A massive disappointment for Stuart McCall and his side, which lead McCall pledging to resign if his side failed to make the play-offs. That they failed miserably to get anywhere near the play-offs yet McCall is still here does not bode well for the Bantams next season, but I digress. Some impressive pre-season signings, the likes of Mansfield goal machine Michael Boulding, Tranmere Rovers schemer Paul McClaren and experienced League Two campaigner Graeme Lee meant they went into the season as favourites, a tag which they seemed to merit at first. Talented young loanees Dean Furman and Nicky Law ran the midfield, but McClaren never settled under McCall and he was unable to get the best out of a player who should be too good for this division. That Chris Brandon missed much of the season didn't help his cause, leaving the Bantams without a solid defensive midfielder.
Upfront Peter Thorne scored his obligatory goals in each match against Notts but couldn't stay fit for long enough to trouble the top scorers, whilst Boulding only performed in fits and starts. Lee's lack of pace was shown up, possibly by McCall's decision to partner him with Matt Clarke or Zesh Rehman, both of whom were left dazed by Myles Weston at Meadow Lane. Full back Luke O'Brien emerged as a serious young talent for the club, but Joe Colbeck was unable to really perform in a season where he should've been at the forefront of a City promotion push. Losing the dangerous Omar Daley to a season long injury also halted the Bantams and in the end a series of calamitous hammerings on the road at Bournemouth, Barnet, Notts and others saw them fall well short of 7th.
Stuart McCall is a legend at Bradford City, which is presumably why he somehow seems to have gotten away with a terrible season last year. He did well in building his squad at least, Law and Furman were inspired loan spots and he convinced players who should've been excellent at this level in Lee, McClaren, Brandon and Boulding to join him at Valley Parade, the problem was that he never managed to get them performing consistently. Whilst few at Bradford will ever bring themselves to demand McCall's sacking, few would've been too disappointed had he gone through with his threat of resigning after their failure to get into the play-offs.
This year McCall has abandoned the experienced and quality campaigner approach and gone for untried and untested youth alongside a swarm of averageness, which is unlikely to get him any further than last year. His biggest flaw as a manager seems to be his inability to mould a bunch of quality players into a good unit and then motivate them to perform for him. Letting these quality performers leave (although budget cuts have tied his hands somewhat) and replacing them with worse players doesn't seem like a sensible decision to us.
Goalkeeper Rhys Evans had a solid season for City, but surprisingly found himself released at the end of the year. City now only have a trio of youngsters at the club, including England youth international Simon Eastwood who is on loan for Huddersfield Town, however this is surely an issue McCall must address. In defence the loss of Lee means that Matt Clarke is likely to partner Zesh Rehman, who's signed on a permanent deal, in the centre. This looks solid on paper but we saw first hand at Meadow Lane that both players are susceptible to pace and trickery. Luke O'Brien should continue to flourish at left back, whilst McCall has brought in ex-Notts man and steady if unspectacular right back Simon Ramsden on a free transfer from Rochdale to shore up his defence. He has also signed Steve Williams from Bamber Bridge to provide central cover.
City's midfield seems to have been ripped apart, which is the thing most holding them back from an assault on the play-offs. Dean Furman and Nicky Law were amongst the division's most talented players, but they were only on loan and both have chosen permanent moves elsewhere this summer, to Oldham Athletic and Rotherham United respectively. The loss of McClaren back to Tranmere may not be causing tears to be shed in Bradford, but it does mean a genuinely quality players has moved on, although McCall was never likely to work out how best to use him. Chris Brandon is still at the club and will be hoping to play somewhat more this season, whilst out wide Lee Bullock will also come into the side. Daley is out for at least a couple more months whilst Colbeck, another player who was regressed under McCall, looks set for Oldham. More bodies and quality are certainly needed in the centre of the park if Bradford are to mount any sort of serious challenge. Upfront Peter Thorne guarantees goals but is getting on and will probably miss games through injury once again, whilst Michael Boulding will be hoping to refind the form that saw him bag 20 goals for Mansfield two years ago, although it is worth nothing that is the only time in his career he's achieved such a total. Gareth Evans has been signed from Macclesfield for £30,000 and will put himself about a bit, but is only really going to score penalties.
The Bantams are once again up there as one of the favourites, but this is as much down to reputation as proper analysis of their prospects. McCall remains despite having proved that he isn't capable of taking Bradford to the kind of finish that is required, whilst their squad seems to be considerably weaker than the one which flopped last year. The biggest issue could be their unwillingness to part with a legend when he's half way to proving himself a failure once again, though.