eight matches.
Bowyer leaves a seemingly fractured club, but not an irretrievable situation.
A third spell as manager for Stuart McCall, the bookmakers’ early favourite, would seem a quick-fix if bridges between him and the board could be rebuilt.
Whoever takes the job will need to get everyone pulling in the right direction. He will, though, have to do it with someone else’s squad.