Bradford City v Oxford United: Chance to put festive woes behind Bantams

THE festive season was supposed to have been one to savour for Bradford City.

Stuart McCall: Double target. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Having already banished any fears of the club suffering a play-off hangover this term, the Bantams were hoping to use the meetings with AFC Wimbledon and Peterborough United inside a little over 72 hours to put pressure on their promotion rivals.

Instead back-to-back league defeats for the first time since Stuart McCall returned to the club during the summer of 2016 left everyone at Valley Parade feeling as flat as a glass of Champagne left out overnight at Christmas.

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Today, however, brings an opportunity to make amends as Oxford United head to the West Riding. With New Year’s Day also bringing a trip to Fleetwood Town, Bradford have a golden opportunity to put their festive woes behind them.

To do so, McCall wants players and supporters alike to focus on what a hugely promising position the Bantams are in even after those two successive setbacks.

“We can’t dwell on what happened,” said the former Scottish international, whose side sit fifth in the League One table.

“We are in a good position. Everyone knows we lost important players in the summer. Less experienced ones came in, but they have done brilliantly.

“So have the ones who were already here. They have kicked on again and that is why we are up there challenging for a second consecutive year. We should be pleased as it means we can push on from here.”

City have spent just a fortnight outside the top six this season. It was a similar story last term, underlining just how consistent the club has been since McCall returned to take charge for a second time.

A glance at the fortunes of the other eight clubs beaten in last season’s play-offs underlines how well Bradford have done to challenge gain this time around.

Just Scunthorpe United, fourth going into today’s fixtures, plus League Two duo Luton Town and Exeter City occupy a promotion place in their respective divisions.

Elsewhere, Fleetwood Town, beaten in the semi-finals by the Bantams, are 14th, while Championship trio Fulham (11th), Sheffield Wednesday (14th) and Reading (17th) are all well off the pace after 24 games.

“It is pleasing that the players avoided the ‘play-off hangover’ that sometimes hits teams the year after missing out on promotion,” added McCall.

“Losing at Wembley was the big disappointment of 2017, it was an awful feeling for everyone involved with the club.

“None of us will ever forget how empty we all felt at the final whistle down there.

“But the lads have bounced back. A few new faces came in as a few talented players left the club.

“But the group soldiered on and there is a real belief about the team now.

“Of course, there will be setbacks and our position is nothing to crow about just yet due to there being a lot of football to play. But we are in a promising position.”