Bradford City v Newport County: Mark Hughes looking for quick fix at Valley Parade

Mark Hughes is desperate to change the tune at Bradford City. This afternoon offers the next chance.

Both the Bantams and today’s visitors, Newport County, have psychological barriers to hurdle in the League Two run-in, although City can clear theirs rather more quickly.

The Exiles have lost the last two League Two play-off finals and, surprise, surprise, with eight matches of the regular season to play, are well on course to play in the next one, sitting sixth in a table where the teams finishing third to seventh go into extra time.

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The inability to win promotion – 15 points behind seventh-placed Swindon Town, it is not happening this year either – is hanging over Bradford too, more oppressively because a club of their stature have made such great play of climbing the ladder.

Bradford City manager Mark Hughes. Picture: James Hardisty

But the first step is to start winning at Valley Parade so Hughes can harness its power. If they can clear that hurdle during this phoney war of a run-in. It will make next season’s big push easier.

The biggest and comfortably best-attended football ground in the division ought to be a huge advantage and it is – but only for visiting teams.

Bradford have not won there since beating Salford City in January, and that was the first home win since October. It is not good enough.

Until that is corrected, it will be a constant topic of conversation for the Bradford players and their manager.

Hughes at least has been here before. In his playing days he led the line for a Manchester United team which went 26 years between league titles. At international level the talk was – and still, certainly for the next couple of days, is – no World Cup appearances for Wales since 1958.

“It’s an important cycle to break,” says the 58-year-old of the latest one he has found himself trapped in. “You don’t want to have the home record mentioned every week because then it’s clearly something not quite right with where we are.

“The sooner we get rid of it, the better.

“With the results we’ve had away from home, back-to-back wins for the first time since August, you can get rid of all these comments or areas of discussion just by winning. If we do that, another trend may develop.

“We’re good enough to win at home.

“It’s our intention sooner rather than later to get to the stage where we don’t hope to win, we expect to win. That’s the mentality we need to have.

“We’re not there now, clearly, but we can get there without a shadow of a doubt.

“It’s about utilising all the strengths we have – the playing staff, the support staff, the stadium and clearly the fans that come and watch us because without them we’re nothing, we can’t achieve what we want to achieve.”

The first monkey Hughes got off Bradford’s back was his maiden win, breaking a five-match losing sequence that started without him. They then turned it into the consecutive victories he referred to (away from home, of course), both against promotion contenders.

It showed the former Wales, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City and Southampton manager his latest team is not far away.

“We haven’t been able to do this enough but scoring the first goal is so valuable at all levels,” he explains.

“That first goal is key.

“I think we’ve been guilty when we have conceded goals, even if we’ve gone ahead in games, of conceding at bad times – around the half-time break and at the end of games we’ve conceded penalties that have hurt us.

“It’s just recognising those times of the game when you’ve got to be really focused and manage those periods in the game so you get the results you want.”

The big fascination with Hughes at Bradford was always going to be how a man who had only previously operated in elite football would cope in England’s bottom division.

“The only difference between the level of players is all about decision-making in my view,” insists the former Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich striker who has said more than once already how impressed he is with the standards in League Two.

“The better players, the world-class players, are the ones that make the better decisions on a more regular basis.

“That’s why they play where they do.

“At times we’ll not make the right decision for the right situation and that’s why we play at the level we do.

“Everybody can pass the ball, head it, volley it and trap it at this level, it’s just using the skill at the right time, that’s what skill is. They can all do the techniques, it’s just using the right one at the right time.”

Seeing them strike a better balance would gladden the heart of this famed warrior.

“I’ve been a manager for a long time and it’s always been about making the individual better so the team becomes better,” he says.

“If someone is struggling with one area of their play and I know where I can improve them by just giving them a little bit of insight or a bit of experience or knowledge, that’s what I’ll do.

“On a personal and professional level that’s really satisfying when you see people take on board the information you’ve given them and when it comes off for them.

“Hopefully they feel the knowledge and experience I’ve got will help them become better players.

“I’ve seen that for myself already.

“That’s encouraging as their manager.”

Finding a cure for Bradford’s homesickness would be a big step in that direction.