City face difficult away trip with the pressure eased

Shrewsbury Town vs Bradford City match preview

@New Meadow on Monday 9 April, 2012

Tuesday 1 March 2011; former Bradford City midfielder Steven Schumacher has just hit a stunning free kick from 30 yards out that flew into the top corner, to confirm a 3-0 victory for his Bury side at New Meadow.

That was the last time Shrewsbury Town were beaten in the league on their own patch. Since that evening 13 months ago, the Shrews have picked up 59 points from a possible 75 at home. For the Bantams – who travel to Shropshire tomorrow – a recent run of five straight away defeats without scoring a single goal suggests they have little chance of ending their hosts’ 25-match home unbeaten record.

But after the crucial win over Southend United, victory tomorrow is not as important as it might have seemed had City lost on Good Friday to remain in deep relegation trouble. While City soared, only Northampton from the bottom seven clubs managed to win too, and the seven-point cushion over the bottom two which has been re-established means the burden to win is not as great as it was.

No one wants to see a sixth consecutive City away defeat tomorrow; but effectively we have a free hand tomorrow where any points picked up are a bonus.

Tomorrow is also the last game that City have to make do without two of the disgraced Crawley trio, who have been suspended for three matches. Jon McLaughlin and Luke Oliver will be available for selection next Saturday, meaning some pressure tomorrow on the two players who have taken their spots – in making sure they impress again enough to retain their places.

After losing to Plymouth in the first game after the Crawley suspensions kicked in, you began to fear the losses of McLaughlin, Oliver and Andrew Davies would be looked back on with huge regret as a pivotal moment in the relegation run in. But those who have come in have done well and helped the team pick up points. And now there looks set to be some genuine selection dilemmas for Phil Parkinson, as he seeks to make sure City inch over the line of mathematical safety over the next few weeks.

Matt Duke has let no one down in the two games he has played since returning from a successful loan spell at Northampton. Though he had little to do against Southend, there was a confidence and composure evident in his performance that had been lacking when he joined the club last September. McLaughlin ended up taking his place last November, but unless Duke drops some clangers tomorrow it would be very tough to drop ahead of his quick return to Northampton next Saturday.

Guy Branston too has impressed greatly, with the queue of admirers most importantly including Parkinson – who has said some very complimentary things about the defender. It was obvious to everyone that Parkinson did not see Branston a part of his plans, and he could easily have left the club by now. But the 33-year-old got his head down and worked hard, in order to take advantage of circumstances to impress again.

Two strong performances may not change Parkinson’s original thinking on Branston beyond the current selection issues; but if he continues to play so well, it will become increasingly hard for the manager to drop him back to the reserves and open that door for him to leave the club during the summer. Branston was outstanding on Friday and, if he maintains that form tomorrow, Oliver should be returning to the side on Saturday to partner him rather than replace.

That is a talking point for next week, and in the meantime Duke and Branston continue in a Bantams defence which kept a first clean sheet in over a month on Friday. Unless Matt Fry is fit again to play, expect to see an unchanged back five featuring Simon Ramsden, Lee Bullock and Rob Kozluk.

In midfield Kyel Reid could be recalled to the first XI after a minor injury problem and the miracle of birth caused him to start the last two games from the bench. Reid has been receiving great receptions from City fans of late and is becoming a big favourite with a crowd traditionally quick in criticising wide players.

If Ricky Ravenhill or Ritchie Jones are not fit to start tomorrow – both hobbled off injured on Friday – Reid’s return on the left will enable Michael Flynn to return to a more central role. David Syers – for whom the season just can’t get going for a variety of reasons – may also be restored to the starting line up. Craig Fagan did a great job on the right and quietly has a strong influence on his team mates.

Up front, Parkinson’s decision to restore the James Hanson/Nahki Wells partnership on Friday went superbly. Chris Dagnall is a good player and a realistic summer transfer target, but right now he does not click with Hanson to the same degree – and Wells deserves to start ahead of him. There has been talk of Wells attracting interest from higher level clubs, and it’s easy to see why. But personally I think that, at this stage of his development, he should be looking to stay at City next season rather than move on to a club where he would be unlikely to get near their first team for a while.

It will be interesting to see if the Bantams are tested with a transfer offer for Wells during the summer, but hopefully he will remain at Valley Parade and continue a progression that looks set to lead to a successful career.

While City were defeating Southend on Friday, Crawley were dropping points again and a frustrated Steve Evans attacked the Bantams via local radio regarding the brawl. He said: “it’s interesting…we put our hands up, we fine players, we discipline players, we say publically we’re not happy with this, the owners and the board have been fantastic – and the culprits say nothing.”

Within 48 hours of the final whistle at New Meadow, we should know the outcome of the personal hearing with the FA that Bradford City have requested, in relation to the charge they are facing for failing to control their players during the Crawley brawl. It appears City are going to argue some mitigating factors – one would assume what Evans or Claude Davis said to Davies, which caused him to react so furiously.

Evans is indeed right that City have so far said nothing, though his insinuation that we are the “culprits” and suggested that no action will have been taken towards the three players does the wretched manager no favours at all. It will be made clear by City, after the FA hearing, what punishments have been handed out. If the Bantams do have genuine grievances over what Crawley did on the night, it is also commendable they have kept quiet on what these are until they first share it with the FA.

Crawley went into the automatic places after defeating City two weeks ago, but without their suspended players have stuttered to back-to-back draws which means they have dropped out of the top three again. Meanwhile City have clearly pulled together, during such unprecedented circumstances, to put in two good performances and achieve one of the two vital victories needed to confirm survival.

Let Evans moan all he likes, if that finds him favour with his own supporters. City have retained what little dignity there was left from the situation.

A big week for the club then (they all seem to be at the moment) as we wait the punishment from the FA; but after Friday’s huge win to ease the relegation fears, tomorrow is an afternoon to relish rather than fear.

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1 reply

  1. Is this the same Steve Evans who was describing the incident as ‘handbags’ in the immediate aftermath and saying he was pleased his players stuck up for each other? It’s amazing what a couple of stuttering performances can do to change that tune! The man simply continues to convince in the buffoon stakes. Another well written article. Looking forward to seeing City continue to battle on through adversity, would we all be that surprised to see City upset the odds and sneak a victory? After some of our scalps this season I wouldn’t be. Here’s hoping! CTID

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