Cheltenham Town vs Bradford City preview
@Whaddon Road on Saturday 27 April, 2013
By Gareth Walker
When City lost to Exeter on 16 March we were 10 points behind The Grecians, even the most optimistic amongst us were declaring that the season was over. What a turnaround it has been!
Over the next four weeks leading up to the Chesterfield game on April 13, the Bantams won four out of five games, taking 13 points from a possible 15. This, combined with the proverbial “wheels falling off” effect down in Devon meant that we supporters were even starting to talk about automatic promotion.
Indeed, if we hadn’t defended so poorly in the 93rd minute at the B2NET Stadium, leading to that late equaliser, and if we had been dealt a better refereeing performance in our next game at home to Rotherham, then we could conceivably be travelling to Gloucestershire this Saturday just one point behind Cheltenham and still in with a shout of that coveted third spot in the table. No wonder the away tickets for this game sold out so quickly!
A more sobering return over our last three games of a draw, a defeat and a victory have seen us consolidate in the top seven and guarantee our play off spot. This is still some achievement, considering where we have come from and what we have already accomplished this season.
As well as City securing our place in the end of season play offs, results last weekend mean that we are certain to finish either sixth or seventh in the table and will play the first leg of our tie at home – next Thursday – and our second leg away. It could therefore be argued that, for City, this game is somewhat of a dead rubber. Or is it?
There is an argument to suggest that Phil Parkinson and his team would be well served this weekend in treating the game as they have treat all of the others since Wembley – give it everything and go for the win, in order to try to keep the momentum going that they have built up recently. This has to be balanced with the need to rest any players who are showing signs of fatigue or carrying any knocks after this arduous campaign.
In light of this need to give certain key members of the squad a breather, Parkinson would also be giving any players who come into the side a real chance to step up to the plate and stake their own claim for a starting berth in the play off campaign. I can hardly see these individuals seeing the game as meaningless.
If it were down to me I would be erring on the side of caution to ensure that we had a fully fit squad to choose from for the play offs. As such, I wouldn’t be even slightly risking anyone below full fitness in any way shape or form on Saturday. We can certainly expect Andrew Davies and James Meredith to miss the game. I would also like to see Gary Jones, Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Nahki Wells and James Hanson given some protection.
This would mean chances for Nathan Doyle, Carl McHugh, Will Atkinson, Andy Gray and Alan Connell, amongst others. Not bad replacements at all, considering the performances that each of these have put in at various times this season.
In contrast to City, Cheltenham Town go into this match still with their eyes on automatic promotion and it could prove to be a nervy day for Robins’ fans. Although outsiders for the final automatic spot, their players will be going all out for victory on their home ground – a place they haven’t lost, in the league, since September. They expect to have one-time City target and prolific League Two Scorer Paul Benson back amongst their ranks for the game. But as well as beating us, they also need all but relegated Aldershot to do them a massive favour and beat third-placed Rotherham.
City could end up playing against Cheltenham in each of our next three games, and it is difficult to not consider this as a dress rehearsal. Let’s use it, therefore, to iron out any last minute chinks in our armour and prepare ourselves for one last push for promotion in what has already been a remarkable season.