Bradford City vs Oxford United match preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 10 March, 2012
By Luke Lockwood
After losing every game in November, Oxford have since been in outstanding form and only lost one game in the league since. For this reason a number of Bradford City fans have been discussing what a difficult task faces our players this coming Saturday. However, if we compare our league records since the 1st December we have only lost three games ourselves in this period.
In the 15 games since December 1st, Oxford have picked up 26 points, whereas City have 21 points from 14 games – an average of 1.5 points a game. After that final game of November, City were just two points above the relegation zone having played as many games as those around them; but now they are five points clear with games in hand on the majority of teams.
Ex-City man Chris Wilder and his Oxford side have rightly received a lot of praise for their results since the start of December but, despite having a similar record, Phil Parkinson and City continue to be criticised. The difference is that Oxford’s form has helped them climb into the play offs, while Bradford’s has only seen them climb four places away from relegation.
Parkinson’s reign at Bradford may have begun slowly, but he has gradually been building his own side and – although performances and results are not being produced consistently yet – patience amongst City fans may be the key this time.
One man who has had to be patient throughout his time at Bradford is Jon McLaughlin. Having been in and out of the side under Stuart McCall, Peter Taylor and Peter Jackson, he now appears to have established himself as City’s first choice.
Of course to begin with, he wasn’t fancied by Parkinson and Matt Duke was brought in as the experienced goalkeeper that he thought we required. But McLaughlin patiently waited for his chance and grasped it with both hands when it came. So much so, in fact, that the experienced Duke was no longer required and shipped out to our relegation rivals Northampton. McLaughlin makes his 22nd consecutive start in goal tomorrow.
In front of him three the same back four that faced Accrington will line up together again. The trio of Marcel Seip, Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver have firmly established themselves as Parkinson’s favoured options and Simon Ramsden – first choice right back – also returns.
Parkinson has spoken about wrapping Ramsden up in cotton wool to ensure he can firmly become regular starting right back, but patience amongst Bradford fans is beginning to wear thin with the perennially injured defender and many suggest we cut our losses and release him in the summer. However, when fit, he is undoubtedly one of the finest right backs in League Two and, although he has only started six games this season, City have kept clean sheets in three of those. To put this into perspective we have only managed six shut outs in the league all season!
We are undoubtedly a more solid unit with Ramsden in the side – and so his return tomorrow should be cheered – but we must also be patient and give him the time to build fitness, so he can be called upon more regularly.
While the back four picks itself when fit, the midfield is constantly chopped and changed to try and find the right balance. Since Ricky Ravenhill’s arrival he has forged an impressive partnership with Ritchie Jones, but something still seems to be missing. Jones was harshly dropped against Accrington but his replacement Lee Bullock came in and as usual didn’t let anybody down. He also created the goal with, ironically enough, a Jones-style pass.
Ravenhill meanwhile picked up booking number 10 of the season and will miss the next two games, opening the door again for Jones or even the returning club captain Michael Flynn as Bullock’s partner. However, despite all four being tremendous players, any pairing of Jones, Bullock, Flynn or Ravenhill would still miss that something extra.
That something extra could be David Syers, who is back in contention for Saturday and – following such a stop start season – he has had to show more patience than most. What Syers offers that our other four central midfielders don’t is the ability to make runs beyond the forwards and into the box, creating an extra goal threat. In his eight games this season, he has scored as many goals as Ravenhill, Jones and Bullock have scored in their combined 55 games.
Syers may not be risked from the start on Saturday, but to see him back in the match day squad will delight every Bradford fan.
Although it may be difficult to choose Bradford’s best midfield pairing this season, in the long-term Syers and Jones – aged 24 and 25 respectively – must be the club’s long-term vision. Unless our two most saleable assets are poached by someone above.
We have tried a few wingers this season and the majority have done enough to test anyone’s patience – which was certainly the case on Tuesday night with Will Atkinson. In the first half he showed the talent he possessed, a good touch, ability to run with the ball and good vision; but in the second half he was anonymous. I was slightly disappointed not to see him withdrawn from the game and would be even more upset if he retained his place this weekend.
We have extended the loan of Andy Haworth to give him the chance to prove himself worthy of a deal for next season, but Parkinson is yet to give him that opportunity. Haworth may have to continue to wait for his chance as he competes with Atkinson and Craig Fagan to play on the opposite side to Kyel Reid.
With James Hanson back in contention and perhaps Fagan available too, you’d be are as likely to predict Parkinson’s front line by picking names out of a hat. Hanson/Fagan/Wells and if he goes with one up front and another in the hole that Syers, Bullock and Flynn have all featured in over recent weeks. Nahki Wells scored on Tuesday and Deane Smalley – ineligible to play tomorrow against his former club – was a contender for man of the match; but Hanson is the club’s top scorer and Fagan was just reaching his finest form before the recent injury set back.
The one man you have to feel most sympathy for is Ross Hannah, another cameo appearance on Tuesday produced glimpses that he could be a goalscorer at league level if given the opportunity. He made clever runs into threatening position in the box and on one occasion he showed composure to beat a defender in box only to receive what looked like a foul; the referee disagreed.
Unfortunately with the options available Ross is likely to once again drop out of the squad altogether, while cursing the rule change that reduced substitutes from seven to five. Ross also needs to continue to be patient and wait for his chance to come. If he continues to work hard and score goals whenever given a run out in the reserves, then soon he has to be given the opportunity.
Hopefully the current side will reach safety with a few games to spare and Hannah will get the chance to feature in the last few games without the pressure of a relegation fight.
Once again Saturday’s side will not only be performing to help Bradford reach safety but they will also be auditioning to show their capabilities to feature in next season’s show. In a season that was supposed to be about developing for the long-term but – out of necessity – ended up concentrating on the short-term, Parkinson appears to have found a basis to build for the future.
What he needs of us as fans is our patience to give him time to find the answers. For the first time in a number of seasons, we could enter the summer without having to overhaul our squad. Yes we will unfortunately lose and have to replace Davies. We will also need to find another winger and hopefully that elusive, prolific goalscorer – but otherwise the basis of a strong side is there.
Therefore, as long as there is a steady improvement – even if it is just to secure, mid-table football – I will wait patiently to see Parkinson hopefully improve us even more the season after.