JOSH CULLEN’s first visit to Fleetwood Town earlier this season was not one to recall fondly.
Not only did Bradford City lose after dominating much of the Valentine’s Day game, but the winner came via an own goal from the West Ham United loanee.
As the Bantams prepare to return to the Fylde coast for tomorrow night’s play-off semi-final second leg, Cullen is ready to make amends and book a trip to Wembley that would go a long way towards banishing the memories of last year’s exit at this stage of the end-of-season promotion deciders, against Millwall.
“Going out like we did a year ago meant it was a bit of a rubbish summer, to be honest,” said the 21-year-old, City’s man of the match in Thursday’s 1-0 first leg triumph over Uwe Rosler’s men.
“I had wanted to sign off on a positive note (before returning to West Ham) so to go out like we did wasn’t the best, particularly as I picked up an injury in the second leg.
“I spent all the off-season in rehab. There was no holiday for me. It was a tough summer and one I don’t want to experience again.
“That is why we are looking forward to this and going into it with a positive mindset. We want a better feeling come Sunday night.”
Cullen’s return to Valley Parade during the first week of the season was something of a coup. He had proved a big hit after moving north from Upton Park the previous February, the midfielder’s 15 appearances during the run-in yielding 10 victories for Phil Parkinson’s men.
If anything, though, this term has been even more impressive. As was underlined during Thursday’s first leg, Cullen’s growing maturity and ability to stamp his authority on midfield has been a big factor in Bradford being able to take the game to the opposition. It is something that will be needed in tomorrow’s return against a Fleetwood outfit who will be far more adventurous than was the case at Valley Parade.
“Personally, it does feel a bit different,” said Cullen when asked by The Yorkshire Post how this term’s tilt at the play-offs compares to a year ago against Millwall.
All we can do is try and do the job for the fans who are there and the ones who aren’t. It will be different to last year but, as a player, once you get on the pitch you focus on the game.Josh Cullen
“I didn’t know what to expect a year ago because it was my first taste. I had only been playing men’s football for a few months.
“To be put in the situation of a play-off and the atmosphere, knowing it was on TV, was something very new to me. This year, I not only have that experience, but also another full season under my belt.
“I know more what to expect and what the atmosphere will be like. Also, what the occasion will be like. The play-offs are unique occasions and one you want to play in as a footballer.
“We were all so gutted (after Millwall). We had worked hard all season and it was all over. We’d had dodgy results in the season, but then bounced back the following week to keep ourselves in there. We had that disappointment.
“But we can use that as a motivation to make sure we don’t experience that feeling again. Let’s go out there and get the job done.”
A performance similar to the one Bradford produced at Highbury in February would do, albeit with a very different result after Stuart McCall’s men let a half-time lead slip during the final quarter as Devante Cole’s equaliser was followed by Cullen unwittingly turning right-back Conor McLaughlin’s drilled cross past Colin Doyle from close range when attempting to clear.
Just 800 Bantams fans will be present tomorrow night for a tie that will be played out to a very different atmosphere from a year ago at The Den, where a 1-1 draw confirmed a 4-2 aggregate loss for the Yorkshire club.
“It is a shame for all the fans that we couldn’t get more tickets,” added Cullen. “Look at last weekend; there were 3,500 of our fans at Rochdale. I do feel sorry for the ones who are going to miss out on a ticket.
“All we can do is try and do the job for the fans who are there and the ones who aren’t. It will be different to last year, but, as a player, once you get on the pitch you focus on the game.
“You initially take in the surroundings, but, once the game gets going, you forget where you are or what is going on.
“Of course, sometimes it is impossible to not take notice when you are playing in good atmospheres. But you have to blank it out as much as you can and concentrate on the job in hand.
“We played at Fleetwood in February and played reasonably well, but came up short. This is a new game, which is going to be tough. But these are the ones you want to be involved in as a player. Hopefully, it will be a better occasion and we come out victorious on Sunday night.”