The third win in a row has tended to be an important landmark at this club in recent years. Russell Slade won one game in a row, Mark Venus won two games in a row, twice, Pressley and Robins three in a row, Tony Mowbray was the last to win four or more in a row. It’s the difference between getting lucky across a couple of games and being a side that can maintain focus allied with high performance levels over a sustained period.
A midweek away trip to Bradford City would normally be considered a huge acid test of a team’s credentials, instead, it’s looking like a big opportunity to string together that fourth win in a row and end a winless run at Valley Parade that stretches back all the way to the late 50’s. To do so, we’ll need to overcome the dual dangers of complacency and the reaction of a side desperate tos show something to their own fans after some alarming recent performances.
The main concern for Mark Robins in his team selection for this game will be how he manages the short turnaround from Saturday. In our last run of three games in seven days, after going toe-to-toe with Sunderland, we fell flat on the Tuesday night in losing to Portsmouth, then required a double second-half substitution in the following Saturday’s game against Charlton to play with any attacking impetus. With that in mind, Robins may well deviate slightly from the side that beat Southend.
While Jodi Jones is probably still too early into his recovery from injury to be started in this game, Amadou Bakayoko for Jonson Clarke-Harris looks the likeliest change, if any, to keep things fresh in attack. Robins could be tempted into starting Jordan Shipley on the left of midfield ahead of Jordy Hiwula just to keep things stable in the first 45-60 minutes and then exploit Hiwula’s pace against a tiring defence later on, but any further changes seem unnecessary.
Last Time We Met
It was Mark Robins’ first game back in charge of the club when we last took on Bradford. It would have taken a ludicrous run of form starting from that game to have salvaged safety, and with the Bantams chasing the play-offs, it was a routine away victory at the Ricoh Arena.
A five-minute period just after half-time secured the win for Bradford, with Alex Jones – a former trialist with the Sky Blues – pouncing from a corner and then, future Sky Blue, Jordy Hiwula calmly slotting in a deflection to seal the win.
How Are They Doing?
As alluded to earlier, Bradford City are enduring a nightmare season thus far. Having been on the fringes of the play-offs back in January, the Bantams have endured the worst Football League record of the 2018 calendar year. Now on their fourth manager since the turn of the year, the finger of blame is being pointed squarely at co-owner, Edin Rahic.
The German bought the club alongside businessman Stefan Rupp back in the summer of 2016, back when Bradford were the envy of many League One fans due to their low season ticket prices, excellent home atmosphere and consistent play-off challenges. Despite making the play-off final in his first season at the club, Rahic has derailed the momentum the club had built up in the years prior due to his influence on the recruitment strategy, gutting the experienced core of a successful side to bring in untested, mainly inexpensive, youngsters.
Rahic’s influence has come to the fore especially over the past summer, where the club took six weeks to replace Simon Grayson – who had left the club due to disagreements over recruitment policy – only to appoint an inexperienced youth-team coach in Michael Collins. Collins lasted just seven games into the season before being dismissed with just two wins to his name. Collins’ replacement, David Hopkin – who had led Livingston to back-to-back promotions into the Scottish Premiership – has fared little better, winning just one of his first 10 games in charge.
Despite their struggles, Bradford still have several players capable of punishing us if given the opportunity. Playmaker Jack Payne in particular is someone capable of winning games of his own at this level, while in Eoin Doyle, David Ball, George Miller and Alex Jones, Bradford have four very effective goalscorers at this level of football to call upon.
The problem has been a lack of continuity throughout much of the rest of the side. Injuries to Hope Akpan and Josh Wright in midfield have left them without identifiable central midfielders for large periods of this season – with free transfer signing Jim O’Brien being called upon to play there out of position, before he himself picked up an injury. There is a lack of pace at centre-back, despite the likes of Anthony O’Connor, Ryan McGowan and Nathaniel Knight-Percival being relatively proven performers at this level. While the rest of the squad is padded out largely with inexperienced young players that have been signed on the cheap.
Manager David Hopkin has attempted to instill the no-nonsense, back-to-basics principles that worked so well for him at Livingston, but the lack of leaders in this Bradford side, along with a lack of structure in the recruitment policy, has made his task all the more difficult.
A midweek away trip to a relegation-threatened side should be seen as a fairly routine victory if we have any ambitions of kicking on further from our position in mid-table. Win this game and it’s not only four wins in a row, but we should put ourselves within touching distance of the play-offs. This is a test of composure, at both ends of the pitch, mentality and consistency, if we can come out of this game with a win, it’s time to start getting a little bit excited about what we might do this season.
My tendency towards Gambler’s Fallacy makes me slightly nervous about tipping us for a win here. Call me a bottler, but I think we may just fall short of the fourth win in a row here, 1-1 draw.