Bradford City v MK Dons: Simon Grayson sets sights on play-off tilt

SUCH has been the wait for Simon Grayson's home bow at the helm of Bradford City that one of his former employers would have had almost enough time to appoint and dispense with a manager.

Manager Simon Grayson: Home bow at Valley Parade.
Manager Simon Grayson: Home bow at Valley Parade.

The 48-year-old succeeded Stuart McCall on February 11, meaning just one day short of a month will have elapsed when the Bantams finally return to Valley Parade this afternoon to tackle Milton Keynes Dons.

At Leeds United, one of Grayson’s successors, Darko Milanic, lasted just 32 days in the post. Dave Hockaday, who like the Slovenian also took charge of six games, did not last too much longer to underline just how long the City chief has been made to wait.

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“It is strange that we still haven’t played at home,” admitted Grayson to The Yorkshire Post. “One of the reasons for coming here was to sample the atmosphere that such a big crowd creates.

“Valley Parade can be a special place to be and I am really looking forward to it. League One doesn’t have many stadiums like this, capable of generating plenty of noise.”

Lately, of course, Bradford’s home of 115 years has not been at its vibrant best. A run of six defeats in the last nine outings on home soil helped not only cost McCall his job but also create an air of despondency that can be hard to shake.

In that respect, the four-week gap since Bury left with a point courtesy of a stoppage-time equaliser could have worked in City’s favour.

“The club deserve credit for trying to tackle things head on,” added Grayson. “They have tried really hard to get the fans back on side and get some positivity about the place again.

“There was the fans’ forum that was called to try and explain what had been going on, and disprove a lot of what had been doing the rounds.

“Of course, sometimes people don’t agree with what was said and claim it isn’t the truth. But the club has been as open and honest as it can be in an attempt to get rid of the negativity.

“Then, there has been the season ticket prices again being kept very low, compared to others in the division. Hopefully, that has helped bring a few more back on side.

“For me, the gap and everything that has happened in the last month make this something of a new start. I have said that to the players. This is now a 12-game season for us, with the aim being to extend it by another three games in May.”

Bradford’s run-in is a testing one. A trip to Blackburn Rovers in front of the live Sky cameras awaits, as do home games with second-placed Shrewsbury Town and Wigan Athletic.

The latter is next Wednesday, while the Bantams also have to negotiate a derby, again in front of the live cameras, at Doncaster Rovers. The final day then brings a trip to fifth-placed Scunthorpe United, seven points clear of Grayson’s men right now.

If such a schedule concerns the serial League One promotion winner, he is not letting on.

“We are happy with how things have gone,” said Grayson. “There has been scope to give the players time off, such as when we had no game on our first weekend. That has been important.

“There were also a couple of days when training had to be cancelled due to the snow. We let the players stay at home, trusting them to do the right things. The alternative was dragging them in through the bad weather for what could only be a gym session due to the pitches being out of bounds.

“Whether this has been the right approach or not will be seen in the next few weeks. But we are confident there will be the right response once we get back playing again. We want to see the desire and enthusiasm of earlier in the season.

“Don’t forget, people’s futures are on the line now. We explained that to the players recently before training. Regardless of whether they are out of contract in the summer or have a deal here for next season, these players have to earn the right to be part of Bradford City’s future.”

City’s relative inactivity since Grayson took over has been down to the weather and the home game with Wigan having to be postponed due to their opponents still being in the FA Cup.

The Latics’ stunning triumph over Manchester City, together with Rochdale taking Tottenham Hotspur to a replay, underlines the quality that exists in the third tier.

“I have seen enough in my first two games, plus all the training sessions, to know we have enough quality here to get in the play-offs,” added Grayson, who has taken Blackpool, Leeds, Huddersfield Town and Preston North End up to the Championship.

“Blackburn and Wigan, who I went to watch last week, are out in front in League One. The budgets both clubs have mean missing out on promotion is not an option, especially as they have players on Championship money who are on the bench. But, after those two, I see nothing to worry us at all. We are one of the better teams in this division, the performances and results earlier in the season show that.

“Now, it is a case of getting things back on track and going forward as a club once again. There are going to be so many twists and turns between now and the end of the season.

“I was chatting to someone 10 days ago about the league table and said that there was no way the same top six would still be the same once we got to May. Since then, Charlton have dropped out and Plymouth have moved up to sixth.

“There is so much football still to play. We have to make sure we do our jobs and then everything else will follow.”