Bradford City's revitalised players in danger of backing caretaker manager Kevin McDonald into a difficult corner

Ask a Bradford City player about Kevin McDonald and it does not seem like diplomacy when they tell you how much they like their new boss. But carry on like this and they are setting him up for one of the hardest decisions of his life.

Before Saturday's game against Wimbledon, McDonald talked about the "headaches" his squad players gave him with their midweek win over Grimsby Town. His team-sheet at Plough Lane suggested it was a one paracetamol job at best.

So low is the Football League Trophy’s currency none of those who came into Tuesday’s side stayed for what really matters – a League Two promotion campaign which despite the table, the Bantams believe is still on. They are looking at the "games played" column, not positions.

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For the third game running under McDonald, it was job done. It was not a performance to live in the memory, and the result owed a lot to Harry Lewis' first-half saves denying the Dons a deserved lead. Fortune too, with Omar Bugiel heading against a post from a corner and no late penalty for Brad Halliday’s clumsy challenge on James Tilley.

Lewis came off his line to deny Tilley, tipped an Armani Little shot over, and raced back into his area and got low to cut out Tilley's volley aimed at an empty net.

Forget the buts. It is three wins out of three. Form like that does not have to carry on much longer before caretaker managers’ job descriptions become one word shorter.

Not that the blame was all on the players. It was partly McDonald's fault – though he tried to deny it – his introduction of Emmanuel Osadebe adding much-needed dynamism. The striker’s calm head and strong body brought the only goal days after a Cleethorpes winner marred by a red card City failed to overturn.

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The winner came from an Andy Cook flick-on. All Bradford players' heads are in the right place now, less fixated with having more of the ball. Mark Hughes’ principles were good but football management is about pragmatism and League Two about working around your limitations.

BALL-WINNER: Liam Ridehalgh tackles Wimbledon's Josh DavisonBALL-WINNER: Liam Ridehalgh tackles Wimbledon's Josh Davison
BALL-WINNER: Liam Ridehalgh tackles Wimbledon's Josh Davison

Cook’s frustration had been visible and audible but Osadebe's runs stopped his flick-ons being futile. The 62nd-minute goal from the 58th-minute substitute – holding off Isaac Ogundere after Cook helped on Alex Gilliead's header – was Bradford's first shot on target and instantly made them perkier.

The determination to hang in until then when Bradford were not exactly taking a battering but defender Matty Platt was is never as strong when faith in the manager is wavering. McDonald's players believe in him and want to do right by him.

The fans are on board too. "Oh, Kevin McDonald" sang the 986 in the away end.

So what is the problem?

GETTING STUCK IN: Brad Halliday and his Bradford City team-mates showed determination when Wimbledon were the better teamGETTING STUCK IN: Brad Halliday and his Bradford City team-mates showed determination when Wimbledon were the better team
GETTING STUCK IN: Brad Halliday and his Bradford City team-mates showed determination when Wimbledon were the better team
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For Bradford, there is not one, bar losing one of their best players. As in the last league game, McDonald left himself out of the 18. Player-managers rarely overplay themselves.

His steady hand is buying time to make the right decision as to who should be Hughes' "permanent" (stop sniggering) replacement. If he is already on the payroll, happy days.

The stakes are high for McDonald because he has the best job ever invented: professional footballer.

At 34 the midfielder is past being a 46-game-a-season man but far from past being a footballer. He would be a fool to give it up.

LUCKY ESCAPE: Bradford City escaped penalty appeals after Brad Halliday's penalty-area tackle on James TilleyLUCKY ESCAPE: Bradford City escaped penalty appeals after Brad Halliday's penalty-area tackle on James Tilley
LUCKY ESCAPE: Bradford City escaped penalty appeals after Brad Halliday's penalty-area tackle on James Tilley
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As a well-respected former Premier League player he has credit but all rookie managers are six bad weeks from being ex-managers.

Fourth, fifth and even sixth chances are quite easy to come by – the list of applicants for the Valley Parade job would no doubt show many people think so – but not second ones.

In December 2020, first-timers Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars were asked to mind the shop after Stuart McCall’s sacking. Three months on, seven wins virtually railroaded them into the job, as McDonald is threatening to do now.

After 78 days they were sacked. Sellars is Hull City's under-23 coach, Trueman stayed but when his replacement, Hughes, was sacked, he was passed over even as caretaker.

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"Maybe now I've been involved in it it’s confirmed I want to be a manager in time but that was on the radar for the longer term," said McDonald. "I didn't know how I would do, how well I would take to it, but I'd say I've taken to it all right. At times."

He baulked at being put in awkward position – "I'd never say there'd be pressure (to take the job)."

Much more of this and that might be another opinion to rethink.

Wimbledon: Bass; Ogundere, Lewis, Pearce (McLean 81), Currie; Reeves, Little (Lakin 81); Tilley, Bugiel, Neufville (Sasu 68); Davison. Unused substitutes: Sandford, Brown, Ball, Kalambayi

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Bradford City: Lewis; Halliday, Platt, Stubbs, Ridehalgh; Smallwood, Gilliead; Wilson (Osadebe 58), Walker, Pointon (Oyegoke 80); Cook (Smith 85). Unused substitutes: Taylor, Doyle, Tulloch, Afoka.

Referee: S Simpson (Staffordshire).