IF PROOF was needed as to just how stretched David Hopkin’s Bradford City squad has become thanks to injuries and suspension it came via his line-up to face Oldham Athletic in the unloved Checkatrade Trophy.
Two 16-year-olds had to be drafted in for their first career starts as the Scot re-jigged what resources he had in an attempt to protect the 16 fit players he currently has available for the club’s fight against relegation in League One.
Oldham also made changes but still sent out a strong side that was able to dominate in a 4-1 victory that did little to lift the gloom enveloping Valley Parade at the moment.
In terms of going forward, however, there was potential light at the end of the tunnel. And, for the first time since Hopkin succeeded Michael Collins last month, that light was not another train coming hurtling down the tracks towards the Bantams.
Captain Josh Wright was back from injury after five weeks out, while Alex Jones’s brief cameo from the bench was the first City fans had seen of the striker since last November.
Joe Riley, out since August, also returned to suggest the injury crisis that has dogged Hopkin’s first five or so weeks back in West Yorkshire is gradually starting to clear.
It is another thing where we have to be patient with him. He has been out for nearly a year so we can’t just keep throwing him in and starting games.Bradford City boss, David Hopkin
Hope Akpan, one of the summer signings of which so much was expected, is also nearing a return along with Eoin Doyle to leave the Bantams manager encouraged.
“I think we can see it improving,” he said about the lack of available bodies in recent weeks.
“It is disappointing we lost (against Oldham) but I think deep down we knew because of the kids playing.
“It is so important now that everybody is focused on Saturday.
“I need to make sure we start picking up points and Accrington is a massive game.”
With Sean Scannell about to start a three-game ban following his red card last week against Sunderland and the influential Jim O’Brien out for a month with hamstring trouble, the trip to seventh-placed Accrington will not be easy for Hopkin’s injury-plagued squad.
Jones, whose past 11 months have been dogged by an ankle problem, is unlikely to be risked but Hopkin admits his presence on the pitch against Oldham was a big plus.
“I spoke to him on Tuesday after he had trained a couple of days,” added the Scot. “I asked him if he could play for 10-15 minutes and he was delighted to be back.
“It is good for us, but it is another thing where we have to be patient with him.
“He has been out for nearly a year so we can’t just keep throwing him in and starting games.
“It has got to be done gradually, maybe 10-15 minutes from the bench when we need him.
“But it is good to have a goalscorer back because that is what we need at this moment in time.”