All week long I was dreading the prospect of Bradford City losing to Plymouth Argyle – as it seemed as though a loss in Devon would see the sky fall in on Valley Parade and our chances of staying up in huge doubt. But while there is no denying the defeat which did occur is a huge set back, results elsewhere were generally kind.
City (40 points) stay four points clear of second bottom Macclesfield (36) and five ahead of bottom club Hereford (35). And, as much as Phil Parkinson is criticised and there are some serious, serious questions that are going to have to be aired about the way the club has operated this season, we will all take ending the campaign four points clear of the bottom two. We need to maintain that gap, or at least not allow it to be fully eroded, and that is a better position to be in than needing to bridge a deficit.
In fact the four point advantage is effectively five, given City’s superior goal difference – by far the best of the bottom six clubs. In the final six games, it means Macclesfield and Hereford have to pick up five and six more points respectively than the Bantams, in order to finish above us. Macclesfield have not won a game since New Years Eve – 19 matches; Hereford only one in 14. And just above those two, Barnet (on 39 points) have not tasted victory for 13 games.
For how bad City’s form has been – and it has been bad – these three teams at least offer hope that any Bantams’ improvement over the next few games will prove good enough to ensure we are not overtaken.
That said, we are set for a very fraught final few weeks…
Barnet face Swindon.
Leaders Swindon have endured up and down form of late, but know a win at Underhill will place them five points clear having played a game fewer. Whatever the result, after this game only Northampton of the seven relegation rivals will have a game in hand on the rest.
City entertain Southend, while Barnet travel to Cheltenham, Dagenham entertain free-falling Burton, Macclesfield play Shrewsbury and Northampton face Oxford. Hereford and Plymouth square up in a six-pointer.
Southend’s away record of 12 wins, 1 draw and 7 defeats suggests a home game against the play off chasers is more winnable for City than it might appear. A sentiment that Barnet might share, given their hosts Cheltenham have been in very poor form of late and are in danger of missing the play offs. For City, it is better Plymouth beat Hereford or draw than the Bulls win.
Whatever City’s result, that Macclesfield and Northampton’s fixtures are evening kick offs means it could be a nervy day following events, long after the final whistle at Valley Parade.
Not an afternoon to expect too many wins from the bottom seven clubs. Shrewsbury play host to the Bantams, while Barnet face an equally tough game at home to Crawley, Dagenham are at Gillingham and Northampton travel to Swindon. Macclesfield might fancy their chances at Port Vale, while Plymouth welcome an Aldershot side which have an outside play off chance.
Shrewsbury are unbeaten at home for over a year, while City have lost five successive away games without scoring a goal. Logic dictates this is going to be a damage limitation afternoon, though the Bantams have taken points from the backyards of four of the current top seven – having visited only five of them so far.
Macclesfield will be the team to take most note of on this Bank Holiday, as any points they gain against Vale – while others, including City, face such difficult games – could prove significant to their hopes.
Friday 13 April
Barnet play Hereford at Underhill.
This could be huge. Yikes.
Saturday 14 April
City travel to Northampton on a pivotal afternoon, given Friday’s fixture and the fact Dagenham (Aldershot away), Macclesfield (Crewe home) and Plymouth (Swindon away) face tricky games.
Northampton and Dagenham have been the two form teams of the bottom seven during the past few weeks. After the Plymouth result and in view of how difficult Easter will prove, it could be vital City take a point if not all three from this game – which means the return of Jon McLaughlin and Luke Oliver from suspension might prove huge. The bottom two may look a little too close behind us for comfort prior to kick off, but hopefully there will be more of a gap at full time.
Tuesday 17 April
Northampton’s game in hand…at Crawley.
In truth it seems as though Northampton – currently six points clear of danger, after drawing with in-form Crewe on Saturday – have enough about them to avoid going down. So in a similar way to how City’s recent game with Crawley was built up, it might be a night the Cobblers can afford to lose.
Friday 20 April
Barnet travel to Southend.
City’s win at Roots Hall last December was one of five home defeats Southend have endured, so it’s not impossible to envisage a Bees victory.
Saturday 21 April
City entertain Macclesfield in a vital game, while Dagenham (Crawley) and Plymouth (Oxford) entertain promotion challengers. Hereford welcome Northampton too, but Valley Parade will probably be host to the day’s true six-pointer.
There is increasing talk that the Macclesfield game will determine City’s season and – with two difficult final fixtures after – it’s easy to see why. Yet if City come into this game still carrying a four point advantage over the Silkmen and Hereford, a draw might be acceptable if it maintains the gap. That said, a win and City could be virtually safe – depending on what return they took from Sixfields.
Saturday 28 April
Cheltenham welcome City on an afternoon you’d expect relegation rivals to pick up points. Barnet are home to mid-table AFC Wimbledon, Macclesfield host Burton Albion, while Plymouth face a trip to Morecambe. More encouragingly, Hereford travel to Crawley, Northampton are home to Gillingham and Dagenham are at Shrewsbury.
If City (who would welcome back Andrew Davies, at last, from suspension) go into this game only one or two points above either Barnet or Macclesfield we will need to be very afraid, as defeat at Waddon Road could see the Bantams slip into the bottom two on the penultimate weekend of the season. Expect this to be an afternoon of mixed results, which may not be pretty.
Saturday 5 May – final day
Swindon are at Valley Parade for what could easily be their Championship party, while Hereford (Torquay home), Macclesfield (Southend away) and Plymouth (Cheltenham home) face fixtures which could prove just as tough if their opponents still have promotion hopes to play for. In contrast Barnet (away to Burton), Dagenham (home to Bristol Rovers) and Northampton (away to Rotherham) face fixtures you’d prefer if you need a result on the final day of the season…
…but Swindon home is the last game you’d pick. If Swindon need points on the final day to confirm promotion or the title…well let’s just hope City don’t need to win. That said, if Hereford and Macclesfield are still below us, they face just as tough a task. Barnet would fancy their chances of getting out of it by facing Burton, while the other teams will probably already be safe by this point.
So, squeaky bum time then…
City’s prospects – and that of their relegation rivals faltering – over the final few weeks look either good or bad depending on how full you consider your glass to be. But there is no doubt that the situation remains in our hands and there are winnable fixtures to be played out.
Easter looks important for City in at least picking up one point from two tough fixtures, in view of the back-to-back games against relegation rivals which then follow. The sooner City next get a win (assuming they win again), the better the picture is going to start to look.
The three home games are also vital. City may have lost at Valley Parade to Crawley recently, but were unbeaten in 11 before that – which shows we are a tough nut to crack on our own turf. So if the players could win one and draw the other two, that would be five more points – taking City onto 45 – before we consider the away matches.
- That 45 total would be 10 points more than Hereford have right now – meaning that the Bulls (don’t forget one win in 14) would need to win three and draw two of their last six games to overtake us.
- It’s nine points more than Macclesfield currently have and – assuming City beat the Silkmen to get that one win from the three home games – they would need to win three and draw one of their other five remaining games to climb above us. And not only are Macclesfield winless in 19, they have only won once since they defeated us last October.
So clearly, if City can go on a three match unbeaten run at home (see our home record, it’s possible), winning at least one of them, that should be enough. No matter what happens in the three away games.
Perhaps most of all though – with three of Swindon’s final eight games against our relegation rivals and the fear they might rock up to Valley Parade on the final day needing to get a result – we should all become Swindon fans over the next few weeks and hope they get the title sewn up as quicky as possible.