The short journey is over, now it’s back to the long haul

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Bradford City vs Dagenham & Redbridge preview

@Valley Parade on Wednesday 27 February, 2013

By Gareth Walker

So, after our epic journey, we are back home on Wednesday night. Back down to earth with a bump, back to reality, back to the bread and butter. Throw any other cliché at it that you can muster as Dagenham & Redbridge visit Valley Parade.

The memories of last weekend and of the whole cup run will stay with us forever, we must treasure them. Will it ever happen again? Many people doubt it. One thing is for certain, if we are to stand any chance of even getting close to that feat again, we need to get out of the fourth tier. And so the focus shifts back to the league regardless of whether it should ever have shifted away from that in the first place.

Whether or not we can get out of this division this season is another debate that seems to be splitting supporters right down the middle. From the negative on one side who say that we have left ourselves far too much to do, to the positive on the other who can see the potential in this side to put a late run together. There are statistics to support both arguments.

The last time that we made the Play Offs in 1996, many considered us to have made a brilliant late run. With 15 games to go in that season, we were actually four points better off than we are now and we managed to win nine out of those 15 games. Some would argue that results with that type of consistency are beyond the current team on recent showings.

Our form since Boxing Day has been nothing short of shocking, surely due in part at least to the distractions of the cup final that are now out of the way. We have only won once in the league since that victory against Accrington, a run that has seen us lose to strugglers Barnet and AFC Wimbledon.

Performances haven’t been great either, barring the second half at Fleetwood where we were considerably unlucky and the 3-0 victory at Wycombe. We have seen some of the old Bradford City failings rearing their ugly head again – failings that we hadn’t previously seen from Phil Parkinson’s team. The failure to close the game out before switching off and throwing it away at Wimbledon is just one.

What is equally concerning however, is the form and general demeanour of our main goal threat Nahki Wells. His performance in the league game against Gillingham drew widespread criticism from some quarters as he appeared to be holding back with the cup final on the horizon, and he was subsequently removed from the team up until the Big Day. Sadly, on his chance on Sunday, his performance wasn’t much better and the mystery as to what is going on in his head is one that Parkinson will have to solve if we are to be successful.

In the last three seasons, the team finishing in seventh position in League Two has amassed the following point totals: 72, 68, 72, 69, 78: an average of 71.8. On our season’s form so far we would finish on 66 points, and that wouldn’t be enough.

However, there are reasons to be positive. Wycombe, the opposition when we put in our most accomplished recent performance were at the time on a run that included nine wins in just 14 games, and they were right down at the bottom of the league staring at the relegation places when that run began.

Secondly, although our recent form would suggest that 28 points from 15 games is unlikely, it is worth pointing out that after the Gillingham defeat on the opening day of the season, we went on a run in which we gained 28 points from 16 league games. This run also included the totally unjust 1-0 home defeat to Port Vale. Maybe paying them back down at Vale Park a week on Tuesday can be part of our resurgence.

A final point of encouragement for us Bantams is the run that Crewe Alexandra went on last season. They were further of the pace at this stage than we are now and finished the season with such a flurry that they ended up blowing the other play off contenders away and now sit comfortably in midtable in League One. It can be done.

If we are to mount a challenge for the top seven then we need to make our move quickly. The next five games after Dagenham include York, Aldershot and Plymouth. These surely come in the must win category considering that our last three games are against fellow contenders Rotherham, Burton and Cheltenham. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to turn these final three contests into mini cup finals, especially considering that two of them are at Valley Parade?

Dagenham go into tomorrow sitting nicely in lower mid table and with a good record against us, although they  have lost their long serving manager, and one time City target, John Still to Conference side Luton Town. They have also only won once in their last six games.

City will have Jon McLauglin in goal following Matt Duke’s harsh dismissal in Sunday’s Showpiece. Andrew Davies also impressed as a substitute and his first appearance at VP for four months would provide us with a huge boost. Other changes are also likely with Michael Nelson pushing for a recall and either Zavon Hines or Kyel Reid likely to get the nod, maybe in place of Garry Thompson.

One thing that the nation noticed at the weekend was the magnificent backing that we gave to our team. It would be nice if some of the non-regulars who made the journey to Wembley would now consider making the shorter journey to Valley Parade on a more regular basis.

It is only ten years since our cup final conquerors Swansea City were almost relegated out of the Football League. That club and its fans have been on a tremendous journey and now play some of the best football in the country. They should be an inspiration to everybody

Keep your heads held high fellow Bantams, and let’s all pull together to use the weekend as a springboard to go on to bigger and better things.  The long haul may only just be beginning.

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