Keeping the bright start going as City travel to Oxford

Oxford United vs Bradford City preview

@The Kassam Stadium on Saturday 22 September, 2012

By Mark Scully

Fresh from back to back home wins against Barnet and Morecambe  which has resulted in the class of 2012/13 having City’s best start to a season on home soil in 55 years – we are set up nicely for Saturday’s trip to The Kassam Stadium and the home of Oxford United.

On the road City are still searching for their first league win of the campaign, having won at Meadow Lane and Vicarage Road against Notts County and Watford respectively in the Capital One Cup. The league form has been indifferent, with defeats at Gillingham, Rotherham and a point at Accrington all that Bradford has to show for their efforts on the travels so far this season.

It’s widely expected that if Jonny Mac is declared fit, after leaving the pitch late on in the win against Morecambe, Phil Parkinson will go with an unchanged side for the third game in a row. Personally, I think there’s a claim that – in order to be more solid away from home and offer another aerial threat – it could be more suitable if Garry Thompson replaced Zavon Hines on the right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Hines; but away from home I feel that Thompson offers more solidity whilst not possessing the lighting pace that Hines has.

Oxford started the season brightly with three straight wins over Bristol Rovers, Southend and Plymouth, but have seen their form tail off drastically in recent weeks as they’ve lost their last four league games on the bounce. Defeats against York, Exeter and Burton Albion – the  latter two of those fixtures saw the U’s ship eight goals – was followed on Tuesday by losing at Cheltenham. Some pundits are putting the blame at the door of Coventry City for Oxford’s slump in form: the Sky Blues had been heavily linked with the U’s gaffer and ex Bradford defender Chris Wilder, before opting for former Barnsley man Mark Robins this week.

Despite the host’s apparent lack of form over the last few weeks, they will still be a strong side and at home I can’t imagine many teams will leave Oxford with maximum points this season.

One of three ex City old boys in the Oxford ranks is former Bantams Player of the Year winner Luke O’Brien, O’Brien, having signed on a short term deal last week, will be hoping to make his first home appearance for the U’s. Another ex Bantam is striker Deane Smalley. The striker had a loan spell at Valley Parade last season and, whilst impressing in patches, was inconsistent during his time at the club. In defence another ex Bradford lad is in the ranks, Jake Wright who previously received a red card again City during a melee with James Hanson as Bradford romped to a 5-0 win, during the U’s first trip to Valley Parade since returning to the Football League.

One thing for sure is that the Bradford defence can expect a tussle from United’s James Constable having already been sent off once this season, the striker is hoping to be included in the starting eleven and prove he can be the leading striker for Oxford once again. With Jon-Paul Pittman expected to miss out through injury, it gives Constable the change to partner Tom Craddock in the Oxford attack. Another player expected to miss out for the hosts is midfielder Adam Chapman, whilst there remains doubts over Brighton loanee Jake Forster-Caskey, who earned rave reviews during the first few weeks of the campaign and will be a threat from midfield should the youngster be declared fit.

On the road at the Kassam Stadium, Bradford are yet to gain all three points from Oxford since the U’s returned to the Football League just over two years ago. The previous two trips have resulted in a 2-1 defeat and a 1-1 draw – maybe this time we’ll win 2-1?!

During their first trip back to Oxfordshire, David Syers gave City a 9th minute lead and looked on-course for all three points until a Steven MacLean leveller on 77 minutes before Tom Craddock netted the winner 5 minutes later to steal the points for the hosts. Last season saw Ross Hannah net his first for the club; he instinctively flicked home a leveller with 12 minutes left to cancel out Simon Heslop’s long range strike.

Personally I would take a 1-1 draw again – it would mean the unbeaten run is still going strong, ideally with a win but a point is equally as good. Make no bones about it, Oxford will be fired up looking to bounce back and end their recent poor run. I’d expected Chris Wilder’s men to come racing out of the blocks and put us under pressure early on. If we can withstand that and settle into the game, there’s no reason why we can’t push on and get Oxford on the back foot – one thing for sure is that we don’t want another first minute strike to whistle past either McLaughlin or Duke.

In my opinion Oxford are the second biggest club in League Two, and therefore with that tag comes pressure. As we’ve seen at Valley Parade over the last few years, and particularly if we’ve not been in good form at the time, it doesn’t take long for the moans and groans to reverberate around the stadium if the game isn’t going how we would like. If we can frustrate the home side and maybe even get in front, the chances are, given the hosts poor form, the fans will turn against their team.

If that does happen then Bradford need to seize the opportunity, I’m sure the training ground has been buzzing this week after the two home wins. Hopefully Parky has the lads well drilled and the excellent start to the season can continue. Who knows come 5pm Saturday night, we might even be sitting pretty in an automatic promotion place. I don’t care how early in the season it may well be, it’s where we need to be – start as we mean to go on!

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