The 2014/15 season for Bradford City WFC was their second back in the Northern Premier League, having won promotion in 2012-13. It was always going to be a tough campaign after exceeding expectations the season prior, finishing third on their return to the third tier, but Coventry City's relocation from the Southern PL to the Northern division meant another title contender entered the fray too, making things even tougher from the get go. With new faces in the form of both players and coaches, there was plenty to be excited about as the season began.
City's first fixture came in the final week of August; a trip away to face last season's runners-up, Preston North End. A solid performance, much better than the one that saw them lose 5-0 to the same team at the end of 2013-14, gave them a 1-1 draw, with Preston's equaliser coming in controversial fashion as the linesman judged a strike from distance to have gone over the line as it hit the bar and came down for City to clear. Whilst there will have been frustration over the manner of the draw, it was a good way to start the season, especially away from home.
The following week, City beat Solihull 2-1 in the first round of the League Cup, before suffering their first defeat of the campaign as they lost 3-2 to Huddersfield in their first midweek fixture. Nonetheless, they hardly dwelled on the defeat, picking apart eventual champions and WSL 2 bound Sheffield FC, winning 3-0 and sparking an unbeaten run that stretched over seven league games. A goalless draw with Preston, a 5-0 win over Wolves, which brought with it a hat-trick for Molly Sharpe, and a 1-1 draw with Sporting Albion all followed before City travelled to Huddersfield for revenge in another midweek game, defeating their local rivals 2-1 in a comprehensive display.
City celebrate revenge over Huddersfield with a 2-1 win.
Nottingham Forest were the next to fall victim to City's growing confidence, losing 1-0 on their own patch, before the unbeaten run came to an end in the League Cup at the hands of Sporting Albion, who were 1-0 victors in an uneventful and largely forgettable encounter.
Still, City bounced back with back-to-back wins, thrashing Brighouse Athletic 8-0 in the County Cup, Sarah Danby netting a hat-trick in the process, and defeating Stoke City 2-0 away from home. Sheffield would get revenge for their defeat earlier in the season by narrowly overcoming City 3-2 on their own patch, but, again, successive victories followed. Three wins in a row saw the Bantams knock Guiseley Vixens out of the County Cup before league victories over Newcastle and Derby, both on the road, gave them reason to smile heading into the winter break, even with Coventry defeating them 2-0 in the final game before Christmas.
At the break, Coventry sat at the top of the league, but City had had a solid first half of the season. Whilst they will have been disappointed to have been eliminated from the League Cup early on, seven wins, three draws and just three defeats represented good league form, and they were making great strides towards retaining their County Cup with victories in the first two rounds.
Bad weather meant City did not restart their season on January 4 as planned, but instead a week later in the second round of the FA Cup, at home to Huddersfield. With a win each for these two in their games against each other this season, both won by a single goal, it was sure to be a tight encounter - and that it was. A 3-2 score line went in favour of the Bantams, setting up a clash in the third round with FC Reedswood, which would be played in just under a month's time.
Weather again meant fixtures were scarce in January, with the second and last coming against Wetherby Athletic in the County Cup, City again cruising to comfortable victory with a 3-0 win, though it could have been much more. The Reedswood tie opened up February, and City were ruthless as they ended their opponents' promising run to the third round, dispatching them 5-0 to set up an enticing affair with WSL 2 outfit Doncaster Belles in the fourth round - the furthest City have ever got in the competition.
Before that though, there was league business to attend to, and the Bantams would play their first league game since pre-Christmas defeat to Coventry in mid February, away at Blackburn Rovers. Rustiness certainly showed, the team having played just three games since the start of the year, two of them against lower league opponents, as they were comfortably defeated 4-1. It was one of the low points of the Bantams' season, a poor performance and a result to match, and with the Donny Belles game just a few weeks away, they had to bounce back.
That they did. Victories at home to Derby County and away at Sporting Albion, both hard fought and well deserved, led them into the Belles clash, which was City's home fixture.
On a splendid pitch, spectators were given a splendid game of football, with the likes of Sue Smith on show for the visitors, and a determined home side ready to face her and her team. The away side took a lead in at the break, albeit a slender one at 1-0, with City having matched the Belles in every department in an incredibly even first 45 minutes. Chances came for the hosts, but, with just less than 20 minutes to play, Smith doubled her side's lead despite a fantastic initial save by goalkeeper Carrie Simpson. City had to go for it now, and they really did, the Belles' keeper being tested thoroughly as the final whistle neared. Charlotte Stuart pulled one back for the Bantams, but, despite chances and a late back pass shout, the hosts bowed out of the competition, albeit not without plenty of pride intact.
City battled hard against Doncaster Belles, but were just edged out in the end.
Having battled so hard but not got their reward, City now had to pick themselves up and turn their attention back to the league, with just six games to play, and to retaining their County Cup, having made it to the semi-finals.
Their tie in the last four of the latter competition came against none other than local rivals Leeds, who they beat in last year's final. Despite Leeds' dip in recent years, City could not be over-confident going into the game, as a derby like this brings the best out of players. They approached the game in a professional manner instead, and came out 4-0 winners, though it could have been a much greater margin of victory. This set up a clash with Farsley in the final, to be played on March 31.
A 2-2 draw at home to Newcastle and a 10-1 win at home to Wolves in the league, the latter producing hat-tricks from both Danby and Rachel Lee, saw City approach the County Cup final full of confidence. Just two days after putting 10 past Wolves, the Bantams exhibited their goal-scoring prowess on the big occasion too, putting a marvellous nine past Farsley, three of which came from Sharpe. They were dominant throughout, constantly put the pressure on their opponents and got the reward they deserved in the club's second piece of silverware for the season, with the 'A' Team having secured their league title just two days prior.
City celebrate their County Cup win over Farsley.
Perhaps the most important game remaining of the first team's season followed, as they met Blackburn at home, hoping for a victory that would edge them closer to third place, where Blackburn currently sat with City in fourth. A 4-2 defeat was the disappointing outcome, though a 4-1 win over Forest just a week later kept them in the hunt for the position. Three points at home to Stoke would surely be necessary, with Coventry being Bradford's final game, but the Bantams played out a dull goalless draw.
This result, coupled with Blackburn's draw with Huddersfield, meant that City could not finish higher than fourth for the season now, though it did not stop them putting on a marvellous performance on the final day, drawing 1-1 with Coventry, having taken the lead too.
This concluded a solid and successful season for the Bantams. Whilst things may have tailed off towards the end, it was a wonderful campaign for both the first team and the club as a whole, with two league titles, one cup and two other cup finals representing a superb 2014-15 season for the three senior teams. Players and coaches alike will look back at certain results and moments that, had they been different, could have made for more success, but the club no doubt took more steps in the right direction this year and can look to build upon these in the upcoming 2015-16 campaign.
Sheffield FC finished as winners of the Northern Premier League, and they defeated Southern champions Portsmouth in their end-of-season play-off to win promotion to WSL 2. Having learned what Coventry are about in their first season facing the club, and finished in the top four once again, City will be hoping to mount a serious title challenge this year, especially with them having proven they can compete with the top teams, beating Sheffield and drawing with Coventry in the season gone. There is plenty of promise and potential in the team and they will be hoping to maximise this in 2015/2016.