This week we have not one but two previews of the big game against Cheltenham, starting off with Mark Scully.
The need to rekindle the killer instinct in front of goal, especially at home, is required as Bradford City welcome in-form Cheltenham Town to Valley Parade. The visitors arrive four points better off than us and currently occupy the last automatic promotion place.
Last season’s play off final runners up started the season with a mixed bag of form – potentially still suffering a hangover from their defeat at Wembley in May. However, a string of fine results have seen Mark Yates side propel up the table and they currently sit 3rd; which is where we as Bradford fans would like to see The Bantams positioned, rather than just outside the play-off places.
Heading into the Port Vale game a couple of weeks ago, where we had the opportunity to climb into the top three and get a nose bleed in the same process, previous strong form wasn’t built upon and we have slipped to eighth. Since and including the Port Vale game, results in the league have stuttered. It’s not a crisis or the wheels coming off, as some people would like to believe. Because it isn’t as thought we’ve been playing badly.
In that Vale game it took a un-characteristic error from, in my opinion, our player of the season to date Gary Jones to give Micky Adams’s men the only goal of the game – aside from that we completely battered them, but couldn’t score. Just like at Spotland against Rochdale a few days later; once again we completely dominated the game but couldn’t score. Dagenham was disappointing first half at least. Against York a draw was probably the fair result. Having missed the game due to other prior commitments I am led to believe they had the better of the first half whilst we edge the second.
It’s no surprise in my opinion – and the majority of fans will more than likely think the same – that early season form has tailed off slightly since our two key midfielders and creators Gary Jones and Kyel Reid have been out with long term injuries. Any team in this division, and above for that matter, would suffer from losing two key players at a similar time to each other.
Although a new loan signing is expected to be announced today, I am quite pleased that Parkinson didn’t panic and rush out to get a kid on loan to try and fill the void, which has happened under previous regimes and in the early part of Parky’s tenure. Instead, he is giving Zavon Hines chance to redeem himself after some poor showing and show us that he is the player we thought we’d signed. And in scoring his goal last week against The Minstermen, Zavon certainly showed he can fill Reidy’s boots if he can be consistent enough.
Width of a Post understands that Hines is now working with a life coach, similar to Luke Oliver last season – let us hope for similar positive results.
There’s also Garry Thompson, whom it hasn’t really happened for just yet at Bradford but his time will come. If the reports about Reid being out under December are true, Thompson will have plenty of time to show the Bantams faithful how good a player he can be for us.
Cheltenham arrive at Valley Parade unbeaten on their travels this season, they have recorded wins at Aldershot, Bristol Rovers and last time out at AFC Wimbledon, whilst also recording some good points at Torquay, Wycombe and York. It’s been form at home which has set back the visitors so far this season. Fleetwood snatched a last minute goal earlier this month to come away with a 2-2 draw, whilst Southend and Accrington ran out easy 3-1 and 3-0 winners respectively.
Our head to head record against Cheltenham Town whilst we have been in League Two isn’t the best. In the six meetings we have had to date Cheltenham have won three, there’s been one draw and Bradford have won two including the 5-4 thriller back in August 2009. To date, the visitors have the hold over us winning 1-0 last time on their trip to West Yorkshire. In fact I would say they were the best side I saw last season – completely playing us off the park, with Marlon Pack in the midfield running the show for them. We certainly need to keep a close eye on Pack who is one of the best midfielders in this division.
The last three games against Cheltenham have all ended up with the three points going to them, so hopefully City can come away at 5pm with three valuable points that will see the gap close on Cheltenham, whilst also more than likely moving City back in the play-off positions.
The 4-3-1-2 formation that had worked at Dagenham and also at Hartlepool in the JPT Trophy appears to work away but at home, but it clearly didn’t work against York and it took the introductions of Thompson and Hines to swing the balance back into Bradford’s hands last Saturday. Personally at home I think we should always play with two out and out wingers, stretch the game and get the visiting team on the back foot. I don’t care if we are playing top of the league or rock bottom at home, we need to make teams scared of coming to Valley Parade.
So many times over the past few years, clubs treat coming to us as there cup final, big stadium and a big club at this level means Bradford are a scalp for a lot of the teams in this division. Since Parky has been at the helm the home form has been impressive, and the visiting teams are coming and parking the bus. So far I’ve seen nothing to be worried about in this league this season. Just a case of being consistent, and I believe it’s more than within our reach of a top three finish this season.
I would assume that Alan Connell will drop back to the bench for Hines to come in and start, I’d also like to see Thompson start, meaning Will Atkinson would drop to the bench. I quite like Atkinson and he has proved his doubters wrong. There will always remain some fickle fans who would still complain if we had won every game – some people just like to moan. So I’d go with Hines on the left, Thompson on the right with Nathan Doyle and Ricky Ravenhill in the middle of the park. Maybe Ritchie Jones could nip ahead of Ravenhill, but I’d imagine Parkinson will play it safe and go with the captain – therefore meaning the central midfield is too defensive at home.
Up front, despite James Hanson’s recent goal drought he would still be classed as the main man upfront for me. He’s more than just a goal scorer, but a good solid centre forward who brings others into play and there’s no doubt that someone like Nahki Wells benefits from playing upfront alongside Hanson. It’s the little and large combination upfront that has worked so well for numerous clubs up and down the country over the years. Aside from that the back five should be the same, with Rory McArdle being away with Northern Ireland, I’d imagine he’ll come back in on the bench and Stephen Darby will continue at right back.
So hopefully the mini slump in form will come to a halt as the Bradford promotion train gathers momentum once again. Personally I think we will win, it will be a tough game but I fancy a 2-1 win with Luke Oliver heading home a winner late on.