The true league cost of the cup heroics

SAM_0402

By Jason McKeown

There were five minutes to go when substitute Alan Connell volleyed the ball home from the edge of the area to give Bradford City a priceless advantage over 10-men Torquay United. As the players saw the game out, chants of “bring on the Arsenal” echoed around Valley Parade, in recognition of the fact the Gunners were due up North in three days time for what would prove to be an incredible night.

At 5pm on that December afternoon, Bradford City sat fourth in the league with 21 matches played. Three points off third-placed Cheltenham, it seemed as though an automatic promotion push was very much on. Here is how the full League Two table looked.

League Two, 5pm 8 December 2012

1

Gillingham

21

13

5

3

39

18

44

2

Port   Vale

21

11

6

4

44

23

39

3

Cheltenham

21

11

5

5

30

27

38

4

Bradford   City

21

10

5

6

31

22

35

5

Rotherham

21

10

4

7

34

31

34

6

Southend

21

9

6

6

33

21

33

7

Exeter

21

10

3

8

32

31

33

8

Fleetwood   Town

21

8

8

5

28

20

32

9

Burton   Albion

21

9

5

7

29

28

32

10

Chesterfield

21

8

7

6

28

23

31

11

Torquay

21

8

7

6

28

25

31

12

Rochdale

21

8

6

7

32

32

30

13

Northampton

21

8

5

8

34

30

29

14

Dagenham

21

7

7

7

33

29

28

15

York

21

6

9

6

26

30

27

16

Morecambe

21

7

5

9

28

30

26

17

Accrington

21

7

5

9

26

32

26

18

Oxford

21

7

4

10

30

36

25

19

Wycombe

21

5

6

10

25

32

23

20

Plymouth

21

5

6

10

25

30

21

21

Wimbledon

21

5

4

12

24

40

19

22

Aldershot

21

4

6

11

16

32

18

23

Bristol   Rovers

21

4

6

11

23

40

18

24

Barnet

21

3

7

11

19

35

16

What happened next will be debated about not just for the rest of this season, but for many years to come. How did the club lose form so badly in the league, so that at this moment in time – the middle of March, with 10 games to go – we are left with only distant play off hopes? Were the cup heroics that saw City beat Arsenal, Villa and then go to Wembley to play Swansea really a distraction, or is it just an excuse?

In-between City defeating Arsenal and collecting losers’ medals at Wembley, 13 rounds of League Two fixtures took place. The form of the Bantams tailed off badly over this time, with just two wins and three draws from the 12 games that were completed. Here’s how this form compares to the rest of the division during this period.

League Two, 9 December 2012 to 25 February 2013

1

Northampton

13

8

2

3

20

15

26

2

Port   Vale

12

7

3

2

21

10

24

3

Burton

13

7

3

3

23

15

24

4

Gillingham

12

6

3

3

13

6

21

5

Rotherham

11

7

0

4

18

14

21

6

Bristol   Rovers

12

6

3

3

19

15

21

7

Morecambe

13

5

5

3

15

13

20

8

Exeter

12

5

4

3

18

13

19

9

Aldershot

13

5

4

4

16

13

19

10

Wycombe

12

6

1

5

14

14

19

11

Barnet

12

5

3

4

13

10

18

12

Oxford

12

5

3

4

13

12

18

13

Fleetwood

12

5

3

4

14

17

18

14

Southend

12

5

2

5

15

14

17

15

Cheltenham

13

3

7

3

15

11

16

16

Wimbledon

12

4

4

4

13

18

16

17

Dagenham

13

4

1

8

12

18

13

18

Chesterfield

12

3

3

6

12

12

12

19

Rochdale

12

3

3

6

17

19

12

20

York

13

2

6

5

12

18

12

21

Plymouth

12

2

5

5

8

14

11

22

Bradford   City

10

2

3

5

13

16

9

23

Accrington

12

1

4

7

7

21

7

24

Torquay

12

1

3

8

9

17

6

So incredibly, City’s form went from amongst the best in the division to third worst. Relegation standard results, you might argue, as teams like Northampton, Burton Albion, Morecambe and Exeter flew past us in the real league table.

Take away this dreadful period of form , and the results of our rivals during the same period (so we’re just including League Two results before we played Arsenal and since we played Swansea), and the following table shows where we would lie.

League Two, up to 9 December 2012 and since 25 February 2013:

1

Gillingham

25

14

7

4

42

29

49

2

Cheltenham   Town

25

13

6

6

35

35

45

3

Bradford   City

26

11

9

6

35

24

42

4

Burton   Albion

25

12

5

8

47

35

41

5

Exeter   City

26

12

5

9

37

33

41

6

Port   Vale

26

11

7

8

46

31

40

7

Rotherham   United

26

11

7

8

43

37

40

8

Chesterfield

25

10

8

7

31

24

38

9

Fleetwood   Town

25

9

10

6

32

22

37

10

Southend   United

25

10

7

8

37

28

37

11

Oxford   United

26

11

4

11

37

42

37

12

Northampton   Town

25

10

6

9

38

34

36

13

Rochdale

25

9

7

9

37

39

34

14

Torquay   United

25

8

9

8

34

28

33

15

Dagenham   & Redbridge

25

8

9

8

38

34

33

16

Accrington

25

8

6

11

29

37

31

17

Morecambe

25

8

6

11

35

38

30

18

Wycombe   Wanderers

25

8

6

11

31

39

30

19

York   City

25

6

11

8

29

36

29

20

Bristol   Rovers

26

7

6

13

30

43

27

21

Plymouth   Argyle

25

6

8

11

29

34

26

22

AFC   Wimbledon

25

7

5

13

32

44

26

23

Barnet

25

5

7

13

26

39

22

24

Aldershot   Town

25

4

9

12

19

36

21

Of course there would still be a huge amount of the season to go, and it is unfair and distorted, to an extent, to compare other League Two teams who have hit or lost their own form at different times. But the stats suggest that, without the cup run, our pre-Arsenal and post-Swansea form would now see us in third position.

There is no particular point to this article. I’m not suggesting City would have earned automatic promotion this season had we bowed out to Arsenal, but what it does illustrate is the scale of the negative impact remaining in the cup had on our League form. It is not an excuse, it is a fact that the fun in the cup hindered our promotion push.

I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I doubt you would either. But there it is folks, the true damage in black and white. It’s a good job that we gained so much from being focused elsewhere.



Categories: Opinion

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