Bradford City vs Southend United preview
@Valley Parade on Friday 29 March, 2013
By Gareth Walker
City’s clash against Southend on Good Friday brings together two sides who, on paper at least, have had relatively similar seasons. Both went into the campaign with aspirations for at least a top seven finish in the league. Yet both have seen their promotion ambitions somewhat overshadowed by cup runs that resulted in reaching Wembley.
Southend’s board of directors let it be known where their priorities lie this week when they parted company with the manager who had masterminded their run to the JPT final, Paul Sturrock. They deemed their priority this season to have been the league, and the fact that they are currently six points outside the play offs with seven games remaining was apparently not good enough.
It was a bizarre statement from Southend Chairman Ron Martin, in which he defended his decision by saying that he knew that it was “instinctively correct” because the budget that Sturrock had at his disposal had not been reflected in recent League results. Yet replacement Phil Brown will step aside on April 7 so that Sturrock can lead the team out at Wembley.
For some supporters, the Shrimpers reasons for parting company with their manager will ring true when we think about City. We too have had a large playing budget, we too were told that reaching the play offs was a priority this season; and yet we sit seven points outside this target, albeit having played a game less then our opponents on Friday.
The key differences and the reasons that most City supporters want Phil Parkinson to extend his contract rather than leave Valley Parade are clear. Our trip to Wembley was for a major cup final – a phenomenal achievement, because of the fact that we got there by beating teams from the Premier League. Secondly, we have made progress this season. Whereas Southend appear to have regressed – they did manage to reach play offs last season, losing to Crewe – we have improved our league standing from the lowly 18th position in which we finished the previous two campaigns.
Even as someone who has gone on record as saying that I don’t think that Parkinson should be given any more than an incentive-based one year rolling contract, I am now starting to become anxious over what is preventing him from putting pen to paper. What worries me in particular is that the longer that this situation remains unresolved the more planning time we are missing out on for next season.
For example, as well as Parkinson and his coaching staff, many of our playing squad are also out of contract in the summer and we really need to be getting them tied down before other clubs start talking to their agents. Not only is this key, so that we can keep the majority of this team together to see if they can prove they would have been a top seven side without the cup distraction, but also so that we can then address the deficiencies in the squad that are clear.
Both sides’ form has been patchy to say the least over the last six games. Southend have lost three of those six, and have taken only five points from a possible eighteen. City have drawn three and taken nine points from a possible eighteen. Both sides will need to improve if they are to realise any lingering promotion ambitions.
Due to the recent cold snap and unexpected match postponements. Neither team has played for 10 days. City in particular should have seen the break as a positive thing. There were signs in the last game against Wycombe that certain elements of our side might be hitting form again just when we need them. The return of James Meredith was a massive boost and the difference that he made, not least to Kyel Reid’s performance, was evident for all to see. The extra rest in between games will have done him no harm at all.
Ricky Ravenhill too, who has been an unexpected but key figure over the last few weeks, will have relished a few extra days break in order to get over the shin injury that he picked up against the Chairboys.
With no new injury worries, it should be tactical changes if any that Parkinson makes to his starting line up. Jon McLaughlin should continue in goal with Meredith and Stephen Darby in the full back positions. It will be two from three at centre back with a choice needing to be made as to who misses out between Andrew Davies, Rory McArdle and Michael Nelson.
The midfield should pick itself with Ravenhill’s selection alongside Gary Jones allowing the deployment of both Reid and Zavon Hines on the wings. Garry Thompson has arguably been our most lively attacking option since the cup final, and I would expect him to continue his promising partnership in attack with James Hanson.
New Southend manager Brown spoke in his press conference about putting a run together in their final seven games in order to make a late bid for the play offs. If that is what they are aiming for, surely we should be no different. We have a game in hand on the Shrimpers which, if we win, would put us above them and just one place outside the holy grail that is the top seven. Obviously if we do beat them on Friday and then win our game in hand, we would be five points above them with six games remaining.
Every supporter has, in their own mind, decided whether the season is now over or not. Those that still think that it can be extended beyond April 27 will have gone further so as to have their own opinion on what results are required from the remaining fixtures in order to achieve that feat.
My own personal opinion is that we have the highly improbable task of needing to win six out of our last eight fixtures. If that is the case, then Southend fans probably think that they would need to win at least five of their last six games. So it’s pretty much last chance saloon for both sides then, which just goes to show how important a good performance and a good result on Good Friday could prove to be.