By Phil Abbott
Many a lively debate between fans of the same, or even different clubs, has included the old cliché ‘the table never lies’. Statistically speaking I guess, it can only be true of the final league standings, but it can be deployed with increasing effectiveness as a useful weapon, the longer the season progresses, in stifling even the most ardently passionate argument in support of a team’s success or failure.
In respect of Bradford City, it is a cliché used so frequently by so many in recent years. Years of underperformance and lack of realistic hope in a remarkable mid-season upturn render this one of the more widely referenced clichés in the BCAFC phrasebook. What concerns me is that this old chestnut may well rear its ugly head sooner than we might hope and think this season – and it’s not because I suspect we are in for a disappointing campaign. Let me explain.
There cannot be many other clubs with a tougher start to the season than City have been dealt this season. After five games, I suspect we will have played some of our toughest matches of the season already. With the disappointment of an opening day defeat at well-fancied Gillingham (having dominated possession for large parts of the game) soon extinguished by a well-fought victory at home to Fleetwood, that’s already two ‘big-guns’ out of the way.
But it doesn’t end there! In the next few weeks, we will have visited title favourites Rotherham at their new stadium, and Accrington Stanley who are currently on a 100% record. Throw into the equation the visit of AFC Wimbledon who will be hurting badly from their 6-2 demolition by Burton Albion and it looks like an epic opening stanza for the Bantams. With away trips to Oxford and Rochdale soon to follow, there is no sign of things easing up.
So what is the message? After five games, will the table be established enough to show the potential City have to get the promotion the fans so desperately crave? It may well give an indication if things have gone particularly well (if we are anywhere near the top six or seven, I really think there is a lot to get excited about), but I wouldn’t take too much from it if we are out of touch with the leading pack, languishing in the bottom half of the table
Another well aired footballing cliché is the ‘win all your home games and get a point away’ school of mathematics. Of course, an 80+ point season will most likely lead to promotion, but throughout a season, it is swings and roundabouts as to where those wins and draws occur. If you look at the results so far, and those to come, it might put context on the job in hand. In truth, we should beat AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, but I don’t expect to get anything away at Rotherham (and it will be painful to see Steve Evans doing his usual thing), whilst I suspect a point at Accrington Stanley will be a good one given their fine start.
The fact is, after five games, on those scores, seven points from five games will leave us around 16th-18th, but the reality is that at least two of those away games will probably be against promoted sides come May 2013.
My hope is that if things do get off to a slow start, fans are wise enough to link the lack of league points to the difficult opening fixtures. For my money, I think we are considerably better than last year already and there is a lot more to come.
Pontificating over the Fleetwood game on Tuesday, it was clear to myself and many around me just why we are now a better team. Put into context, City’s team for their opening home game last year which saw the likes of Martin Hansen, Robbie Threlfall, Guy Branston, Chris Mitchell, Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart and Nialle Rodney filling the team sheet.
On Tuesday night, the unfit Nathan Doyle ran the show in midfield with some excellent wide-eyed distribution, eclipsing even the masterful Gary Jones in work rate and success. With Zavon Hines still finding his speed, his lightening wing partnership with Kyel Reid began to show the fledgling success that will surely render even the most ardent Jack Compton-lover into submission very soon. The back four look solid enough, with James Meredith growing into his role with every game, Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies commanding at the back and an out and out battle ensuing between Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby for the right-back position.
Just look at the bench and you will see how much better this team is that Phil Parkinson has put together. Alan Connell (2011-12 Champions Swindon’s top scorer), Ross Hannah, Darby, Will Atkinson, Jon McLaughlin , Garry Thompson and Carl McHugh.
So in answer to the original question – Does the league table lie? No it doesn’t, so long as you look at the context around it – and come May 2013, it will be telling us that City had their most successful season in a number of years. Just how successful that season has been, only time will tell.