WITH two relegations in as many seasons to his name, Hope Akpan is desperate to avoid making it a hat-trick with Bradford City. Really desperate.
“I know from past experience how a relegation does drag on into the summer,” said the 27-year-old ahead of today’s crucial clash with fellow strugglers Oxford United.
“It sits with you until you come back the following season.
“Maybe even until you play a few pre-season friendlies to really get the memory and feeling out of your mind. At the same time, it isn’t really gone. On your résumé and something you have been through. At the same time, though, it makes you stronger.
“That experience makes you understand situations like this a bit more and not get too bogged down by being three points away or facing a tough game.
“You realise you just have to roll your sleeves up and get on with it. I have been through this and, hopefully, I can continue to do that.”
City badly need that experience today. Defeat in midweek to leaders Luton Town means four points separate the Bantams from safety with nine games remaining.
Oxford occupy the last relegation spot so victory is paramount for a team who have spent all but nine days in the dropzone since the first week of October.
“It was always going to be a big week for us,” added Akpan, named captain by new manager Gary Bowyer before last weekend’s victory over Peterborough United.
“I said before it started that the next three games were going to be huge. If we could get six points from those games, I felt we would have a chance of making a real fight of staying up.”
Since coming in, he has made training very specific. It is also a bit more light-hearted. The manager is a good character and has a good personality.Hope Akpan
Akpan knows all about the sinking feeling of relegation. He was part of the Blackburn Rovers side that fell out of the Championship in 2017, 12 months before also being demoted from the same division with Burton Albion.
Throw in Reading’s slide out of the Premier League at the end of his first season at the Madejski and the Liverpudlian has had his fill of being relegated.
Hence why he was so happy to see last week’s arrival of Bowyer, who he played under at Ewood Park.
“The lads were asking me a few questions due to me having played under Gary,” added the midfielder.
“I kept it simple. Told them what he likes and what he does not like. That sort of thing.
“Since coming in, he has made training very specific. It is also a bit more light-hearted. The manager is a good character and has a good personality. He gets among the lads, there has been a lot of laughing and joking.
“It is needed at this stage in a season. The mood lifting maybe takes the burden off our shoulders a little bit.
“The message the manager had for us was, ‘Go out there and play’. As long as we do the jobs he has asked us to do, on the back of that we can go and express ourselves. We need to do more of that.
“We have to play our normal game. What happens now means everything. It is lads’ careers, it is the fans, it is the club. It’s massive”