THE self-deprecating smile flickered across his lips as the words came out.

“I’m sure many previous managers have come out with the same lines that I’m saying now.”

Mark Hughes is in familiar territory – if not for him personally but the present incumbent of the Valley Parade hot-seat.

Every year they remain in League Two, as Hughes alluded to earlier this week, City are among the top tips for promotion. Every time, they have come up well short.

Jaded Bantam followers might as well have a pre-season bingo card ticking off the talk of doing this, that and the other – promises that tend to end up as empty as a politician's canvassing for votes.

“Making Valley Parade a fortress” is usually on there; that hasn’t been the case since 2016/2017 – when City’s unbeaten year on home soil took them all the way to Wembley in the League One play-offs.

Richie Smallwood, ironically, was in the Blackburn team that ended that 12-month streak the following August. Now he heads the latest cast list trying to get this club back on to the grander stage they crave.

Hughes inherited a side that had forgotten what it was like to win in front of their own supporters. It was an alien concept for someone who had played in the home cauldrons of Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.

The end of the season offered a tasty appetiser of what it might be like if City can get it going again in BD8.

Admittedly, back-to-back wins against clubs finishing 24th by a country mile and 20th is hardly “This is Anfield” territory but at least it finally changed the topic of conversation, as Hughes said at the time.

Winning momentum, typically, arrived too late to matter last time but producing that form again today would be a significant marker.

As we know in the black-and-white world of Bradford City, every win you’re going up as champions, every defeat and it spells relegation doom and gloom.

Remember how Derek Adams began his tenure last week with three wins and a draw. No reminders needed about how that turned out.

But showing the confidence, energy and attacking freedom exhibited at the end of last season – and doing it in front of another bumper, expectant crowd – would offer something concrete beyond the hype.

Season-ticket sales have topped 14,000 in anticipation of what Hughes and very much his squad of players can deliver.

Those same fans saw City win only six out of 23 at home in the last campaign and yet the overwhelming majority, boosted by others who may have previously lapsed, have signed on for more.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: City fans have backed the club again with 14,000 season tickets soldCity fans have backed the club again with 14,000 season tickets sold

They clearly believe those same words uttered on the eve of every season can have a very different ending.

“We’ve got a huge, vociferous crowd who will get behind you and back you to the hilt,” said Hughes.

“The response to season tickets is a gauge of the excitement around the place. I’d certainly want to play in those circumstances.

“Valley Parade needs to be the strength that it undoubtedly is.

“We don’t want clubs turning up on their bus thinking they are going to have a nice afternoon.

“We must not be intimidated by the platform we’ve got. That’s been the case in the past but I don’t think it will be now.”

Hughes has clearly been energised by City’s success in the transfer window – and the speed with which so many deals got over the line.

Clearly his name carries significant weight and the prospect of emulating the heroes of 2013 in such a big arena has been an “easy pitch” as the numbers grow.

Smallwood, a Championship captain last season, is the stand-out name. Having played in front of crowds in excess of 25,000 at Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, he will not be cowed by the occasion.

Hughes is equally confident that those around will not shirk away from the bright spotlight that follows City’s every step while they are stuck in the basement division.

We don’t want clubs turning up on their bus thinking they are going to have a nice afternoon.

Meeting transfer targets personally, something that he had rarely needed to do managing at the highest level, gave him the opportunity to delve deeper into each character.

“Everybody’s different. Some are at the beginning of their careers, others are coming to their peak and it’s how they see Bradford in those terms.

“For the most part, when we’ve spoken to players and pitched to them, they realise very quickly what a platform playing here is for them.

“We’re desperate to start now. We’re backed by a huge crowd and we want that to be the norm.

“It will be a huge positive for us if we can rediscover good home form.

“There’s an anticipation in the group. I don’t sense any apprehension.”