Bradford City vs Walsall preview
@Tuesday 25 March, 2014
By Andrew Baxter
The mark of a good side is one that can grind out results in tight games, and turn draws into wins.
Of Bradford City’s 37 league games this season, just eight have been decided by two goals or more. So whilst they aren’t demolishing teams regularly, at the same time we are rarely outclassed.
Plenty of positives can be taken from the statistic that nearly 80% of City’s games this season have been decided by one goal or less. This fact proves that City have matched most teams in the league over 90 minutes, and that the transition from League Two to League One has not been overwhelming. Only Brentford, Wolves, and Notts County have won against the Bantams by two goals or more in the league. In contrast, City have won by two goals or more on five occasions this season, including the reverse fixture against Walsall, back in October.
With City 13th in the table, and nine games to play until the end of the season, it would take a minor miracle to see the Bantams go back down to League Two. With seven teams buffering City from the relegation zone, only a substantial streak of defeats, or an incredible run of form from at least three or four of the teams below us, will see City relegated.
Surely Phil Parkinson can have one eye on building towards next season, therefore, starting with securing those who are out of contract and worth keeping. The most obvious player who falls into this category is Stephen Darby. The 25-year-old has been in fine form all season, and his consistently high level of performances have surely warranted a contract extension. Darby has been one of the first names on the team sheet this season, starting every single game City have played – the only player to do so.
Only injury has seen the starting line-up change over the last few weeks, and it is likely that Parkinson will continue this pattern, naming a similar side to the one that lost 2-1 at Shrewsbury on Saturday, despite the lacklustre performance.
Jon McLaughlin will continue in net, with a back four of the ever-reliable Darby, Andrew Davies, Rory McArdle and Adam Drury in front of him. In midfield, Kyle Bennett, who has shown glimpses of his potential so far, will start on the right flank, with Matty Dolan and Gary Jones in central midfield, Jones coming in for the doubtful Nathan Doyle. Adam Reach, who has just signed a loan extension until 21 April, will start on the left flank. The partnership of James Hanson and Aaron Mclean, which looked so promising in the first half against Gillingham, will continue up front, despite Mclean suffering a knock on Saturday.
As for City’s opponents, their current league form does not reflect their recent poor form. Despite sitting in 9th, Walsall have not won since the end of January, when they thumped Notts County 5-1. Since that convincing victory, the Saddlers have not won in their last 10 games, and have slipped to eight points off the play-offs. If the league table was based on the last six games, Walsall would be 23rd, with only Notts County having a fewer tally of points over the last half a dozen games.
This statistic may be slightly unfortunate on Walsall, however. For example, during last Saturday’s draw at home to high-flying Leyton Orient, they led for nearly sixty minutes, and were only denied all three points through a Paul Downing own goal. With three consecutive draws, City’s opposition have been unable to find the winner, and as a result are drawing games that they should really be winning. Their run of form is very similar to City’s run during November and December, with good performances not being matched by good results.
There is certainly no lack of quality in the Walsall squad. Febian Brandy, for example, is on loan from Sheffield United, and looked very impressive when the Blades visited Valley Parade, before a hamstring injury cut short his game. Craig Westcarr certainly has plenty of experience in League One, with spells at Notts County and Chesterfield, and has a solid, if unspectacular, scoring record.
Dean Smith will go for either a 4-4-1-1 formation, or a 4-2-3-1 formation, having alternated between these formations in the last few games. Both are similar in shape, and depend mainly on the position of wingers Febian Brandy and Milan Lalkovic.
After the lacklustre performance on Saturday, Phil Parkinson’s men must prove the doubters wrong, and provide a strong finish to the season. Winning this game would be a step in the right direction, for team confidence and morale, and in winning back those who doubt the team.