RARELY will the prospect of a Wembley final seem as far away as tonight at a near-empty Valley Parade.
Bradford City fans have had little appetite for the Checkatrade Trophy since the Football League compounded a bad decision in introducing a group stage by making an even worse one to invite 16 Academy teams from the Premier League and Championship to take part.
Last season brought a new record low home attendance for the Bantams as just 931 hardy souls filed through the turnstiles for the clash with Rotherham United in November.
Another 100 or so attended the defeat to Oldham Athletic a month later that ended City’s involvement in the competition, though that figure was boosted by 150 away fans.
Considering the doom and gloom surrounding a club who have lost their last five games, the chance to watch David Hopkin’s side host Everton’s Under-21s is unlikely to have supporters flocking along Manningham Lane in their droves this evening.
This elongated format may be a huge turn-off for fans, but what the Trophy does still provide is a possible route to Wembley for Bradford, as striker Eoin Doyle knows only too well.
The Irishman was part of the Chesterfield side beaten 3-1 in the 2014 final by Peterborough United, Doyle having the consolation of scoring the Spireites’ only goal via a close-range finish.
“It is one of those weird competitions,” said the 30-year-old ahead of tonight’s tie.
“Things don’t really get going until the quarters or the semi and Wembley is just around the corner.
“For clubs in Leagues One and Two it is rare to get to Wembley, but this competition brings an opportunity.
“Obviously I got to the final and that was a great weekend, with all the build-up and so on. It was very good.
“We lost on the day at Wembley, but I managed to nick a goal. So I always have that on my CV. It was a tap-in from about eight yards.”
City defender Nathaniel Knight-Percival was in the Posh side that day, something Doyle had not realised until told by The Yorkshire Post.
“I do remember I should have had a penalty in the first minute,” quipped the striker. “Maybe that was him.”
Doyle, with two penalties to his name since joining City during the summer, would happily accept a tap-in tonight. Just as the Bantams would take a win after a month to forget in League One as those five straight defeats dumped the club in the bottom four.
A poor run, of course, is nothing new in 2018. Bradford losing half a dozen games in a row cost Stuart McCall his job in early February.
City were sixth in the table at the time of McCall’s departure and little has gone right since.
Hopkin, however, is determined to draw a line under what has been a dreadful nine months at Valley Parade.
Plenty of hours have been put in on the training pitch as the former Scottish international tries to implement the ideas that proved so successful at Livingston, the Scottish club he led to back-to-back promotions before surprisingly quitting in May.
Doyle added: “Training has been tough because the gaffer has been getting our fitness levels up. At the same time he is implementing how he wants us to play.
“That can be difficult, but we are all buying into it and really looking forward to the games coming up. There is potential to have good times under him, definitely.
“To have a couple of blank Tuesdays (since Hopkin’s arrival) helped massively as it allowed us to spend time on the training pitch. This is a game to go out and win as we need wins for confidence.”
Asked about his own role and how it differs from playing under Michael Collins, Doyle replied: “It hasn’t changed that much. The gaffer says, ‘Stay in the box and try to score some goals’. Hopefully that will come to fruition and I can kick off my season.”
City’s record in the Trophy is not a great one. The furthest the club have gone in a competition that began life 35 years ago as the Associate Members’ Cup is the northern semi-final.
The run to that stage under Phil Parkinson in 2011-12, however, does offer hope that Bradford can use the Checkatrade to kick-start their league campaign.
Parkinson, like Hopkin this time around, inherited a team bereft of confidence following a summer where the recruitment at Valley Parade had been questionable at best. Relegation from League Two seemed a distinct possibility.
However, knocking Sheffield Wednesday and United out of the Trophy along with Huddersfield Town preceded a rally in the league that eventually saw City finish 18th.
“We can’t pick and choose what games we win,” added Doyle. “It doesn’t matter if it is the league or the Checkatrade, we just need wins.”