By James Storrie
So this is it. It all boils down to this. Six years of nothingness later, this is what we have been waiting for. 180+ minutes of frantic effort, blood, sweat – maybe ever tears – are required from this team once more. The prize on the line is a second Wembley trip of the season; this time to contest for promotion to League One.
An unlikely feat has been achieved here in many aspects, after the Bantams were swatted aside by a rampant Swansea side in February. I tried to stay optimistic about the rest of the season after the cup final defeat, but it was difficult: the team were out of form and struggling to score goals. However, I held on to the belief that, if this group of players couldn’t break the curse of midtable mediocrity with all the talent that it undoubtedly has, then who could?
Just a glance at the final League Two table reinforces this. Can anyone truly say that many of the teams that finished above us are better sides than City? I’ve not seen anything in our games between such sides to suggest this is the case. Yes, obviously the league table doesn’t lie and they have accumulated more points – significantly more in the case of Thursday’s visitors – but that fails to incorporate the effects that the cup run undoubtedly had on City.
Burton are a very good side at this level, there is no questioning that. Strong and pacy upfront and out wide, they possess a real threat on the counter attack, should City go too gung-ho and leave spaces to exploit.
The loss of Andrew Davies to a ridiculously unnecessary suspension is a blow to City’s chances. Despite Michael Nelson adequately snuffing out Burton’s chief weapon in Calvin Zola in the recent league meeting, it is hard to see that Zola will be so quiet again on a hunting ground that he always seems to flourish at. The concentration levels will need to be spot on again, as will the midfield in offering protection to both our full backs against Maghoma – who is one of the best wingers in the division, in my estimation.
But as Stuart McCall continuously used to say when he was in charge “It’s not about them, it’s about what we do”. This is quite correct, and it will be what the Bantams do as to how the game will pan out. We are at home, and it’s up to us to impress our style of play onto the opposition. Burton’s manager, amongst others in recent weeks, whilst not directly criticising the often direct nature of City’s play, seems to have had a thinly veiled jibe against it. While I personally see City as having more to our game than being a generic ‘hoof-ball’ side, I can sort of see what Gary Rowett is getting at.
On the other hand who can blame Parkinson and his predecessors for having a player as good in the air as James Hanson as the focal point in their team, and therefore playing to his strengths? What Parkinson and the cup run have also done is really highlight just how much Hanson’s all round game has improved in the last 12 months. He is still dominant in the air, but now has the confidence and self-belief to not just flick it on but to bring it down and lay it off to an onrushing team mate. While still getting raw deals from the majority of League Two officials, Hanson is starting to cleverly draw fouls in dangerous areas for the team to try and exploit.
The players should take confidence from the cup run into this tie. We have proved we can do it over two legs against a higher ranked team, in a high pressure situation. And that experience is invaluable. However, it is also down to the fans to realise that, although the cup run was fantastic, we can’t afford to be arrogant about our chances. What has gone on before these two games means nothing once they kick off.
Our support is needed more than ever to cheer the lads on to victory and to make it a horrible night for the Burton players. The atmosphere in the last few games of the season at Valley Parade was probably the best in a long, long time – and hopefully the stadium will be rocking once more tomorrow night.