Bradford City vs Crawley Town preview
@Valley Parade on Tuesday 27 March, 2012
Pertinent points were made by Phil Parkinson, via BBC Radio Leeds, in the immediate aftermath of Bradford City’s nervy draw with Gillingham, about the team’s character – which offer greater reason to feel optimistic about tonight’s game with Crawley, and the run-in.
At 2-0 down, we’ve seen numerous City teams over recent years throw up the white flag and play out the remainder of the game, accepting defeat. Parkinson talked about how keen the players were to make up for Simon Ramsden’s mistake in scoring an own goal, and the spirit on evidence in coming back suggests this team has the composure and mental ability to preserve City’s place in League Two.
Parkinson has built a team full of experience, evidenced by the XI which started the game. Only Jon McLaughlin, Simon Ramsden and James Hanson have not played at a higher level than League Two – six of the 11 have performed in the Championship or higher. The ability to cope with, rather than buckle under, an expectant crowd and pressure situations could prove a key factor over the coming weeks. Compare the experience now with that in the ranks when City were relegated from League One in 2007, and there is confidence in the higher number of leaders willing to put their bodies on the line this time around.
Over the last few months, the team has proven that it can cope with the pressure and get results when it really matters, and this has to be continued this evening where a confident Crawley Town side visit Valley Parade on the back of three straight wins; looking to take a step closer to earning a second straight promotion. The Red Devils sit 4th and three points off the automatic promotion spots – tonight is one of their two games in hand. A huge incentive for them to complete a league double over the Bantams.
But there is a big incentive too for City to keep going, and to win their game in hand on the majority of their relegation rivals. Free-falling Burton – who, along with Northampton, we could overtake tonight with a win – are the only other relegation rival in action tonight. A defeat therefore wouldn’t see the plight get any worse, but a win would be a mighty giant leap towards safety.
Including tonight, in each of City’s eight-game run in they face opposition with either promotion or relegation matters to play for. At this time of the year, a mid-table side seeing out the season would arguably be a far better bet to play against; but Aldershot were the last such side that we will face this campaign. Every game matters for the opposition and, for the moment, every game matters for City.
Character is therefore going to be a huge factor in how the run in is approached. Parkinson has opted for experience in all areas of the team, with the arrival of Chris Dagnall to take Nahki Wells’ place over the past three matches a further sign that he is less trusting of rawness right now. Nevertheless, the spark that triggered Saturday’s revival came from the introduction of the less experienced David Syers and Wells from the bench, as much as senior players like Lee Bullock, Kyel Reid and Craig Fagan. There is an expectation on Parkinson that he needs to find a starting berth for the pair this evening.
Realistically we will see one of the two tonight, and no more. Parkinson could elect to remove the shackles slightly – in view of the way the team ended the game on Saturday – by bringing in Syers for Ricky Ravenhill. The latter has looked very pedestrian over the last two matches, not contributing enough to the team. His early departure from the field against Gillingham saw Bullock relish the extra responsibility, and so one would expect Parkinson’s current captain to kick his heels on the bench tonight with Bullock asked to pull the strings.
So that would see Syers – if fit for 90 minutes – re-introduced. Or it could mean Michael Flynn or Ritchie Jones – who made it onto the pitch after the final whistle on Saturday to do some running – are recalled. But there is also the question over what to do about Wells.
Dagnall impressed most people on Saturday, but his partnership with Hanson did not click and the arrival of Wells saw a much better functioning strike pairing, with Dagnall playing behind the two. So…what about starting the game with all three? Bullock holding midfielder, Dagnall in the hole and Hanson and Wells up front? It would be a very brave attacking move. One doubts it would fit in with Parkinson’s conservative principles.
Much may depend on the availability of Reid, who waits for his girlfriend to go into labour back in London. It is hard to imagine Parkinson would contemplate Dagnall in the hole and two out and out attacking wingers, but if Reid is unavailable he might take the gamble of three up front and play Syers/Flynn/Jones in a wide midfield berth. Unlike Reid, Fagan is capable of playing more central in a midfield three. But his recent performances higher up the pitch makes going with two out and out wingers – and therefore Wells on the bench again, with four in midfield – a more likely option.
So there is much to contemplate with the front six positions, but defensively things are relatively more settled. Matt Fry has come in at left back for the injured Marcel Seip and looked good at Crewe, but less solid and wasteful in possession on Saturday. Ramsden’s own goal lead to his substitution, so City could go 3-4-3, but he should retain his starting spot tonight. McLaughlin, Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver are amongst the first names on the team sheet.
A big night for City. The home crowd will stay behind the players, recognising the obvious difficulties that Crawley pose. But although the visitors have been in good form of late, they look less invincible than they did a couple of months back – when this fixture was originally scheduled to be played. Good players have been sold; and although decent replacements have been recruited, Crawley have suffered a few defeats over recent weeks.
They represent a big test of City’s 11-match unbeaten home record, but this season Valley Parade is not proving to be a happy hunting ground for teams aspiring to earn promotion out of League Two. Time for that character to shine again.