At least we put an end to the winless run, we’re still likely to finish woefully short of where we should have after an excellent start but it was just nice to see us win again. The red card undoubtedly helped us but it still took plenty of commitment and desire to eventually force the result against a resolute Millwall side.
Tony Mowbray had the right idea in attempting to stretch the play against Millwall’s ten men, only it meant that we were forced into crossing situations where we had neither the crossing ability to put in telling deliveries nor the players to actually head the crosses in. John Fleck‘s stunning equalising goal, was just reward for displaying the endeavour to pen Millwall back, even if the application to match the ideas and effort wasn’t quite there.
Fleck’s performance was a reminder just what we’ll be missing when he moves onto pastures new in the summer. Not only did he score a wonder-goal and have a big hand in the winning goal but he simply took control of the game. The caveat is that his influence was exerted against ten men who weren’t putting pressure on him but it still showed great character to orchestrate the proceedings.
This Tuesday night fixture against a Bradford side with still an outside chance of automatic promotion, and likely to last the 90 minutes with 11 men, is going to be a stern test of both the mentality of this side and its organisation. If we defend set-pieces as poorly as we did against Millwall, we’re not going to get the chance to make up for it at the other end against one of the division’s best defences.
I’ve got no idea what Tony Mowbray’s thinking is going to be heading into this game. I still think he got the starting 11 wrong against Millwall, playing Romain Vincelot in an attacking role meant moving Joe Cole to the wing and leaving us without any real penetration to assist Adam Armstrong up front. If Cole starts again, I would like to see him in his more influential central role and with three players ahead of him of genuine pace and movement. We should look to play to our strengths rather than attempting to match a successful robust League One side for physicality.
Last Time We Met
In a sense, our last meeting with Bradford was one of our more disappointing results of the season, even if we didn’t actually lose the game. Hot off the back of that handsome win over Gillingham, Tony Mowbray decided to completely disrupt a winning team, far too cautious in his attempts to rest players. In a common theme of our mid-week matches this season, the approach was self-preservation rather than momentum-building. A flat performance until the late introduction of Ryan Kent began a run of poor results characterised by defensive errors that saw us fall off the pace at the top of the division.
How Are They Doing?
Talking of flat, that was how Bradford’s season was panning out until the last couple of months. Having been expected to challenge for promotion this season, partially down to having one of the better squads and managers, partially down to an incredible season ticket sales drive of around 18,000, Bradford started the season slowly and struggled for goals even as they picked up a little.
Manager Phil Parkinson’s effective, uncomplicated gameplan has eventually come good as the season has wore on. The Bantams have won four of their past five games, and were unlucky not to beat a Shrewsbury side who scored a late equaliser with their only chance of the game on Saturday. That ability to win games in the season’s final stages has turned a season that threatened a late play-off push at best into one where they still have an outside chance of automatic promotion.
Undoubtedly, Bradford’s strength this season has been their rock solid defence, marshalled by the impressive West Ham loanee Reece Burke. They have the joint-second best defensive record in the division, but since Burke’s arrival at the end of August, they actually have the joint-best. Burke not only is an impressive, dominant centre-back but his performances have coincided with improvements in his defensive partner Nathan Clarke and goalkeeper Ben Williams who have excelled this season.
A key move in the transfer market in January has given Bradford an extra element in attack that they lacked earlier on. It seemed a strange move to have exchanged Devante Cole, who started the season in impressive form and looked to be a player of great potential, for Fleetwood’s Jamie Proctor, who had struggled for goals for much of his career, yet it’s proven to be an inspired decision. Proctor has been a more mobile target-man than James Hanson which has made Bradford that bit tougher to defend against. Devante Cole meanwhile is yet to score in 11 appearances for Fleetwood.
Proctor though is a doubt to start this game, which would give our perennial thorn in our side James Hanson the chance to stake a claim in the side again for Bradford’s final promotion push. With the skill of Billy Clarke in support, the pace of Kyel Reid on the left wing and the deliveries of Tony McMahon on the right, whoever starts in that target-man role for Bradford is going to have plenty of quality in their service.
Mathematically, we can still make the play-offs despite having won just four of our last 24 games. It would require us not only to win all our remaining games, we’ve only won four of our last 24 games, and collapses in form from at least three teams above us in the table to happen. Anything is just about possible still, but we’ve only won four games from our last 24.
Bradford are a big, physical side in form and with something conceivably attainable to play for, you just can’t look at this game as an opportunity to build a late play-off push. I would love to be proved wrong here but I just don’t think we’re equipped to win this game. A 1-0 defeat and the last ember of our play-off hopes extinguished for those who still commendably have belief.