Scunthorpe United v Bradford City - Refreshed Bantams looking for a happy new year

Happy new years have been thin on the ground at Valley Parade recently, but Bradford City start their 2021 at Scunthorpe United not only in good form under joint interim managers Conor Sellars and Mark Trueman, but with the benefit at long last of time to put the work in on the training ground.

Bradford City's Anthony O'Connor.

When the duo took over on December 15, a condensed fixture list helped to build momentum, ending a six-match losing streak with 11 points from a possible 15.

Even so, last Saturday’s Covid postponement probably helped, as does the fact there is currently only one Tuesday night fixture pencilled in until late February.

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“We were a bit disappointed when the game against Morecambe was called off,” admits centre-back Anthony O’Connor ahead of today’s League Two game. “That shows how far we’ve come in the space of a few weeks. Confidence was high.

Connor Sellars and Mark Trueman. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“At the same time it was a welcome break. A lot of Saturday-Tuesday games take their toll. Rich (O’Donnell) has picked up an injury (ruling him out for up to 12 weeks), Reece (Staunton) got injured down at Leyton Orient, Zeli (Ismael) is out (until March with a hamstring injury).

“It’s some much-needed rest into the legs but it doesn’t mean we’ve slacked off. It’s been great intensity in training and they (Sellars and Trueman) have been reiterating to us how important the next game is. We’re all buzzing to get back out.”

Understandably desperate to pack games in while they could with such uncertainty around coronavirus, the lower-league schedule has been manic so far.

“It just seemed as if we were playing, going home sleeping, and the next game was right around the corner,” says O’Connor.

“It felt like we weren’t even training for I don’t know how long but it looks like January is going to settle down a bit for us.

“We’re not complaining, Saturday-Tuesday is better than training and it’s the best job in the world but when you’re constantly doing it, it can take its toll on the legs.”

For Sellars and Trueman, the extra time between matches has been a real boon.

“When they took over it was straight into a game,” O’Connor points out. “They took over on a Sunday and we played Crawley (away) on a Tuesday, then into recovery and play again on a Saturday.
They were just keeping it simple for us.

“Now they’ve got a full week’s training for the little sessions they’ve done with groups to get their ideas across to where they want us to be positionally as units and stuff like that. Hopefully the lads have taken a lot on board.”

Sellars has enjoyed this week.

“From a staff point of view there’s a lot of work goes into preparing for the games,” he says. “From a training point of view it’s been relaxed in terms of having more time with the players but the planning is still relentless.

“There’s more work for me and Mark to do because there’s more sessions, which take a lot of your time.

“Me and Mark got into coaching because we love football and we want to help develop people and players. On the grass is probably where we’re at our most natural.

“The guys have high standards and high expectations of themselves and we will match them and even go higher to make sure they’re training to get better, not just to pass time.”

But Sellars, who like Trueman has stepped up from the academy since Stuart McCall’s sacking, is keen to point out he has enjoyed his first foray into the transfer market too. Goalkeeper Will Huffer has joined from Bradford Park Avenue and will be on the bench today, whilst on-loan Leeds United winger Jordan Stevens could make a full debut.

Initially in charge on a game-by-game basis, Sellars and Trueman were upgraded from caretaker to interim managers at the end of the year, giving them a say in the January transfer window.

“I quite enjoy the recruitment side,” says Sellars. “As managers we’ve got to be crystal clear on where we see the club going and what we want to add. It’s been enjoyable with Lee (Turnbull, head of recruitment) and the staff identifying the right players to help the team.

“The coaching, what we’re delivering and how we’re trying to get the players to play is identical. We want to keep trying to improve the team and the individuals. We’re talking about Sam (Hornby, who will deputise for O’Donnell in goal today) getting an opportunity and it’s no different for people in different disciplines.

“As managers me and Mark were confident we can help the players and let’s see what happens.

“It’s been a good start but it’s not going to be all plain sailing.”

Bantams history would suggest the rocky spell is about to come. City went winless in their first eight matches of 2020, a spell which saw manager Gary Bowyer lose his job.

Wins on New Year’s Day in 2019 and 2018 were the prelude to one win in nine, and two points from 30 respectively.

“What’s in the past has gone,” insists O’Connor. “This a completely new year with a different bunch of players, albeit some who have been here for the last couple of years.

“We can’t be looking at what’s after Scunthorpe or the run of games we can put together, it’s always the next game and that’s always been put to us by the staff.

“We have to concentrate on getting three points.”

This Bradford team certainly has a new feel under Sellars and Trueman and after a full week of training, we might get to see how different it really is.

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