Bradford City's playoff push primes for summer with hefty budget . . .
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Bradford City’s playoff push primes for summer with hefty budget for future goals.

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The Bantams have become League Two’s dark horses, trying to replicate Doncaster’s impossible dream.

The League Two play-off race is coming down to the wire, with Bradford City seeking to emulate Doncaster Rovers and complete one of the season’s most spectacular turnarounds.

Doncaster’s stunning 10-game winning streak has propelled them into the top six, but for the Bantams, who had a 2% chance of making the play-offs seven days ago according to website playmakerstats, the recovery is more difficult.

Five consecutive triumphs, including thrilling back-to-back away victories over play-off contenders Walsall and Barrow in the last week, have given them an outside chance. They must overcome Newport County in front of a large crowd at Valley Parade, then hope Barrow loses to Mansfield and Crawley fails to defeat Grimsby at Broadfield. The bookmakers now rate it as a one-in-four shot.

But this is League Two, and anything can happen on the last day. It’s just been two years since Bristol Rovers’ spectacular 7-0 victory against Scunthorpe allowed them to overturn Northampton’s goal difference advantage and secure promotion with five minutes remaining.

Can Bradford do the same? Few at Valley Parade on Saturday would have imagined it a month ago, when the season devolved into acrimony following a 3-0 defeat at Harrogate, with away fans chanting angrily at the club administration.

It also caused City CEO Ryan Sparks to fly to Munich to meet with owner Stefan Rupp, who declined a buyout bid in late 2023, for crunch talks during which it was emphasized that the situation could not continue.

Stepping back from suggestions of a budget cut, the German owner then wrote an open letter to supporters, promising major changes to the strategy as well as investment. While many remain skeptical, the subsequent appointment of former Mansfield CEO and Director of Football David Sharpe as head of football operations seems like a solid start.

There’s more to come. I understand Rupp is now aggressively exploring into buying back Valley Parade, which, as we reported in December, is viewed as a huge impediment to the club’s ability to compete in the fourth division.

Crucially, the owner has committed to a summer budget that will exceed this year’s, which fell outside the top seven in the division. Indeed, the Bantams are one of only a few teams now in the top nine that did not pay a six-figure transfer fee last summer.

It’s still a distant shot, but promotion would be a game changer for a team that last played in the Premier League in 2001. Last year’s play-off defeat left deep scars, and an injury to crucial summer addition Alex Pattison, who has played little, has led to a mainly disappointing season.

It’s hard to believe they have a chance to make it truly memorable, let alone Sky Sports’ choice not to televise any of the games. Instead, supporters can pay £10 for a pass to watch their team on the iFollow site, which will be phased out when the new EFL TV agreement begins next season.

Whatever happens, it appears that the Bantams are beginning to see some signs of improvement.

This summer, the team will be well-positioned in terms of recruitment.

Although several key first-team players are out of contract, I understand the club has options to extend the contracts of midfielder Richard Smallwood, promising homegrown midfielder Bobby Pointon, player of the season Brad Halliday, and Jamie Walker, who has seven goals in 29 league appearances this summer.

To counter predictions of a boycott, they sold almost 13,000 season tickets.

Manager Graham Alexander’s reputation has also been boosted by the late surge, which brings his victory percentage to an astounding 50% since his November appointment. He, like the club, will get off to a strong start next year.

 

 

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