The next episode?

I presume the City team bus ran over a black cat on the way home from Doncaster on Friday night. Plodding away from a sunny Valley Parade yesterday, you couldn’t help but reflect on the bad luck. A deflected goal here, a rebounded penalty there, a header off the line.

At the same time, during moments yesterday, you could be forgiven for thinking that, in the spirit of Brian Harvey we actually tried to reverse that same team bus over ourselves. Contriving to turn a headed clearance from Preston into a sending off, missing one-on-ones, fluffing our lines to give away a penalty, not clearing the ball to allow Preston to score their second (a great finish admittedly) – many of the big moments in the game yesterday came as a result of us pointing the gun at our own head and pulling the trigger. A side with Preston’s quality don’t need that kind of assistance thank you very much, yet somehow we gave them it.

So many silly and costly errors would normally have many of us screaming blue murder. Twitter would be alive with the sound of venting spleens and in the ground the only noise would be coming from the away end. It wasn’t the case.  

There was so much that was good in City’s graft and play yesterday that you couldn’t help but feel strangely buoyed. We created chances against the league’s most stubborn defence and even with ten men, we never looked too far behind the visitors in terms of ideas and performance. The fight was there throughout the game, and even at 3-0 down having played for a long time with a man short in the heat, we continued to chase, battle and plug away.

Despite those positives, yesterday pretty much summed up our season and where we are right now – six points off the playoffs with a game in hand. There is a lot to be pleased about. We are a good side with a few gems in the squad. We’re supremely committed and under PP and Parkin we play to our strengths very well. We’re one of the fittest teams out there. I genuinely like this bunch of players who clearly care about the club they play for. 

However, there is clearly room for improvement and yesterday shone a harsh spotlight on that. We’re a few players short of being genuine contenders and PP has admitted himself that he’d like to strengthen the spine of the team. Until that happens, we’re probably going to remain a hair’s breadth away from the playoff places. We’ll go on making costly errors. At Valley Parade, where teams often come to sit back, we’ll continue to struggle to break them down and find ourselves caught by the sucker punch. As a result our home form will carry on making pretty bleak reading.

To write it down in a brutally honest fashion, we aren’t quite good enough at the moment to go up. We are very very close with this current squad, but the gap is just about big enough to leave us hoping that others will slip up with six games remaining. We deserve to be where we are.

Of course, City being City means anything could happen between now at the end of the season but if, as I expect at this point, we do stay in League One – I’m more than OK with that. I wrote recently about how building this team into a Championship side will take time and the signs are that it is happening. Every year under PP and the current regime, we have looked stronger on and off the pitch and there’s no sign that this trend is reversing or stopping. There are signs of progression everywhere you look at the club, and Dylan Mottley-Henry’s lively appearance from the bench yesterday was just the latest.

Good things come to those that wait. I’m all for evolving into a Championship side over time rather than rushing up and finding ourselves in a league that is too strong for us. It is a huge leap in quality and we need to be ready. Right now, we nearly are but could this current squad compete and stay in that league after 46 games? I’m not sure. Looking at the mistakes yesterday, I’m not sure. Looking at the errors over the season, I’m not sure.

If we do remain in League One, this summer is a big one for Phil Parkinson. With a bit of money to spend, the signings he makes could well make the difference between another season like this one or a campaign where we mount a proper promotion fight, with us right in the thick of it.

I have a sneaky feeling that the expectation levels are about to step up a notch. A couple of years of consolidation in League One are almost done now. We’ve found our feet very well at this level and all credit should go to the playing and non-playing staff. Our thanks should also go to them all for that.

We are now moving onto the next stage of our evolution under Parkinson. I hope and believe this is the case and it’s an incredibly exciting time to be a supporter of Bradford City. Of course, it would be good if we don’t run over any black cats on the way.

James Pieslak (@jpieslak)