Last week’s dramatic win over Sunderland was undoubtedly a highlight of an inconsistent first season back at League One level. With our play-off hopes in the distinctly unrealistic realm of possibility, this upcoming clash with Bradford City is a chance to learn from our biggest failing this campaign – beating struggling teams at home – as thoughts begin to turn to next season.
Making any changes from a side that scored five goals at the Stadium of Light would be odd, although Mark Robins has hinted that one or two players have picked up knocks over the week in training – as ever, in an attempt to hide information from the opposition, the identities of those players have been withheld.
These final few fixtures are a change for the players who will be with us next year to make an impression ahead of pre-season. Most notably, Jordan Shipley now has a chance to nail down a starting spot in his preferred central midfield position with Tom Bayliss confirmed as out for the rest of the season. Of the senior players, Conor Chaplin will be another looking enhance his status in the squad with his performances between now and the end of the season.
The final weeks of the season may also be a chance for Mark Robins to blood one or two of the under-23s pushing towards the fringes of the first-team squad. David Bremang and Jack Burroughs are probably the prime candidates for at least a substitute appearance, although Bremang’s route to senior football may be blocked at the moment by the more senior Jordan Ponticelli.
Last Time We Met
Our last clash with Bradford City was the other time this season that we went goal crazy. Having won our past three games, confidence was sky-high and we eased into a two-goal lead via Jonson Clarke-Harris and a spectacular Conor Chaplin free-kick. Despite Bradford struggling at the bottom of the division, they rallied for the rest of the half and deservedly pulled a goal back in the second-half via Anthony O’Connor.
With Bradford threatening to pull themselves back into the game, a rapid counter-attack and finish from Jordy Hiwula appeared to kill-off that threat. As Tom Bayliss scored a carbon copy of his goal at Meadow Lane in the Play-Offs last season, the game really looked to be over. However, Bradford somehow mustered a further rally via their goalscoring centre-back Anthony O’Connor and looked to have clawed another goal back when George Miller bundled the ball into the back of the net, only for it to be disallowed for handball and Miller to be sent-off for a second bookable offence.
An uncomfortable comfortable away win.
Manager – Gary Bowyer
With Bradford City set for League Two football next season, former Blackburn and Blackpool boss Gary Bowyer has been brought in to turn a club around that has fallen into disarray under the influence of former co-owner Edin Rahic. From being a side that regularly competed for the play-offs at this level with packed-out home crowds, Rahic’s desire to be the main man saw a successful squad dismantled, managers driven away and resultantly saw home attendances decline.
With Rahic gone, Bowyer is set to be given free rein to rebuild the squad, replicating the job he did, under much more challenging circumstances, at Blackpool. A pragmatic manager, similar in approach to Mark Robins, Bowyer has had a habit through his career of identifying and polishing up rough diamonds and seems well-suited for the job at hand next season in League Two.
Who To Look Out For?
Despite the state of disarray that Bradford City have been in this season, they have operated with reportedly one of the bigger budgets in the division, as is evidenced by some of the outstanding individual talent there is in the squad.
Attacking midfielder Jack Payne is the outstanding individual in the squad. A mazy dribbler with a low centre of gravity, Payne’s ability to hold onto the ball in tight areas is almost unparalleled at this level. The problem so often this season has been in providing Payne with the adequate attacking support to reduce the burden of responsibility on his shoulders.
Elsewhere, Huddersfield Town loanee Lewis O’Brien has had a breakthrough season in central midfield. An enterprising presence who can carry the ball forward and distributes the ball well, O’Brien looks set to be given a chance with his parent club next season in the Championship. Two other former Huddersfield Town men in the flying winger Sean Scannell and playmaker Jacob Butterfield further add to the individual quality within Bradford’s squad.
The list could go on further with the experienced and reliable forwards Eoin Doyle and David Ball, as well as Hope Akpan in central midfield, and Richard O’Donnell in goal. It just further highlights how needless Bradford’s inevitable relegation this season has been, a manager with the smallest amount of nous would have had this squad at least in mid-table, probably pushing towards the play-offs.
Areas To Exploit?
A general lack of fight and defensive sloppiness has characterised Bradford’s season. Having appointed a rookie manager in Michael Collins over the summer, his replacement David Hopkin struggled to pick up the pieces left to him, leaving a demoralised squad for Gary Bowyer to work with. While Bradford have been more spirited under Bowyer, last week’s late defeat to Bristol Rovers underlined that there is a lot of work for Bowyer still to do.
If we can start this game proactively and score an early goal, this should be the kind of game we can control as Bradford’s thoughts turn to next season. With players fighting for places in Gary Bowyer’s plans next season, don’t be surprised if Bradford put up more of fight than would be expected of a side on the verge of relegation.