Bradford City v Blackpool: The only way is up says Bantams chief Gary Bowyer

Bradford City's Nathaniel Knight-Percival: Aims to avoid another relegation.  Picture: Tony Johnson
Bradford City's Nathaniel Knight-Percival: Aims to avoid another relegation. Picture: Tony Johnson
0
Have your say

THE afternoon has gone down in Yorkshire football folklore.

How two White Rose rivals, Huddersfield Town and Barnsley, stayed up on the final day after playing out the final few minutes without so much as a tackle being made.

Supporters present that May afternoon in 2013 at the John Smith’s Stadium will smile at the memory of how both sets of fans chanted ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire...’ as the Terriers and Reds claimed the point required to avoid dropping out of the Championship.

Nathaniel Knight-Percival, however, has a rather different perspective on this Yorkshire love-in due to being part of the Peterborough United side who became the unwitting fall guys that day.

Bradford City’s current longest-serving player was a late substitute as Posh were beaten 3-2 at Crystal Palace, a result that condemned Darren Ferguson’s men to a League One return despite finishing on 54 points.

It remains Knight-Percival’s only taste of relegation and, as the defender makes clear, a major inspiration when it comes to the Bantams’ fight for survival this term.

“Relegation definitely stays with you,” the 31-year-old defender told The Yorkshire Post. “Even the season after at Peterborough we got to the play-offs, but did not manage to win promotion. That was disappointing.

“We were fighting a battle to come back, but it didn’t happen. Not wanting to go through that again spurs me on to fight for our place in the league.

“Besides myself I am sure there are others in the team who have been through similar. No one wants to go through the same again.

“We are working as hard as we can to make sure it does not happen. We do not want to get relegated.”

Knight-Percival and his Bradford team-mates have an almighty fight on their hands if a return to the basement division is to be avoided.

City are back at the foot of the table with just eight games remaining. Six points – or seven, if goal difference is taken into account – separate Gary Bowyer’s men from safety meaning there is little margin for error during a run-in that starts today with the visit of Blackpool.

Remaining positive is key according to the man brought in earlier this month to try to rescue the season.

Bowyer said: “We could be talking at 5pm and saying, ‘The gap is down to three (points)’.

“That is my point. It could be down to three with five, six, seven games to go so, of course, we have that belief.”

To illustrate further the mindset required to get out of trouble, City’s manager relayed details of his commute to work earlier in the week.

“I was driving over and had the station, Kisstory, on the radio,” he said. “Yazz and the Plastic Population were singing The Only Way Is Up and it just made me smile.

“That is where we are. What are we going to do? Feel sorry for ourselves or sing along with the song?

“I like singing along with the song – and that is all we can do. Plus it is a fact. We are at the bottom now so the only way is up.”

When this newspaper points out that he has unwittingly been singing along to a tune that Bradford played over the PA system after every goal during the ultimately successful push for the Premier League in 1999, Bowyer‘s smile grows broader.

“There you are then,” he adds, “that is the outlook. You can feel like that or beat yourself up and be defeated. But what is the point in that?”

Three points today against the club Bowyer started the season in charge of would go a long way towards keeping up those spirits.

Knight-Percival, in his third season at Valley Parade, believes this positivity engendered by Bowyer in his short time at the helm can yet make all the difference.

“The gaffer has been really positive,” said the defender. “We are playing football, just trying to be as positive as we can and doing our best.

“With the way he is around the place and how he speaks to people one-on-one, everyone really appreciates that.

“Training has been good. We have done a lot of work on the way we play – and our tempo, what we do with the ball when we have got it. We have been working on defence a lot in training. That has definitely helped. We have a good structure to the team and a basis of how we are going to play.

“People know their jobs in certain positions and that is a big help. It has felt a lot more of a team unit.”

Knight-Percival’s first and only taste of relegation was sealed by a dramatic 89th-minute winner from Palace’s Mile Jedinak against Peterborough.

When news of the goal filtered through at Huddersfield with the derby against Barnsley level at 2-2 orders were quickly relayed from the two dugouts to the pitch.

The upshot was Reds goalkeeper Luke Steele being allowed to dribble the ball unchallenged for the final few minutes to the aforementioned throaty salutes to Yorkshire supremacy.

“I didn’t know at the time,” said the City defender when asked about the impromptu game of keep-ball by Steele.

“But I was told later that they just kept the ball. It was gutting to find that out.

“We had finished with a decent number of points, but went down anyway, and Barnsley and Huddersfield both stayed up instead.

“It shows there are a lot of ups and downs on the final day and why you don’t want to be going through it. We have to fight to the very last whistle.

“The good thing is we are still within touching distance. We must believe.”