Fans sure Mark Hughes can end Bantams' wait for promotion

Fans sure Mark Hughes can end Bantams’ wait for promotion as Bradford earn 1-0 win over Carlisle in League Two play-offs first leg in front of record crowd

  • Mark Hughes was drawn to Bradford as an under-achieving club with potential
  • They now believe they can achieve promotion and reach League One this term
  • A minute’s applause was carried out to honour academy manager Neil Matthews

Mark Hughes had never experienced the play-offs during his long, distinguished career until Sunday night’s raucous affair.

He certainly knows about them now after his Bradford City team and Carlisle United fought out a blood and thunder League Two play-off semi-final, first leg at Valley Parade, watched by 20,575.

Jamie Walker’s 18th-minute strike gave the Bantams a precious advantage which they take to Brunton Park on Saturday with a place at Wembley on May 28 up for grabs.

Hughes has gone all in since pitching up in February 2022 for his first club management role outside of the Premier League.

It was some leap of faith, but the 59-year-old Welshman was attracted by an underachieving club with potential coursing through its veins. When last Monday’s 1-1 home draw with Leyton Orient drew 22,576 fans — Bradford’s biggest league crowd for 70 years — it said much for the belief that is growing in Hughes’ promotion-chasers.

Bradford believe that Mark Hughes can lead the side to promotion from League Two this year

The Bantams beat Carlisle 1-0 in the first leg of their play-off tie on Sunday evening

Jamie Walker’s first half goal was enough to earn the side a 1-0 win in the first leg

Carlisle were backed by almost 2,500 fans, taking up two-thirds of the Midland Road stand, and the atmosphere summed up how much it meant to both clubs.

Hughes has reconnected the City fanbase with the people of Bradford in what has been an emotional few days for the club.

Last week saw academy manager Neil Matthews, 56, pass away after a fight with cancer and on Thursday the club held its annual memorial service for the victims of the 1985 Valley Parade fire disaster. 

Bradford have not been promoted since Phil Parkinson led them out of League Two in the 2013 play-off final against Northampton, the season their ‘history-makers’ went to Wembley twice, losing to Swansea in the League Cup final. After a minute’s applause before kick-off to honour Matthews, both sides went hell for leather.

When Bradford forged ahead, the home stands almost shook.

Andy Cook, League Two’s 28-goal leading scorer, flicked on a long ball into the path of Scott Banks, whose touch fell kindly to Walker.

The 29-year-old Scot had the composure to rifle home a low, right-foot shot from inside the penalty area hard and true past Carlisle goalkeeper Tomas Holy.

A Bradford fan ran on to the pitch and was apprehended by stewards front of an angry away section before being led away, but Paul Simpson’s team responded well. Set-pieces always appeared their best chance of finding a way into the Bradford net but half-chances came and went.

The Cumbrians spurned a golden opportunity in the 76th minute when substitute Ryan Edmondson wastefully headed over Jack Armer’s perfect left-wing cross at the far post, leaving the tie delicately poised.

Hughes will know that there is still work to be done if his side are to reach Wembley in two weeks

Carlisle will not have given up hope yet and will fancy their chances of progressing in front of their home fans

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