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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Former Fulham man McDonald making long-term ambitions a short-term reality as Bradford boss

As the final whistle blew at Plough Lane on Saturday to confirm a disappointing home defeat for promotion-chasing AFC Wimbledon, former Fulham midfielder Kevin McDonald only had one thing on his mind.

The five-cap Scotland international had just seen his Bradford City side win their third game of the week under his temporary charge, suggesting he has has more than steadied the ship after a difficult start to the season saw ex-Fulham boss Mark Hughes dismissed at the start of October.

McDonald, who arrived at Valley Parade in the summer with the sole intention of continuing his playing career, was not in a self-congratulatory mood at the end of Bradford’s 1-0 win on in south London.

After going through the customary handshakes of commiseration with Johnnie Jackson and the Wimbledon bench before acknowledging the contribution of each member of his own backroom staff, the 34-year-old made a beeline for Daniel Oyegoke.

In the final minute of added time in south London, the young striker on loan from Brentford had been in control of possession deep in the Wimbledon half. Rather than keep the ball in the corner and waste a few more precious seconds en route to victory, Oyegoke beat one defender and headed for goal. Eyes bright with hope that he would be sealing the win with his first senior goal, the 20-year-old lost the ball, allowing the home side to launch one last desperate attack that ultimately came to nothing.

McDonald said before taking charge of his first game against Swindon last week that he had no plans to take the job on a permanent basis and was simply “happy to fill in until a new manager is appointed”. But as Oyegoke threatened to put his team – McDonald’s team – under one last spell of unnecessary pressure, there would have been no way of telling that the one-time Premier League midfielder saw his time in the dugout coming to a close in the near future.

It was the one occasion on the afternoon that McDonald seemed to lose himself in the fervour of managing in the fourth tier, turning back from his regular perch on the edge of the technical area to complain furiously to those on his own bench.

Much of that fury had subsided by the time he greeted Oyegoke on the pitch – the final blast of Scott Simpson’s whistle proved to be a welcome tension reliever – yet he still had some stern-looking words of advice to offer before embracing the rest of the players under his temporary charge and taking the acclaim of 986 travelling Bradford supporters.

“It’s definitely not easy, I can assure you of that,” said McDonald when quizzed upon his perfect start in management. “We’ve played three games and won three games but you’ll never see me getting carried away.

“I used to love winning 1-0; a grind. We needed to dig in, at times through our own errors and our own doing. Sometimes that’s the best way to win a game of football.

“It’s been a hectic week, but I’m delighted that we’ve finished it off with a win.”

It was another of Bradford’s substitutes who earned the visitors the victory at Plough Lane. Just four minutes after coming off the bench, Emmanuel Osadebe latched on to an Andy Cook flick-on and poked a shot into the bottom corner of the net in front of the Bantams faithful.

McDonald refused to take any credit for the immediate impact of his first change of the afternoon, instead reserving praise solely for Osadebe. The Irish midfielder broke his leg in two places just eight minutes into his debut after signing for Hughes at the start of last season and has only started one league game since. The former Walsall man was left out of the matchday squad for Hughes’ final two games in charge and was then sent off in the midweek EFL Trophy win against Grimsby in which the hastily appointed player-manager featured for 81 minutes himself.

McDonald, who made 128 appearances across five seasons at Craven Cottage before a kidney transplant threatened to end his career entirely, showed the maturity and empathy of not only a more experienced manager when talking about Osadebe, but also spoke about him in a way that would surely make players want to play for him both now and in the future.

“That’s what Manny brings to our team,” he said. “When you can get him at it and you can get him flying, he brings a different dimension to what we’ve got. He can play one-touch, he can dribble, he can finish; he’s got it all.

“I’m delighted for him. He’s had a tough time at the start of the season not being in the team much, but he’s come in and done well.”

When McDonald did eventually make his way to the Bradford supporters after his words of wisdom for Oyegoke, they serenaded him with a rendition of ‘Kev McDonald’s barmy army’. There was no sign that this early success is getting to the stand-in boss though, as he offered a polite clap of appreciation before heading back to the dressing room.

Not getting carried away with Bradford still sitting 11th in the League Two table only further suggested that McDonald could be more than a temporary solution to the club’s recent woes. His box fresh white trainers may have said otherwise, but everything about the victory hinted that McDonald is well-equipped to guide Bradford through the gruelling fourth tier winter as they set about trying to re-capture former glories.

“I’ve enjoyed a lot of it,” he said of his three-match spell so far, before adding that he is under “no pressure” to take the job on a more permanent basis. “There’s been a lot of frustration to it in terms of some little details, but it’s been enjoyable for sure. If we’d lost three I might not be saying that!

“In the longer term, the plan was always to go into coaching. Now I’ve been involved, I don’t know if it’s confirmed that I want to be a manager going forward, but it was always on the radar.

“I didn’t know how well I would take to it, but I would say I’ve taken quite well to it…at times.”


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