BRADFORD (Park Avenue) midfielder Harrison Hopper took a gamble to stay at the club last summer, believing they had a real chance of reaching the Northern Premier League Premier Division play-offs.

But his decision to turn down the interest of a number of National League North clubs appears to have backfired horribly, with Avenue tumbling into the eighth tier of English football last Saturday after suffering a second successive relegation.

The former York City midfielder said: “It’s been an awful, awful season.

“I had some offers from National League North clubs after we were relegated from the division, but I wanted to stay here under Bows and Bosh (former manager Mark Bower and his assistant Danny Boshell), and alongside the great lads in the dressing room.

“I felt we could challenge for the play-offs, and we looked okay at the start of the season.

“But we’ve had so many injuries since then, including to myself, and that’s killed us.

“Ever since the new gaffer (Danny Whitaker) came in in December, I felt the squad he put together had enough quality to stay up, but we’ve paid for not being able to defend leads or set-pieces.”

Expanding on that last point, Hopper said: “A lot of this league comes down to how you defend your own box.

“You see how a lot of the top teams make it hard work for their opponents to get through (five of the top six have conceded less than 50 goals this season, compared to Avenue’s 80) and if we could defend set-pieces and leads, I’m sure I’d be talking to you now about something else, not relegation.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Edy Maieco fired Bradford (Park Avenue) into a 2-0 lead at home to leaders Radcliffe on Easter Monday, only for the away side to hit back and win 3-2.Edy Maieco fired Bradford (Park Avenue) into a 2-0 lead at home to leaders Radcliffe on Easter Monday, only for the away side to hit back and win 3-2. (Image: John Rhodes.)

“I’m still only 23 too, yet I’m one of the most experienced players at the club, and that’s probably not helped us either (a lack of senior figures and leaders).”

Discussing how Avenue raise themselves for a dispiriting final-day trip to Matlock Town this afternoon, with nothing to play for, Hopper said: “We need to put in a performance for ourselves and our fans.

“The supporters have backed us and we as players have talked about how we want to give them something to cheer about at Matlock after what’s been a poor season.”

Hopper is hopeful for the club’s future, despite this second successive relegation, saying: “I think the gaffer and (sporting director) Tom (McStravick) have put plans in place for a rebuild next season.

“I’m sure the club will do well, it’s just about getting the right players in and Danny will get a proper pre-season with the group.”

As for Hopper, whose contract runs out at the end of the season, will he be involved in Avenue’s attempts to bounce back up?

The coy midfielder simply told the T&A: “I’ve not thought about next season.

“I’ve obviously got the ambition to play as high up the football pyramid as I can, but I’ve just been focused on this week’s game for now and concentrating on that.”