The eight-point plan for David Hopkin at Bradford City

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 04 September 2018, 21:06

The morning after Bradford City dismissed rookie Michael Collins, they appointed a new head coach in David Hopkin.

In what could be a turbulent season in West Yorkshire, we devise an eight-point plan for the new boss.

1. Earn trust

After taking over at Livingston in December 2015, David Hopkin oversaw relegation to the Scottish League One.

The fact that the board stood by their man and gave him the tools to recruit players he wanted whilst gambling on remaining full-time, might suggest there is something about his coaching methods that inspires trust.

Hopkin oversaw big changes in terms of player and tactics that summer and was rewarded, as The Livi Lions won back-to-back promotions to the SPL, before the boss quit as manager in the summer. 

The question, though, is whether Bradford City’s owners – who are working with their fourth manager of 2018 – will have the same patience during the rocky periods.

2. Get the best out of Doyle and Miller

In the third-tier, when the onus was on Livingston to control games, Hopkin used a free-flowing 4-4-2; Sean Scannell and Jordan Gibson are his best bets if he wants to replicate that system with attacking wingers.

In the second-tier, he opted for a more conservative 3-5-2. On both occasions, he started with two strikers, which would suggest that Eoin Doyle and George Miller have a chance of starting together.

Doyle, a forward who wouldn’t quite fit into the target man category despite his height, has scored 36 goals in 62 games at this level.

Miller, a nippier type who could play a slightly more withdrawn role, grabbed eight goals in 19 appearances last season for Bury and is still only 20.

If Hopkin can accommodate Doyle and Miller in the same eleven, the Bantams could be onto some goals. Neither are especially strong though and both will need accurate service, unless the new boss looks for a different type of striker to give him another option.

3. No Payne, no gain

Hopkins’ tactics – fairly or not – have been described by some as direct and although there is contrasting opinion on this, it seems intriguing that he has not yet regularly deployed an advanced playmaker as a manager.

Jack Payne could change his mind. The Huddersfield loanee is arguably of Championship calibre, having scored two of the team’s four league goals thus far and hit the bar in the recent 2-1 loss at Fleetwood.

Not only that, he is a very creative technician who impressed hugely at Oxford and again at Blackburn, even if he was limited to substitute appearances at Ewood Park.

Payne is unlikely to slot into a wide position in a 4-4-2 with much comfort, so Hopkin may turn his 3-5-2 into a 3-4-1-2 to incorporate this precocious talent. 

4. Add a wing-back

Wing-backs were crucial in his Livingston side last season, so flying right-back Kelvin Mellor, who showed pace and quality at Plymouth and Blackpool, looks a prime candidate to start.

The obvious left-sided equivalent would be Tyrell Robinson, but he has been suspended for unknown reasons which may or may not overlap with legal issues.

The immediate alternative would be Adam Chicksen, but he arguably lacks the pace required to play further forward than left-back, so an addition might be needed in that area.

5. Improve the set piece threat

In 2017-18, two of Livingston’s centre-backs, Craig Halkett and Alan Lithgow, were joint-top scorers with eight goals in all competitions, which highlights how frequently the team threatened from dead ball scenarios including long throws.

Tony McMahon’s deliveries were one of Bradford’s major strengths not long ago, but with the utility man now at Oxford, that threat has dwindled; the team haven’t yet scored from a set piece this season, despite possessing big centre-backs in Anthony O’Connor, Ryan McGowan and Nat Knight-Percival. This is a big area for Hopkin to address.

6. Develop youngsters

The Bantams’ standard first eleven has an average age of 24 – and that doesn’t include 18 contracted players in and around the squad who are even younger.

Hopkin should be right at home: the reason, after had a brief stint as joint-caretaker boss at Greenock Morton in 2003, he didn’t return to senior management for a decade, was because he wanted to help inspire the next generation.

He spent many years as Under-20s manager at Morton, where he acquired his ability to spot untapped potential; Josh Mullin, for example, was once a League One part-timer, then became one of Scotland’s most accurate crossers when at Livingstone.

Similarly, Halkett had been released by Rangers at 20 yet, three years on, now looks very close to a Scotland call-up.

Bradford aren’t likely to outspend their competitors; so Hopkin will need to be imaginative in the transfer market and patient in the dug-out.

7. Be diplomatic

Bradford fans may begin to protest against the short-armed and deep-pocketed Rahic, so a big part of Hopkins’ job will be handle off-field tensions delicately; be too outspoken and in-house relations will turn sour, but too positive about the owners and he risks being perceived as a yes-man.

The 48-year-old has faced awkward situations before. While he was assistant at Livingston, they were docked 5 points because majority shareholder Neil Rankine was involved with another club; then Livi were fined for failing to pay tax.

And yet, Hopkin is also an easy-going guy – not unlike Stuart McCall, who had a likeable manner about him that meant issues like the lack of investment didn’t rise to the surface as much as they have in the subsequent nine months.

Improving the mood around Valley Parade will be a massive part of Hopkins’ job; of course, results will help…

8. Get instant results

In the average League One season, 73 points are required to reach the top six.

Having taken six points from as many league games, they now need approximately 67 from 40 - a 68% increase on their current return – if a chance of promotion remains the season’s aim and the team cannot afford to lose any further ground in September.

Very quickly therefore, Hopkin will need to settle on a system which incorporates his best attacking players, improve the set piece threat, develop youngsters, strengthen the squad in key areas and handle the off-field tensions whilst earning trust along the way.

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