A YEAR ago, David Ball’s season finally took off. As did that of his club Rotherham United, destined to be promoted from League One in May but still struggling as December entered its second week.
The Millers were 13th in the table after 20 games, nine points adrift of the play-offs and just a couple of wins clear of the relegation zone.
For a newly-relegated side, it was a poor return but Ball was about to help change all that.
His double at Blackpool not only ended a nine-game wait for a league win but also kick-started Rotherham into life.
The 14-game run that started with the trip to Bloomfield Road yielded a phenomenal 36 points and Paul Warne’s men were well on their way to promotion.
A year on and Ball, now on loan at Bradford City, is looking to spark a similar transformation. The Bantams are rock bottom of the third tier and badly in need of a points injection from the upcoming back-to-back home games against Walsall and Stuart McCall’s Scunthorpe United.
“It is not what I expected,” the 28-year-old told The Yorkshire Post when asked about a move across Yorkshire that went through in the final seconds of the summer transfer window.
“But this is the scenario I find myself in. I have been in this position once and ultimately got out of it.
“So, I do know how to fight and what it takes to stay up. It isn’t a time for individuals, the collective is what matters. I am part of that and have got to help my team-mates all I can.
“At Rotherham, we went on a big run this time last year. It is the sort of division where that can happen.
“If you get a couple of wins, then a bit of momentum builds. Get on a run and you can find yourself going up four or five places quite quickly.
“Rotherham did that. In a short space of time, we went from 15th to sixth. We take one game as it comes and getting that win is important, then we take it from there.”
City’s interest in the FA Cup ended after Peterborough United prevailed in a shoot-out after a pulsating tie had ended 4-4.
Bowing out was a disappointment but the manner in which Bradford twice fought back from two goals behind continued the recent upturn in form that has seen five points taken from the last four games – a marked improvement for a club that has lost the preceding six.
But David Hopkin’s men remain bottom and six points behind fifth-bottom Scunthorpe. Hence the importance attached to these two home fixtures that will be followed by a Boxing Day trip to high-flying Sunderland.
“I played at Valley Parade as an away player a few times and never won here,” added Ball, who had five years at Fleetwood Town before moving to the New York Stadium in the summer of 2017.
“It always felt like the fans were sucking the ball into the net for the home team. It is up to us to show the fight and desire that gets the fans on our side. That is exactly what we need.”
Valley Parade has been somewhere that the home team has seemed more inhibited to play at this season than the visitors.
Bradford have lost seven times from 10 outings on home soil and collected just seven points. City, however, did beat Oxford when last in front of their own fans in the league as a cut price £1 ticket offer drew a bumper crowd of 19,084.
“We would have been a long way back if we had lost against Oxford,” said Ball, who scored the opener that day against Karl Robinson’s men.
“We have to take the positives in that it showed we can go into the pressure games and handle it.
“It is important to take that into every game. We must prove we can pull ourselves out of this. I think you can see the team is more together than it has been at any stage this season.
“The crowd is right behind the team as well. We all need to pull together. Ultimately, we will make that difference on the pitch by doing the sort of things that get the fans behind us.
“They are seeing that the players are running and fighting. We are doing everything to get ourselves out of this position. That is all they want to see.
“If we do that, then they will back us in numbers. We know that. It is so important that we work together as fans, players, everyone to get out of trouble.”
City may be six points adrift of safety but Scunthorpe are separated from Fleetwood in 13th place by just another six points, underlining just how beneficial a similar run to the one enjoyed by Ball and Rotherham this time last year would be to survival prospects.
“It is almost like a mini-league down there,” added the loanee striker. “We want to be top of that and we have some really important games coming up at home and we have to be at our best. We need this to be a fortress.
“Every game matters to us all. Everyone’s life is on the line. People’s contracts and livelihoods are dependent on how the club does.
“It matters to everyone. As the 11 players who go on to the pitch, we have to fight for all those people, too – and get us out of where we are in the league. It is so important for this club to stay where it is.”