HOPE Akpan has an added personal incentive to rescue City from the drop.

The Bantams’ latest captain is keen to avoid an unwanted hat-trick of relegations after going down in the last two seasons with Blackburn and Burton.

It is the same scenario facing keeper Richard O’Donnell, who suffered successive heartbreaks at Rotherham and Northampton.

Both know full well how much it hurts – and Akpan will use memories of that pain to drive him on through these nine remaining crucial games.

“From past experience, a relegation does drag on into the summer,” he admitted.

“It sits with you until you come back the following season. Maybe even until you play a few pre-season friendlies to really get the memory and feeling out of your mind.

“At the same time, it isn’t really gone. It’s on your resume and something you have been through.

“But it also makes you stronger. It makes you understand the situations a bit more and not get too bogged down by being three or four points away or facing a tough game.

“You realise you just have to roll your sleeves up and get on with it. I have been through this and, hopefully, I can continue to do that.”

Gary Bowyer’s choice as his skipper may have come as a surprise to some but Akpan played under the manager for Blackburn.

As soon as the appointment was confirmed, it was the midfielder’s mobile that was buzzing with texts from team-mates to find out what the new boss was like.

Akpan added: “They were asking me a few questions but I kept it simple.

“I told them what he likes and what he does not like. That was that.

“It was an honour to be made captain of the club and showed that he has faith in me.

“Hopefully, going into these next few games, we can perform well and give the fans what they deserve.

“What happens now means everything. It is lads’ careers, it is the fans, it is the club, it’s massive.

“After what the club has been through, it would be something the fans would really enjoy if we could stay up and solidify for next season.”

Bowyer’s initial approach has looked to lift the mood with an arm around shoulders. He has been keen to remind the players what they are good at after a campaign that has inevitably chipped away at collective confidence.

Akpan has appreciated the change in mindset within the dressing room.

“The psychological aspect of any season can be huge. With what has gone on this season, players can take that on to the pitch and not have the confidence or spark they usually would have.

“The manager has showed players clips of them at their best, things like that. People just needed reminding.

“He showed us goals we have scored. A lot of the attacking players, he reminded them how good they are.

“He had seen them score goals against teams he managed. He wanted them to think of that and it was good for everyone.

“The lift it gave us, together with the structure he brought, made the difference against Peterborough and we looked a different side.”

So how has the environment changed from David Hopkin’s time in charge?

“Training is very specific,”said Akpan. “It is a bit more light-hearted.

“The manager is a good character and has a good personality. He gets among the lads, there has been a lot of laughing and joking.

“It is needed at this stage. The mood was lifted, maybe took the burden off our shoulders a little bit.

“The message was, ‘Go out there and play’. You can’t be too anxious, or eager to win.

“Play your normal game. If we do that, we should be able to get results.”

Bowyer has deliberately played down the significance of today’s clash with Oxford. But Akpan insists City have to deliver to keep the survival bid afloat.

“It was always going to be a big week for us. I said before it started that the next three games were going to be huge.

“If we can get six points from those games, I felt we would have a chance of making a real fight of staying up.

“Luton was always going to be tough but we wanted something to take into the Oxford game. That would have put us well in the fight.

“The big thing is we’re not a million miles away. We have said that a lot this season, I realise that.

“Now is a time to get points and drag teams below us. That is the goal.”