NICELY placed in the League Two play-off positions and just three points behind the leaders, most observers would suggest that Bradford City are in a far better place than they were this time last year.
Then, as now, the Bantams were preparing for a trip across the Pennines, with that particular Red Rose appointment ending in a dismal 3-1 loss to bogey side Accrington Stanley as the club’s plight in the League One relegation zone took another turn for the worse.
Twelve months on and a sell-out 1,600 City contingent will head to Morecambe tomorrow in hope rather than trepidation.
Wins breed confidence and what is effectively a new Bantams line-up has been buoyed by some early-season successes, but for manager Gary Bowyer, it is only a part of the story.
The sight of Bradford showing togetherness and resilience in come-from-behind victories over Northampton Town and Carlisle United and grinding out wins on the road at Stevenage and Walsall has been just as significant to the City chief.
Casting aside the absence of several first-teamers, including captain James Vaughan, to secure a 2-1 triumph over Swindon Town which was more convincing than the scoreline suggests, represented another moment of substance.
The Bantams chief said: “The togetherness is growing like the performances. In 50 per cent of these first 12 games, we have found a way to win.
“Even when we have not been as smooth as we would have liked.
“But we understand that it does take time. That is my previous experience in this league.
“The society we live in now wants it all done in 12 games. That is never going to happen.
“Other qualities as well as how you play are so important – fight, passion and the character are massive.”
The signs are undeniably positive, but as Bowyer is quick to stress, City are only partway through their journey.
The formbook may point in their favour ahead of Bradford’s trip to a Morecambe side who are one place off the bottom of the table and have not won at the Globe Arena in the league since Easter Monday.
But Bowyer acknowledges the fixture is a dangerous one, with City having previously proved ‘past masters’ in slipping up in this sort of appointment during previous basement sojourns.
That incorporates visits to this particular Lancashire seaside venue.
Morecambe may be known as ‘Bradford by the Sea’ because of the number of Bradford businessmen who once lived in the coastal area and travelled to work in Bradford by train every day and the many Bradfordians who retired to the Lancashire resort, but it has proved far from accommodating for the Bantams.
Just one win in six league games in Morecambe bears testament to that.
Bowyer said: “There are real positive signs there for us, but we are not unaware of the challenge that lies ahead.
“It (Morecambe) is the toughest game because it is the next one. I know Jim (Bentley) and he has done a fabulous job there over the years. He deserves a crack higher up the leagues for what he has sustained at Morecambe.
“He has proved over the years that he gets his teams going and we are in for a real fight. We have got to match that.”
As someone plainly wants and expects more from his side in the weeks and months ahead, resting upon laurels is clearly something which does not sit well with Bowyer either.
“We have been saying that to them all week. Do not settle for a pat on the back because they won the last game,” he observed.
“Go and win on the road. We have got 1,600 fans there, it is a sell-out, so give them something to be proud of.
“I think the team are starting to grow. I can see a lot of belief in them, but they have got to keep backing that up.”
Bowyer faces an intriguing selection dilemma tomorrow with captain Vaughan available again following suspension after sitting out the fine win over Swindon, which ‘raised the bar’ in performance levels this season according to the City chief.
But he is the first to admit that it is the sort of headache which all managers do not mind having.
Bowyer continued: “Last week, he was not very happy as he was suspended and wanted to play.
“I would imagine he has been like that throughout his career.
“The fact that the team won last week as well, he has got to prove to us that he deserves to be back in the team as well. It will be interesting.
“The culture and environment we want is that the lads who come in are hungry for it and perform to a level where they say, ‘you cannot drop me’.
“That is not me, but them saying that by their actual performances. That is something we push and encourage.
“It is really healthy when you have got competition and the whole group know that no-one’s safe and guaranteed a place in the team.”