Bradford City v Doncaster Rovers: Loan stars helping Bantams’ push for play-offs

Reece Burke of Bradford.
Reece Burke of Bradford.
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THE East End still boasts to this day that West Ham won the World Cup back in ‘66.

Not only did the Hammers provide three of the XI Three Lions heroes that golden day against West Germany at Wembley, say those born within the sound of the Bow Bells, but also all four goals.

IMPACT: Bradford City's Josh Cullen. Picture: Tony Johnson

IMPACT: Bradford City's Josh Cullen. Picture: Tony Johnson

With this summer marking the 50th anniversary of England’s sole triumph on the big stage, our cockney cousins may well be getting ready to remind us all once again about the key role Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters played in that 4-2 triumph.

It is doubtful the EastEnders will be equally vocal if Bradford City go on to enjoy their own Wembley triumph come May but maybe they should be.

Two of the youth products off the Hammers’ renowned Academy production line are currently making a big impact at Valley Parade and if Phil Parkinson’s side can go on to secure, first, a play-off place and then promotion then chances are that both Reece Burke and Josh Cullen will have played a big part.

The two teenagers arrived in Bradford almost six months apart but have proved equally adept at stepping into League One without so much as the slightest hitch.

Burke, a classy defender who joined on loan in August, and baby-faced midfielder Cullen have looked right at home in Bantams colours and are likely to be among the first two names on Parkinson’s team-sheet for today’s visit of Doncaster Rovers.

“I was buzzing when I first heard that Josh was coming to Bradford as well,” Burke told The Yorkshire Post yesterday before heading round to join his Hammers’ club-mate later in the afternoon to enjoy a bite to eat together.

“Obviously, it was someone from my area coming up north.

“I have helped him to settle in a bit.

“We first met in the Under-9s at West Ham, when I first joined. We are not from the same place, he is from the Essex side in Southend, which is quite a way away from me. But, like me, he has come through and when we were together at West Ham we got on really well.

“Josh is a good player, who has come in at Bradford and done well. Before coming here, he asked me about Bradford City and what it was like. I said it was a good club, that I was enjoying it here and things were going well. It just went from there.

“I knew he would be good for Bradford. I have played loads of games in the (Under) 21s with him and he is a leader. He is small and looks like a school kid. But, on the pitch, he is like a man.”

City fans will surely attest to Burke’s verdict on the playing traits of Cullen, whose six starts for the Yorkshire club have yielded 13 points.

That recent surge in form has helped power the Bantams firmly back into the play-off reckoning, with just goal difference separating Parkinson’s men from Barnsley in sixth place.

It is Parkinson’s friendship with West Ham Academy director Terry Westley that helped the Bantams secure both Burke and Cullen amid interest from elsewhere. He recently extended Cullen’s loan stay at Valley Parade until the end of the season, something that the City chief felt important.

“We are really pleased to get Josh sorted,” he added. “When we bring lads in, we try to look after them as a club and we have got a good dressing room. The lads are always very welcoming to new players and Josh has fitted in well.

“He is very mature for his age. That old head on young shoulders is one of his real attributes. It is the same with Reece, who played some games in the Premier League last season. Those two have done well for us and it is good for West Ham as well.”

One thing Burke has over his fellow Hammer is senior goals. Two, in fact, with the second of those having come in the heartening midweek win over leaders Burton Albion.

That victory came just a week after City had crashed to a shock defeat at home to bottom club Colchester United, who had gone 19 games without taking maximum points before heading to Valley Parade.

Today, of course, Bradford host another team horribly out of form. Doncaster have slid into relegation trouble courtesy of taking just one point from their last eight games.

“We needed a reaction after Colchester,” added Burke, who missed the U’s loss through injury.

“And we got that by beating the leaders. We came out the blocks really fast and got ahead.

“I was pleased to score, as I have always struggled with goal-scoring. One of my targets at the beginning of every season is to score more because top class defenders get goals as well. It is always good to chip in and that was why I was buzzing to get my second one of the season.”

As for a play-off race that has just four points separating Bradford in seventh from third-placed Gillingham, Burke added: “Our aim is obviously to get in the play-offs and Doncaster is another big game for us.

“Hopefully, we can do the same thing as Tuesday because all the boys are up for it. You need the three points whoever you are playing. It is still quite tight and we want to continue flying up the table.

“I will still be here if we do make the play-offs (as his loan stay runs until after the Wembley final) and it would be a great achievement for me if I do get to play in them.

“There will be a little bit more pressure on us. But those are the games you want to play in when everyone is watching and you have got the chance to impress.”