Bradford City v Wycombe Wanderers: No Trophy hang-ups for Graham Alexander after unlucky Wembley miss - plus his Andy Cook conundrum

BACK in 2020, Graham Alexander was one of the most unluckiest managers in football and it all relates to the competition which is so rich in potential for his Bradford City side this evening.

It is almost four years to the day since the Salford City team who he was then managing held their nerve in a penalty shoot-out at Newport County’s Rodney Parade home to secure a trip to Wembley in the EFL Trophy.

Sadly, his players never got the chance to step out in their finery and enjoy all the traditional trappings of a showpiece at the home of football before stepping out on the hallowed turf in that 2019-20 season.

Life soon changed - not just for the beautiful game either.

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Bradford City manager Graham Alexander. Picture: Getty Images.Bradford City manager Graham Alexander. Picture: Getty Images.
Bradford City manager Graham Alexander. Picture: Getty Images.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought the country to a standstill a few weeks later - resulting in the pausing of the football season.

It eventually resumed in the summer - to an eerie backdrop of empty stadiums. But the Trophy final was one of the casualties unfortunately.

The final, against Portsmouth, was originally scheduled for April 5, 2020, After its postponement, the EFL held fresh discussions with both clubs and decided to look again at scheduling options at the end of the calendar year.

The delayed 2020 final was eventually scheduled for March 13, 2021 - but the quirks of footballing fortune ensured that Alexander was long gone from his position at Salford.

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He was sacked in October 2020. The Salford side he left, now managed by Richie Wellens, won that March final on penalties. Alexander was already in situ at his next job at Motherwell.

Alexander - who sampled Wembley glory as a player for Burnley in the Championship play-off final against Sheffield United in May 2009 and twice as a manager in the play-offs with Salford (2019) and Fleetwood (2014) - remains philosophical over missing out.

His following answer says a fair bit about him and is to his credit. Bradford City are in good hands.

Speaking ahead of his latest Trophy semi-final with City, Alexander said: “The (2020) final was played probably a year after the semi final, which was a really strange situation anyway. For me, by the time it came around, it was through my head (finished).

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"I was more disappointed we didn’t get to play it that (2019-20) season because all the other defining games of the Covid season were played - the play-off finals, this, that and the other. It was the only game that wasn’t.

"I felt more for the players who had worked so hard that season to get to a major final at Wembley - and the ones who left that summer weren’t maybe there for the end of the next season and didn’t get an opportunity to play at Wembley, which is very rare that you get opportunities like that in football careers.

"A lot of players who missed out weren’t there the next year as well.

"I have put it in perspective. There were a lot more serious issues than me missing a cup final in general life.

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"It was a lot less than people went through at that particular time of life. It is what it is.”

One player who misses out this evening is City’s talisman striker Andy Cook, who sits the game out through suspension after his needless dismissal in the quarter-final against Doncaster Rovers.

With a ‘like-for-like’ replacement in Vadaine Oliver having moved to Stevenage last month and a injury doubt over Jake Young, Alexander admits he may have to think about a different approach against Wycombe, who knocked City out of the FA Cup just before the Bantams manager’s arrival in November.

One obvious option is a return to the fray for Tyler Smith.

The former Sheffield United and Hull City striker may have been restricted in terms of game time in the league of late, but the Trophy has certainly been kind to him in 2023-24.

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So much so he is the competition’s leading marksman with six goals in four matches.

On a likely change of tact given Cook’s absence up front, Alexander commented: “Definitely, 100 per cent. There is not another Andy Cook in our squad.

"Vadaine was probably our closest to that and we had him for the Derby game and he played in that when we chose to change the team.

"I’d say we changed a couple of things in that game and Vadaine played in a slightly different way to Cooky anyway.

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"That’s the challenge for us as a team - still be effective and create goalscoring chances and keep our defensive structure right without one particular player.

"We have done it when we have missed other important players like we did on Saturday with missing our captain. We have to do it again.

"We try to work in a way where we are not dependent on one particular player. We’ll try and give the squad confidence that it’s about the group and team.”