Bradford City v Preston - Return to bottom tier elicits memories of run to Wembley

Gary Bowyer, Manager of Bradford City (Picture: James Hardisty)
Gary Bowyer, Manager of Bradford City (Picture: James Hardisty)
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A LITTLE over two years have elapsed since Bradford City bade farewell to the last of the side that made history by reaching the League Cup final in 2013.

Nevertheless, the popularity endures of a group who beat Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic of the Premier League en route to Wembley.

Happy memories - Bradford City fans at Wembley for the 2013 Capital One Cup Final

Happy memories - Bradford City fans at Wembley for the 2013 Capital One Cup Final

With good cause, too, as no other club from the basement division of English football has reached a major Wembley Cup final.

Gary Bowyer, the Bantams manager, is a big admirer of what predecessor Phil Parkinson and his players achieved during a season that also brought promotion from League Two via the play-offs.

So much so, in fact, that the City chief warmed up for tonight’s return to the Carabao Cup by challenging the current crop of players to go out and create history of their own.

“When I first arrived we had a couple of first meetings in the famous suite,” said Bowyer, about the Valley Parade lounge that is dedicated to the 2013 team.

They have a sensible model as a club. I was fortunate to spend a day with them when I was out of work.

Gary Bowyer

“Now, we also have that team on the wall of the dining room here (at the club’s Apperley Bridge training ground). The players see it every day so they are well aware.

“It is something that the club recognises and rightly so. Hopefully, this is an opportunity for them to try and put something together for themselves.

“We have spoken a lot about the 2013 team and had meetings about it when I first arrived at the club. It is now up to our players to create their own history.

“I tell them, ‘That is the point in being here’. Otherwise why turn up every day?”

Bradford, back in the fourth tier for the first time since 2013, face an uphill task to progress past the first-round stage.

Preston North End, having harboured hopes of reaching the Championship play-offs last term until deep into the Spring, have become a tough team to beat under Alex Neil.

Bowyer appreciates that better than anyone, the 48-year-old having spent a day at Preston during his stint out of work last season.

He added: “It is one of the toughest draws we could have got, if I am being brutally honest.

“Alex Neil has built a very good squad. They recruit young, hungry players that want to improve. There is a real good British-based, if you like, group of players who are all a good age and energy.

“They have a sensible model as a club. I was fortunate to spend a day with them when I was out of work. What he does is very good, he was very open with me and showed the footage of the opposition they were playing.

“The level of detail was very good.

“He has obviously managed in the Premier League and it will be a tough challenge for us. Whatever team they put out would be a starting 11 in the Championship, in my opinion.”

Bowyer, with one eye on Saturday’s home league clash with Oldham Athletic, plans to ring the changes.

He wants to give much needed game time to a few who have missed out in the opening two draws of the season against Cambridge United and Grimsby Town.

“It is a busy period now,” said the Bantams chief, whose side will be in action for each of the next four midweeks if they progress tonight.

“Giving the ones who have not played much, game time is not easy. That has to come into consideration.

“We have been fortunate with injuries but you don’t want to be giving someone a game three weeks down the line when his last football was back in pre-season.

“You don’t want to be putting any at risk in terms of workload either so it is all a balancing act.”

As for the challenge of taking on North End, Bowyer added: “We want to get through, simple as that. It would be no different if I was playing the youth team.

“You look at what happened at Bolton at the weekend. They had to play all those youngsters and fair play, they had a real good go and drew with Coventry.

“Everyone at this club knows Phil Parkinson and he would have wanted to win that game with those lads playing. We are no different, no matter what team and who the personnel might be.”

“As I said, I will be making changes. I have got to give opportunities to people to try and break their way into the team as well and look after one or two.

“I feel with the group of players I have got available to me, we want to be working towards the model of what Preston are doing and knowing that whatever team I put out, it could also play on the Saturday (in the league).

“The lads that will be playing, I wouldn’t have any problems with playing them in my first team anyway.

“That shows the standard we have got at the club.”

Last six games: Bradford City LDWDDD, Preston North End WLDLLW.

Referee: M Donohue (Lancashire).

Last time: Bradford City 0 Preston North End 3; April 6, 2015; League One.