Unbeaten start enables Timothee Dieng to settle quickly at Bradford City

THE attendance was the second lowest for a home game in Bradford City's history as supporters voted with their feet at the latest revamp of a competition that in its infancy offered the only realistic route to Wembley for clubs in the bottom two divisions.

The Bantams celebrate their win over Stoke City's Under-23s at the end of August.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
The Bantams celebrate their win over Stoke City's Under-23s at the end of August. Picture Bruce Rollinson

But, for Timothee Dieng, the opening group game in the Checkatrade Trophy proved a big deal thanks to netting his first goal in Bantams’ colours.

The French midfielder’s first-half header was enough to see off what was effectively Stoke City’s Under-23s side plus Charlie Adam and another triumph tonight at home to Bury would seal a safe passage to the knockout stages of the revamped Trophy with a game to spare.

Just how Stuart McCall approaches the Shakers’ tie remains to be seen with the City manager admitting his biggest satisfaction from the opening night win over Stoke was the opportunity to give Stephen Darby and Matthew Kilgallon their first appearances of the season along with handing debuts to a couple of teenagers.

Dieng does not know yet if he will be involved, but there is no doubting how happy the midfielder is to be at Valley Parade after joining last summer from Oldham Athletic.

“I am enjoying being part of such a big club,” said the 24-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “We have a good group of lads and a good team.

“Being unbeaten at this stage of the season is pleasing. This is a competitive league and we want to stay near the top.”

Dieng’s flicked header against Stoke was only his second goal in English football. The first came in mid-February as Oldham beat Gillingham to kick-start a dramatic upturn in form that eventually saw the Latics stay up comfortably despite being well adrift of safety during the depths of winter.

The French midfielder enjoyed his two years at Boundary Park, which included taking on his current club.

“I played against Bradford for Oldham and they were a very physical team,” he added. “Big (James) Hanson up front was tough, I was in defence and he was all elbows.

“No, seriously, playing Bradford was good and especially with the size of the crowds at Valley Parade. Even as the opposition team, it was amazing.

“Playing in front of crowds like that was why I wanted to come to England. At (Dieng’s first club) Brest, the crowds were good, but a lot of the other stadiums were dead. England is very different, even at League Two.

“I had always been a fan of English football. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit were my heroes.

“I am an Arsenal fan so all the French players coming over here was a big thing.”

Arsene Wenger’s Gunners, of course, were a major scalp claimed by Bradford during their run to the 2013 League Cup final.

“I didn’t see the cup game,” he added. “But I heard about it. People say the atmosphere was brilliant.”

Bury’s visit is likely to be as far removed from that pulsating night as possible. But, for City, it does represent a chance to maintain a hugely encouraging start to the season.

“It does feel like quite a long time since I was on the losing side,” said Dieng, who since the start of February has made 28 appearances for Bradford and Oldham, and lost just five times.

“At Oldham, we were bottom of the table and something like nine points away (from safety) at one stage, but then went on a great run under John Sheridan. We lost the last two games, but only after we were safe.

“I didn’t know the gaffer when I joined Bradford. I would have come here anyway. But I am very glad we have this gaffer because he wants to play football. We can do good things this season.”

City banked £10,000 in prize money for beating Stoke in August, a welcome boost to the coffers as part of the rejig that saw the overall fund on offers to clubs in the Trophy swelled by 300 per cent to £1.95m.

That huge rise helped persuade the clubs to vote through the changes that have seen 16 Premier League and Championship Under-23s side take part.

As Bradford’s paltry crowd of 1,444 on August 30 proved, these changes have not gone down well with supporters and another round of low attendances are expected tonight.

Hoping to buck that trend, however, will be Sheffield United and Doncaster Rovers. The Blades host Walsall, while Darren Ferguson’s men host Derby County’s Under-23s at the Keepmoat Stadium.

United are expected to give a run-out to several of their younger players with Louis Reed and Ben Whiteman set to start against the Saddlers.

Rovers, meanwhile, will be without Gary McSheffrey for up to four months after he underwent an operation on a troublesome knee problem, but James Houghton and James Coppinger are fit despite picking up knocks in the weekend win at Portsmouth.