No time for Gary Bowyer to lose as clock ticks on Bradford City survival bid

TO the regulars at Valley Parade, the sight has become a wearily familiar one.

In strolls the man newly entrusted with guiding the playing fortunes of Bradford City, returning the applause of the crowd while making his way along the touchline in front of the main stand towards the home dugout.

The air is heavy with optimism as supporters hope against hope that this is the man to halt the slide. Then, though, the game begins and that sinking feeling returns.

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Simon Grayson, Michael Collins and David Hopkin – the last three men to occupy what has become the hottest of hot-seats – all suffered a defeat on their home bow that served as a taste of what was largely to come.

Gary Bowyer, fresh from accepting the challenge of trying to keep the Bantams in League One, is this Saturday looking to buck that trend on his own bow against Peterborough United. He points to a previous walk down the same touchline in the recent past as justification for his firmly held belief that City can get out of trouble.

“It is brilliant to start with a home game,” he told The Yorkshire Post ahead of Saturday’s clash with Peterborough United. “I came here with Blackpool at the start of last season. Stuart McCall was here.

“I walked down the touchline that afternoon and heard the noise. The reception Stuart got made me think, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable’. Our job is to give those same fans something to cheer.”

That, of course, is easier said than done. All his recent predecessors in the role uttered similar remarks only for the players to fail to back up those words with deeds.

HOT SEAT: Gary Bowyer, pictured at Valley Parade on the day of his first press conference as Bradford City manager. Picture: James Hardisty.

Never was this more apparent than on those Valley Parade debuts. Hopkin lost 2-0 to Charlton in mid-September, a month after Collins had suffered defeat by an identical margin to Barnsley. Grayson’s opening night a year ago, meanwhile, ended with Wigan Athletic taking all three points back across the Pennines.

Only Greg Abbott of those to follow McCall claimed any form of reward but even that 2-2 draw with Bury in February last year felt like a loss for the caretaker chief due to the relegation-threatened visitors equalising in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Plenty, therefore, for the new manager to improve on at a club that has not only won just a dozen of their last 55 games but also claimed a solitary point this term from a losing position.

“We spoke about that (with the players) earlier this week,” said Bowyer, when asked about City losing 19 of the 20 matches they fell behind in under Collins, Hopkin and Martin Drury. “About the mentality and how we have to become difficult to beat very, very quickly.

Gary Bowyer during his press conference on Tuesday at Valley Parade. Picture: James Hardisty.

“Between now and Peterborough, the only place we can see that is in training but I have been delighted with the response. We have put them into certain scenarios and challenged them on that. They reacted well. But the big test comes on Saturday.”

Sean Scannell, out since early October with a stress fracture in his back, has returned to training but will not be available against either Posh or leaders Luton Town three days later.

Bowyer added: “I have told Sean that we do not want him fit for one game, we need him for as many as possible.

“If it takes another week or two, that is something I am prepared to do.

BAD START: Michael Collins, Simon Grayson and David Hopkin all endured losing starts at home when in charge of Bradford City this season.

“We cannot afford for him to break down. He can be a big player for us.”

City’s immediate schedule is a daunting one. Oxford United are the only one of five scheduled opponents before the end of the month not chasing promotion.

The damaging recent run of just one win in nine outings means Bradford have little margin for error due to being six points adrift of safety with just 11 games remaining.

Improving a relationship between supporters and players that has bordered on toxic at times is paramount. So bad has the disconnect become that last Saturday saw social media go into meltdown after footage emerged of Anthony O’Connor discarding the captain’s armband early in the second half during the 5-1 hammering at Portsmouth.

The Irish defender was forced to issue a statement from the team bus heading north, insisting the stitching had come away and that his actions were in no way – as Twitter had already decided in its guise as judge and jury – linked with the captaincy having been handed to Paul Caddis days earlier only for the latter to be substituted at half-time.

“The only way we can mend the relationship is on the pitch,” added Bowyer. “We have spoken to the players about that and said, ‘You have to give everything for the shirt’. If they leave everything out there, the supporters will recognise that and the effort being put in.

“First and foremost as a supporter – and I have been a supporter – that is what you want to see. It is a simple formula. You have to run hard and the players have been told that.”