How good things could be as Bradford City face Wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon vs Bradford City match preview

Tuesday 13 March, 2012

A win for Bradford City in South London this evening, and the points gap to the bottom two could stretch into double figures for the first time all season. What’s more, the Bantams would still have a game in hand on every team in the current bottom half of the division, bar two. A huge incentive tonight then, to not only pull further clear of relegation danger – but to climb up the table.

Victory would lift City above tonight’s hosts and also above 16th-placed Bristol Rovers on goal difference, with the overall points tally moving into the 40s. Since City dropped into League Two in 2007, the highest total that a team has been relegated to non-league on was the 47 Lincoln accrued last season.

So many of the division’s bottom clubs have been in great form over recent weeks, suggesting a 50-point total might be required to remain in this division for next season. City are creeping closer to that target, but with 12 games to go now should be the time to push on rather than start to relax. A finish in the upper section of the bottom half of the table would be a solid achievement in view of where we were pre-Christmas.

Wimbledon, like City, go into this evening’s game on the back of a 2-1 home success. But that victory over Dagenham was their first in seven matches and – since impressively defeating the Bantams 2-1 at Valley Parade back in September, where they looked strong promotion candidates – they have won just six league games. If City are a side on the right path to getting out of the relegation battle, the Dons are a team who could yet be sucked in.

Momentum – and maintaining it – is the key. Performance-wise, City have played well in recent weeks against Torquay, Hereford, Barnet, Accrington and Oxford on Saturday, with just the Port Vale and Dagenham displays falling below acceptable standards. Since the turn of the year, City displays have merited more than the results achieved; but if the players can continue in the same vein with a few improvements here and there, wins should begin to occur more often – especially with big players back.

James Hanson is one who has been badly missed since getting injured against Port Vale in mid-February. His return to action, from the bench, on Saturday saw him score within 10 minutes and lead the line superbly. As usual, the occasional mis-directed header brought around moans of how rubbish he is from a minority of supporters; but over the last six months, City’s top scorer has clearly won over a lot of doubters and is a key player for the club.

Hanson will probably start this evening alongside the in-form Nahki Wells, and the pair were forming a promising partnership in December and January. It does, however, dictate a slight change of tactical approach, as the ‘hole’ position that neither Wells or Hanson are suited to is dropped for two up front. Despite its critics, 4-4-1-1 has worked well in regards to allowing wingers to get forward more. Craig Fagan played the hole on Saturday as impressively as anyone who has given it a go. If fit enough for two games a week, Fagan will be moved to right midfield and asked to tuck inside, in place of the continually under-achieving Will Atkinson. Deane Smalley is also back in contention.

In midfield, Phil Parkinson is boosted by the return of Michael Flynn from an injury picked up at Barnet two weeks ago, and though Ricky Ravenhill completes a two-match ban the City manager has a number of options in the centre to give him a headache or two.

Ritchie Jones and Lee Bullock were outstanding on Saturday, while David Syers came off the bench and is looking to stay fit enough to finally get a run in the side. He was asked to play wide right against Oxford when he came on, which didn’t suit his game; so Parkinson is left with the dilemma of bringing in Syers or Flynn in the centre, or leaving in place the Jones/Bullock combination that worked so well on Saturday. Kyel Reid continues on the left.

Defence also has another option, with Simon Ramsden not risked against Oxford but ready to go again tonight. Rob Kozluk has struggled for form in recent weeks – dependable, but he is no Ramsden – so leaving out the veteran right back should be an easy decision. Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies and Marcel Seip pick themselves. Jon McLaughlin carries on in goal despite a mixed afternoon on Saturday.

Tonight is number eight of a sequence of 15 matches in eight weeks. So far, the strain of so many games in quick succession has been handled reasonably well by Parkinson and his squad. Ordinarily a performance like on Saturday would dictate that no changes should be made for the next game, but with three big players back in contention and the need to keep things fresh with another tough game at the weekend, tinkering is justified and could deliver further improvement.

Bottom club Dagenham & Redbridge’s game with third-bottom Northampton Town aside, no other team in the bottom seven is in action tonight. A slip up at Wimbledon therefore wouldn’t be the end of the world – but knowing that winning would be such a huge step towards surviving relegation means tonight is not the time to slip back into a low gear.

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