THE search for even a hint of optimism at Valley Parade over the past week has proved as fruitless as seeking a sighting of either Edin Rahic or Stefan Rupp, the co-owners held responsible by supporters for Bradford City’s alarming decline since the start of 2018.
The Bantams prop up League One after losing 11 of their first 15 games.
Performances, a brief rally earlier this month apart, have been poor and such is the injury/suspension crisis ahead of tomorrow’s game at Gillingham that head coach David Hopkin was only half-joking yesterday when he likened the trip south to being almost a case of “trying to fill the bus”.
As it is the Scot will have to draft in three Under-18s players to a squad that is already horribly imbalanced following a muddled summer of recruitment.
No wonder an air of doom and gloom pervades among supporters who started this year anticipating a third consecutive tilt at the play-offs for their beloved team.
The silence from the top of the club is not helping matters. Rupp, who has left the day-to-day running to his partner since the duo’s takeover in 2016, rarely attends games anyway.
But Rahic missing the recent home defeats to Rochdale and Coventry City – the club’s chairman has been back home in Germany on a family holiday – has not gone down well with those fans who on Tuesday made up Valley Parade’s lowest league crowd since City escaped the basement division in 2013.
Supporters want reassurances that the owners have a plan to get out of this mess. January’s transfer window offers possible salvation, but as yet the club’s intentions remain a mystery. As does when Rahic or Rupp will next be seen at a game together.
Hopkin, for his part, is hoping to bring at least one free agent in long before the new year, possibly as early as Monday.
But the Bradford chief is realistic enough also to admit the target over the next two months has to be ensuring his side are not cut adrift in the bottom four by the time 2019 dawns.
“We have got to keep in touch,” said the 48-year-old. “There is no point in me putting pressure on people by saying I want to be out of the bottom four.
“I want to (be in that position come January) obviously. But we know the players are finding it tough because we are constantly having to change.
“These are the things that hurt you most. Every time you come in on a Monday or Tuesday you are working towards playing a different team or shape.
“It is hard for players to go back and forth all the time. Once we get everyone back fit I will play a system that best suits the players I have available.”
Hopes of having a fully available squad seem ambitious, such has been the rotten luck to befall Hopkin since succeeding Michael Collins a little under two months ago.
The Scot lost Hope Akpan to a dislocated shoulder just two minutes into his first training session as head coach.
This rather set the tone, with even Jim O’Brien – his one signing as a free agent – having been forced to sit out the last five games with a torn hamstring.
Alex Jones, who had only returned from an 11-month lay-off at the start of this month, became the latest to fall victim to the injury curse when forced out of the midweek defeat to Coventry.
Suspensions are also making Hopkin’s job harder with George Miller, following his red card against the Sky Blues, missing the trip to Gillingham along with Ryan McGowan. The latter must serve a one-game ban after picking up a fifth yellow card of the season.
“Sometimes things go against you, but they can make you stronger,” said the Bradford head coach, who has taken just four points from his nine games in charge.
“Maybe I am too honest at times, but that is me. I am resolute and if anything happens it gives someone else the chance to go and play.
“If you can’t pick players there is no point worrying about them.”
Asked by The Yorkshire Post if he felt the current squad, even when everyone was available, is capable of keeping the Bantams up, Hopkin replied: “They are good players, but maybe we have got players in the same positions.
“We need a couple, maybe two or three, experienced players in key areas to make us better.
“We need that flexibility. We need one or two who can play a few different positions to help us. So that if we get injuries I have got a couple of utility players.
“Every club I have been at boasted three or four who could fill in at various positions at different times.
“These are things I will probably look at in January, and if anyone becomes available just now.”
City slipping to the bottom of the table for the first time this season was a blow.
But Hopkin added: “It is a place where a lot of players haven’t been. It is mental character now.
“These testing times make you what you are going to be. It is easy for anyone to say, ‘This is not my fault’. But you have to make sure your mindset changes. I am seeing that gradually happen.”