Sunderland v Bradford City: '˜Fantastic occasion for Boxing Day,' says Bantams chief David Hopkin

BRADFORD CITY manager David Hopkin has urged his side to relish playing in front of what will be the third tier's biggest crowd in almost 40 years.

David Hopkin: Relishing the challenge.

More than 40,000 tickets have been sold for today’s trip to Sunderland, meaning the crowd will eclipse the previous highest League One attendance set when 38,256 fans watched Leeds United beat Gillingham in 2008.

The all-time record for this division belongs to the 1979 Sheffield derby at Hillsborough, which attracted 49,309 fans to what famously became known as the ‘Boxing Day Massacre’ after Wednesday triumphed 4-0.

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“Sunderland should not be in League One,” said Hopkin ahead of today’s trip to the Stadium of Light. “They are a Premier League club.

“But they are where they are and fair play to them for getting so many through the gates.

“It is fantastic for League One football. We go there as massive underdogs, but I have said to the players that if they want to play in front of a Premier League crowd then go and enjoy it.

“No one is giving us any chance, but we are going to put on a display and, hopefully, pick something up. The players deserve to be a on a stage like this.

“It is important we go there, stay strong and do the things we have been doing and stay as a team. We know it will be very difficult, but this is a fantastic occasion for Boxing Day.

“Playing Sunderland at any time would be great, but now our players have that bit of belief.”

Hopkin gave his players yesterday off meaning the City squad will head north this morning.

The Bantams are buoyed by being above the relegation zone for the first time since the opening week of October and Hopkin believes his side can spring a major surprise.

“This time of year is massively different as a manager,” said the Scot. “There are a lot of games in England at this time of year.

“You concentrate on yourself as a player and that is about it. Now, I have to look out for everyone and everything.

“But we feel confident. Everyone knows we have had tough times this season. September and October were very difficult, with the injuries and results. Now, though, we approach games like this with a bit of a spring in our step.”

This much was evident in the last two home games as Walsall and Scunthorpe United were swept aside at Valley Parade.

Hopkin added: “The key at this time of year is how you recover. We gave the players Christmas Day off. I trust the players to look after themselves. It is not like my day when players might over-indulge if not in for Christmas Day.

“We have a big game with a big crowd coming up, too, so everyone is going to want to take part and be at their best.”

Last six games: Sunderland WDWLWL Bradford City LDDDWW.

Referee: D England (South Yorkshire).

Last time: Sunderland 3 Bradford City 0; December 26, 2003; Division One.