Please note – this game has been CALLED OFF. But hopefully you will still enjoy our match preview.
Bradford City vs Bristol Rovers preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 23 March, 2013
By Jason McKeown
‘If’ is the word of the moment around BD8, as Bradford City prepare to welcome Bristol Rovers for the second of three must-win Valley Parade matches. If the Bantams can follow up Tuesday’s comfortable victory over Wycombe with another three points, and then if Southend United depart pointless from their Good Friday trip to West Yorkshire, then maybe, just maybe, there remains a chance.
The positive spin can feed not only from the fact that five of the remaining eight games are played on home turf, but that four of those five Valley Parade guests are above us in the league. Win those games, close the gap on or overtake those teams, get back into the promotion mix.
If, if, if.
It looks more than a long shot. But if 11th-placed City were to win their game in hand on 10th-placed Oxford, 9th-placed Fleetwood and 8th-placed Southend, we would be the last team outside the play offs. One place behind the play off dotted line sounds like a target that could be overcome. The fact that 7th-placed Rotherham and 6th-placed Northampton have played the same number of games as us, and are seven and eight points respectively above, pours cold water on such hopes. But then again, Rotherham and Northampton still have to come here…
The more you think about it, the more you can make a case for a late, late play off surge. And although reality has a nasty habit of slapping you in the face when it comes to supporting City, it would be nice to believe that we still have a chance – if for no other reason than it inspires the players to keep going.
14th-placed Bristol Rovers will not be easy, however. Whilst we were floundering in-between beating Arsenal and appearing at Wembley, our special league table from last week shows that Rovers’ had the sixth best form in the division. They were second bottom when City marched out against the Gunners last December. Under John Ward, their resurgence has been nothing short of formidable. 10 points clear of what looks set to be a fascinating League Two relegation battle, the Pirates have won four of their last five games. A run which has included seeing off promotion chasers Burton (currently 3rd), Port Vale (2nd) and Exeter (5th and conquerors of City last week).
Be respectful tomorrow.
Having won well in terms of performance if not scoreline on Tuesday, and with a six-day gap to Southend’s visit, the temptation for Phil Parkinson to make minimal changes must be strong. He has talked of giving Ricky Ravenhill as much time as possible to test his fitness after his midweek injury, underlining his sudden importance to the team. During a week when Gary Jones has been shortlisted for League Two player of the year, it is interesting to speculate whether the Veteran’s performances over the campaign would have been even better for having Ravenhill playing behind, protecting the back four. That’s not to criticise Nathan Doyle, who was outstanding up to January, but the balance in midfield has been notably improved over the last few weeks, and Jones has played better from it.
On either side of the midfield pair, Parkinson will probably look to deploy the twin threat of Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines. Plenty has been said about Reid’s form of late; but even when he has done okay, I look at Hines and see a player on a different level. Both are out of contract in the summer (though there is an option to extend Hines’ contract) and I know which of the two I would rather keep.
In defence, Andrew Davies and the remarkable Rory McArdle look set to continue. I must admit to finding recent criticism of Michael Nelson utterly baffling. A poor miss at home to Aldershot two weeks ago, and suddenly people were queuing up to slate him as a bad signing. Although I would rank him behind Davies and McArdle, I struggle to recall any instances of Nelson putting a foot wrong. The suspicion, instead, is that writing off Nelson fits in with the narrative of slating Parkinson’s January business.
In Stephen Darby and James Meredith, City have two full backs you would not wish to swap with anyone. Darby’s midweek man of the match award might have been a little generous, but he is playing out of his skin at the moment. Parkinson has declared Meredith “the best footballer at the club” which is a big compliment considering the quality in the squad. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal behind them, having not been tested midweek.
Up front, the James Hanson and Garry Thompson partnership will probably be broken up to include Nahki Wells. Getting the Bermudian back on song represents a test of Parkinson’s ability, and leaves the player and club in an interesting position as the summer approaches. Having kept Wells in January, the expectation shifted to losing him this summer. But on recent form, his value is surely decreasing. It is not that City should be actively looking to cash in, but we can’t allow his City career to stall by giving up on him for the rest of this season. There’s a reason why clubs are interested.
It is, as they say, a must-win contest tomorrow. Thinking back to last summer, my expectation for this season was to challenge for the play offs. Perhaps it is now too much of a long shot – indeed I personally believe it is – but a strong finish to the season, derived from keeping the hopes alive for as long as possible, would at least boost everyone’s morale. For that to happen, we have to keep going until the very last kick and believing there is a chance to extend the season beyond the trip to Cheltenham, a month from now. We have to give it everything we have.
No buts, and certainly no ifs.