A YEAR ago today, Bradford City went to Stamford Bridge and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history.
That 4-2 win over Chelsea, then looking imperious and well on their way to the Premier League title rather than the busted flush of this season, ensured the 2014-15 campaign was immediately guaranteed a place in Bantams folklore.
Following that was always going to be tricky and, so far, the current campaign is, by defender Rory McArdle’s own admission, rated as “average” at best with City sitting 10th in League One and disappointingly knocked out of the Cup in midweek by Bury.
All, though, is far from lost, McArdle insists, with Bradford sitting just four points adrift of the play-offs with two games in hand, both of which are at Valley Parade.
The first of those comes on Tuesday night against Barnsley but, before that, Phil Parkinson today takes his side to Port Vale.
“I would say it has probably been an average season so far,” admitted McArdle when asked by The Yorkshire Post how the current campaign is shaping up. “The start we had wasn’t great. That is probably reflected in where we are in the league.
“With a good start, we would probably be in the top six now. But we do have the games in hand. It can go one of two ways, of course. But, in four to six weeks’ time, we could be talking about being in the play-offs after winning those games in hand. And then it is a good season so far.
“The opportunity is there, it is in our own hands. That is all you can ask. Once out of your hands, it can be difficult.”
Under Parkinson, City have improved with each season. Last term, for instance, brought a seventh-place finish so, if the progress of the past four or so years is to be maintained, the Bantams need to claim a place in the play-offs.
If that is to be achieved, it will be on the back of a stout defensive record with Parkinson’s men having conceded just 26 goals in 24 games. Bradford proved even more resolute at the back in the Cup, bowing out of the competition on penalties in midweek despite not having conceded even a solitary goal in five ties and 480 minutes of action.
The club’s defensive options have been strengthened in the past week by the recapture of Reece Burke on loan from West Ham United on loan until the end of the season amid interest from elsewhere.
Whether the teenager wins a recall today remains to be seen, Nathan Clarke impressed in helping City keep two clean sheets in their last two outings. But, either way, McArdle is pleased to see Burke back at Valley Parade after an impressive first half of the season in Yorkshire.
“Reece has impressed everyone since day once,” said the Northern Ireland international. “The loan had been a month to month arrangement and, as it came to the end of each month, I did feel that maybe someone from higher up would try and take him.
“It was great that other clubs at a higher level were watching him and I am sure he could have gone to one of them. But here he will get the opportunity to play. Plus, at a new club he would be starting from scratch again.
“The fact it is settled now is good, not just for the club but Reece as well. He can concentrate now and, if he keeps developing like he has done, there will be clubs to go to next season if not in and around the West Ham team.”
Jamie Proctor, a 6ft 2in striker, has joined City on loan for a month, with Devante Cole heading in the opposite direction to Fleetwood Town on a permanent deal.