UGLY can sometimes be beautiful in a footballing sense, just ask Bradford City.
Riding high in a very presentable third place in League One, City have dovetailed polish with a fair amount of grit, perspiration and resolve so far this season in a response of character following last season’s tough play-off final denouement at Wembley.
City’s strong start to the new campaign is all the more noteworthy given the departure of several influential players in theclose-season, which led to a fair amount of early-summer angst among the club faithful.
Stuart McCall is not one to shout it from the rooftops regarding his side’s hopes of going one better this season in their quest to achieve their Holy Grail of a Championship return – quite the opposite in fact – but his satisfaction at the Bantams’ steadfastness this term is self-evident.
It is rapidly coming up to that juncture in the season where graft, organisation and togetherness can take pre-eminence over footballing ability during the hard grind of mid-to late autumn and winter when the nights draw in, something McCall knows too well.
In that respect, City already seem to be making contingencies and look assuredly well-prepared.
For all the play and pressure that other teams might be having, we are not getting cut open. There are not lots of individual chances against us.Stuart McCall
Recent Yorkshire derby victories over Doncaster Rovers and Rotherham United have showcased Bradford’s defensive acumen and ability to get the job done despite not being at their best, as did the recent away triumph at Northampton.
Clean sheets were claimed in all three wins with City boasting an unbeaten League One record on their travels so far this term, heading into today’s game at Stadium MK, where they are seeking their fourth successive league victory at the Buckinghamshire venue.
Game-management has been striking and impressive and for McCall, it is a case of ‘long may it continue’ ahead of the run-in towards the end of the year which usually separates the wanabees from the hardened promotion contenders.
McCall said: “We are doing the ugly side and dirty side of the game well. Three clean sheets out of four would show that.
“For all the play and pressure that other teams might be having, we are not getting cut open. There are not lots of individual chances against us.
“Doyley (Colin Doyle) made a big save just after half-time last week, but we are not giving up lots of opportunities.
“Looking back at the Doncaster and Northampton games, we are showing a bit of quality that we have got in the team with big moments.
“Our goal against Rotherham also came from a good cross and a great header and last Saturday saw another really good football goal.
“I was slightly disappointed we did not do enough in the second half last week.
“We probably went long a litte bit too much.
“We did not play as much as I would have liked.
“But on the flipside, the harrying, chasing, blocking and staying with runners limited them to very little.”
Meanwhile, City have been handed a further boost ahead of today’s trip south with the return to the fray of industrious midfielder Timothee Dieng following a six-week absence with a calf injury.
The Frenchman, one of the unsung heroes in the claret and amber last season, has been sidelined since August 19 and is keen to make up for lost time, although he admits he faces a battle to win back his place in heart of midfield immediately.
The former Oldham player, who played 45 minutes in a closed-doors friendly against Manchester United under-23s on Monday afternoon said: “It was the longest injury of my career and I am very happy to be back on the pitch and pain-free.
“I am ready and looking forward to Saturday and maybe will be back in the squad and play a few minutes.
“The two central midfielders, Jake Reeves and Romain Vincelot, are doing very well and Romain is scoring goals and Jake has been fantastic.
“I am happy for them. But I will work hard in training to show the manager that I can play.
“The competition is important in a squad so that when you play, you have to perform.
“If you do not, you know that someone behind you will take your place.”
Last six games: MK Dons LWWDWD Bradford WDWWLW.
Referee: S Oldham (Lancashire).
Last time: MK Dons 1 Bradford 2; August 16, 2016; League One.