9 December ~ It is not just the 322 miles separating the two cities that mean Bradford City and Plymouth Argyle have rarely been on each other’s radar. Despite moving up and down the leagues more often than most clubs over the past 20 years, tomorrow's League Two meeting is their first since 1995. Distant relations they may be, but there are plenty of similarities in both teams’ recent history of underachievement and financial troubles. Their fans share the same set of fears for the immediate future.
For third from bottom Bradford and last-placed Plymouth this is a relegation six-pointer that will guarantee a gloomy Christmas for the loser. With only six league wins between them all season, the preservation of their Football League status is the modest ambition for two clubs who like to view themselves as at least Championship-size in stature. The shackles of past money problems are still proving difficult to fully shake off, and relegation to non-League could prove a test of survival too far. City and Argyle are truly in the fight of their lives.
While Argyle’s woes this season have been well documented, it is perhaps a measure of how long Bradford’s malaise has continued that this season’s dismal league showing has attracted little attention outside of West Yorkshire. Since 2007 we have been languishing in a division we had previously stayed above for a quarter of a century. Despite spending a lot of money trying to get promoted out of League Two over the past four years, we have so far come closer to exiting it the wrong way.
In the summer the message was that this would be a quiet building season, in preparation for a strong promotion push next year. But Peter Jackson quitting as manager after just four League games set the tone for a campaign which has proven far from low-key.
Fearful the team Jackson left behind was the worst in the division, Bradford’s joint owners have heavily backed his replacement, Phil Parkinson. Some relatively big names have arrived, such as Craig Fagan and Matt Duke (ex-Hull), Kyel Reid (ex-Charlton) and Andrew Davies (on loan from Stoke). Two weeks ago the club almost completed a six-figure deal to sign Charlton’s Paul Benson, only for medical concerns to cause it to fall through. That money will remain available to Parkinson in January.
Although performances have shown some improvement, league results have been poor all season. Only Bradford’s cup exploits – reaching the FA Cup third round for the first time since 2004 and this week going out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at the quarter-final stage after defeating three League One sides on route – offer reasons to feel optimistic. There are signs that Parkinson’s methods are beginning to have a positive impact, but wins are needed quickly.
Tomorrow afternoon would be a great start. Just three points currently separate Bradford and Plymouth. The last victory for each came in home games against Northampton – but given that Argyle’s win was in their last match and Bradford’s was back in October, tomorrow’s visitors will probably be the more confident. Whatever the result, it looks likely that both sides will have to keep the other closely within their sights for months to come. Jason McKeown