Bradford City v Accrington Stanley '“ Fans can play part in keeping Bantams safe

SO much has changed in the 57 days since Julian Rhodes answered an SOS call from Bradford City majority shareholder Stefan Rupp.

Full backing: Bradford City fans are now behind the club in the same manner as when they went to Wembley for the League Cup final.

Results have improved massively, relations between club and supporters that had been stretched to breaking point by the actions of former chairman Edin Rahic have been restored and a visit to Valley Parade is once again to be enjoyed rather than endured.

As pleasing as this turn of events has been, however, Rhodes is at pains to stress that one thing has not changed at all since his Bonfire Night return.

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“It is all about 20th place,” said the former City owner.

“I said that when I came back that fifth bottom will be a success and that is still the case now.

“Results have been great. We have taken 14 points from the last eight games, which is enough to get a play-off place if stretched across an entire season,” he continued.

“But we cannot allow ourselves to get carried away. We must remember where we were not so long ago. We were dead and buried.

“On the day I came back one bookmaker had us at 10-1 on to go down. That was probably fair enough as we had only collected 10 points from 17 games. That is how bad things had got.

Bradford City' Julian Rhodes.

“Now we feel to be going in the right direction again. But we cannot suddenly think everything is all right again or that we have achieved anything.

“Instead we have to maintain the momentum we have built in these last few games.”

A glance at the table underlines why Rhodes is desperate to avoid any complacency creeping in.

Saturday’s 4-0 win at Rochdale did, indeed, maintain an impressive run of form for a team who had lost the seven games that preceded his return, initially as a consultant.

Nevertheless, the Bantams still started the new year in the bottom four and two points adrift of safety.

An almighty battle remains ahead if the club are not to return to a level they last left in 2013 via a glorious play-off final victory over Northampton Town under Phil Parkinson.

That same season saw Bradford make history by reaching the League Cup final, the first basement division club to do so.

Swansea City may have triumphed 5-0 to dash hopes of a first major trophy heading to Valley Parade in more than a century, but that did not prevent the travelling fans from Yorkshire standing shoulder to shoulder with their team in memorable fashion.

Four goals behind and the final having long since ceased to exist as a genuine contest, 35,000 Bradfordians still rose as one to chant, ‘Stand up if you love City’.

Accompanied by a sea of claret and amber flags being waved at one end of the stadium it made for a heart-warming display of solidarity with a vanquished team.

The discord in the stands that characterised much of 2018 at Valley Parade would have been unthinkable in the wake of that Wembley trip, but this was the reality into which Rhodes strode back.

“The whole place feels different,” he said. “Just look at the last three home league games. The fans have been superb, really getting behind the team, and the players have fed off that.

“We have scored eight goals without reply in those three games and, to me, the atmosphere has been a big factor.”

Bradford host Accrington Stanley today buoyed by what manager David Hopkin described as a “complete” performance in the 4-0 triumph at Spotland.

With Accrington having been on the end of a four-goal drubbing themselves on Saturday at home to Peterborough United, City have a big opportunity to start the new year by making a big statement of their intent.

After today City have a 12-day gap until their next fixture at promotion-chasing Barnsley due to Shrewsbury Town, Saturday’s scheduled opponents, being involved in FA Cup third-round action.

Hopkin plans to give his players a few days off to recharge the batteries after a hectic festive schedule.

Rhodes, too, believes the mini-break will do the club good, not least because it allows Hopkin to assess what the club need to do in the transfer window.

“The break comes at a good time as David will have an opportunity to go through everything and decide what he wants to do with the squad,” said the club’s chief executive.

“Whatever happens against Accrington we will still be in touch. The gap will allow us to plan.

“January is usually a bit of a chaotic time in the window because opportunities come along that sometimes you don’t expect. We have to be ready to react.”

Last six games: Bradford City DDWWLW Accrington Stanley WDLWWL.

Referee: P Marsden (Lancashire).

Last time: Bradford City 1 Accrington Stanley 2; November 5, 2016; FA Cup.