Back to reality, as City look to kick-start promotion hopes against Oxford

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Bradford City vs Oxford United preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 12 January, 2013

By Mahesh Johal

After the elation of Tuesday night’s cup triumph, Bradford City return to league action by welcoming Oxford United to Valley Parade. The victory over Aston Villa will live long in the memory. The images of Rory McArdle plastered over the back page on every daily nationals was just rewards for another unbelievable night at Valley Parade.

City rode their luck. Matt Duke’s form in this cup run has been spectacular and he was the hero with a string of fine saves. Nahki Wells continues to build his legacy as fans favourite with a cool finish to score the game’s opening goal, whilst McArdle and Carl McHugh’s thumping headers took the roof off the Kop.

Walking down Manningham Lane after the game I dared to dream. However, it was a dream of Whaddon Road, Cheltenham and not Wembley and Chelsea (or Swansea). I dreamed of watching the City players on the final day of the season celebrating with ‘we are going up’ banners.

Since the victory over Arsenal, City have won only once in five league attempts. The over exertion of an already marathon season inevitably took its toll on the players during December. Mixed in with the winter bug and a packed holiday fixture list, City slumped from the high standards set earlier in the campaign.

The league is our main priority. Three points off the automatic promotion places, City will look to move up the table by doing the double over mid table Oxford.

Ahead of the Bradford welcome back striker Andy Gray. Signed on an 18-month deal from Leeds United, his return will probably see the departure of Ross Hannah. Some will say – and maybe correctly – that Hannah has never been given the opportunity to prove himself at Valley Parade. Ironically his first league goal was against Oxford last season. Hannah’s record at the non-league level is phenomenal; however, he has found himself down the pecking order behind more experienced players.

For now, up front, top scorer Wells will probably lead the line with James Hanson. A number nine with five league goals, Hanson has struggled to find the net this season. Some fans say his missed opportunity against Morecombe and his lack of goals warrant the drop. However, his performance against Villa demonstrated why he is so important to this team.

Hanson is City’s main outlet ball. He wins the majority of the balls lumped forward to him, many of which he has no right to. Our ability to win possession back, thanks to James, enables City midfielders to reset and start new flows of attack. Accrington on Boxing Day was a great example of this.

James has to score more to keep certain of his place. But his partnership with Wells is crucial to our promotion chances. Together, the pair have scored 17 league goals. Nahki’s success is built around the platform given by his forward partner. Hanson grafts, bullies and moves centre backs about which in turn gives his partner-in-crime the space to flourish. The pair’s performance against Arsenal typifies this.

The arrival of Gray will add more experience to this eclectic squad. A former Bantam Player of the Season, Gray’s conversion from winger to striker was one of the few highlights in our first season after administration. Whilst not prolific, he will pick up the odd goal. With players like Alan Connell, Garry Thompson and now Gray, City have options that can do a job to see us out of this league.

The midfield engine of Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle looked back to its best on Tuesday, with Jones defying his age yet again with another action packed display. Zavon Hines produced his best game in a City shirt and tore Villa left back Joe Bennett apart. Consistency is his Achilles Heel. If Zavon can perform like that every game, there is no doubt that we have one of the best right wingers in the league. Will Atkinson produced another solid display on the left flank, but it was interesting to note that Blair Turgott got the nod over Kyle Reid to replace Atkinson in mid-week. Whether there is concern over Reid’s ankle injury is unsure, but it seemed strange not to give him a run out. Like Hines, it is imperative that City get Reid fit and playing to a consistently high level.

In defence, Stephen Darby will continue at right back, whilst loanee Curtis Good or new signing Ryan Dickson are likely to deputise for James Meredith, who continues to suffer from the winter bug. Goal scoring centre halves McArdle and McHugh will continue their flourishing partnership, whilst Matt Duke will keep his place in between the sticks.

Unlike City, Oxford come into the game after cup disappointment. Defeats to Southend and Sheffield United over the past week have seen Oxford exit both the Johnstones Paint Trophy and FA Cup. Unbeaten in seven league games, the Us come into the game the form team. However, buoyed by Tuesday’s victory, City will look to restart their promotion push with a victory in front of the Valley Parade faithful.



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