The League Cup Finalists go to Huddersfield Town

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Huddersfield Town vs Bradford City preview

@John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday 6 August, 2013

By Jason McKeown

Although this is the seventh straight season of not sharing a division with either Huddersfield Town or Leeds United, cup meetings with both of our West Yorkshire neighbours have occurred on a surprisingly regular basis during recent years. Tonight sees the latest chapter of City’s rivalry with Huddersfield Town, despite neither side giving the impression of being too overly fussed.

The reality is that these early round cup derbies are scaled down versions of the league clashes of the past, where both clubs would be pretty much guaranteed to attract their biggest gate of the season. But these games are something at least; and though neither side is expected to field a full strength line up this evening, there is no doubt that the team which claims the bragging rights will use them very loudly.

In May 2012, then-Sheffield United goalkeeper Steve Simonsen blasted a penalty kick over the bar and into the section of Wembley that was last season renamed The Bradford City End. It meant Huddersfield Town were promoted from League One and, as such, last season was the first in my time supporting the Bantams that we were more than one division apart from both Huddersfield and Leeds. It seemed that our ongoing occupation of League Two, whilst the Terriers and the Whites battled it out in the Championship, was an unsettlingly prominent indication that we had become West Yorkshire’s third club. But instead of developing an inferiority complex, we went and had the kind of season that both Leeds and Huddersfield supporters must have felt partly envious of.

Whilst we took part in a 64-game rollercoaster, Leeds were going through the boredom of Neil Warnock’s management – a desperately disappointing spell for United, one which bore remarkable similarities to City and Peter Taylor. Meanwhile Huddersfield avoided relegation on the last day of the season, but this must have felt something of a hollow achievement after making a superb start to the campaign, only for their form to collapse for the remaining two-thirds.

Of course, neither club would have wanted to swap being in the second tier for a promotion out of League Two. But, last season, no football supporters in the land were having as much fun as us, and it must have triggered some jealous glances over the fence from both of our next door neighbours.

That incredible League Cup run was then and this is now. For all the memories it provided, and all the life-changing revenue it delivered, the present realities of adapting to life in a higher division and – ultimately – catching up with Leeds and Huddersfield in status means that tonight is about pride and pride only.

Phil Parkinson had made it clear that the members of his first team squad who did not start on Saturday will get their chance tonight. With a forlorn-looking Carlisle United scheduled to visit Valley Parade on Saturday, racking up a first league victory of the season is undoubtedly the priority. It means that tonight is a no-pressure game that can hopefully be enjoyed, although that isn’t a pre-emptive attempt to wave the white flag.

For those fringe players have a lot to prove if they want to elevate themselves to first choice starters, and there is no better occasion to do so than tonight. Expect to see a fired up team keen to disprove the tag of ‘under-strength side’. Tonight the players who are brought in need to demonstrate that they are ready and can be trusted for the bread and butter of League One action – whether it leads to an opportunity on Saturday or further down the line.

On-loan Middlesbrough keeper Connor Ripley could make his debut in goal after his signing was announced just before the season kicked off against Bristol City. The 20-year-old made his Boro debut as a substitute in 2011 with his side trailing 2-1 to Reading – they went on to lose 5-2 – and figured twice last season. A 0-2 defeat to Burnley and, following an injury to Danny Coyne, 10 minutes at the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup where his goal was not breached. A loan move to Oxford at the end of last season saw Ripley figure just once – a 2-0 loss to Southend.

So inexperienced, then, and undoubtedly tonight would be a huge test for the rookie keeper should he be selected. In front of him, the back four will feature new signing Matt Taylor and Carl McHugh, with the potential for Paul Weldon to start at left back should the Middlesbrough trainee’s trial prove to be a success. If not, we can expect James Meredith at left back with Stephen Darby at right back. Tonight comes too early for Luke Oliver to start, but he will be on the bench and it has been suggested he will get some game time.

The midfield four appear easy to predict. Jason Kennedy will make his debut in the centre alongside club captain Ricky Ravenhill, whilst Saturday’s substitutes Kyel Reid and Rafael De Vita should begin from the off. Up front, Alan Connell will surely partner James Hanson. Huddersfield are one of several clubs linked with Nahki Wells, but the home fans will probably only get to see the Boy from Bermuda if he is brought on from the bench. I shudder at the thought of Wells in a Huddersfield shirt.

The rivalry between Bradford City and Huddersfield has always been more intense than the one-sided dislike of Leeds United, but it can largely be a joyless affair with some suspect choice of chanting from Huddersfield supporters about the Valley Parade Fire and – back in the 90s – Gordon Watson. When we met in the JPT two years ago there was fighting outside the ground following City’s penalty shootout success. Although these cup derbies don’t result in huge crowds, they do attract both clubs’ most passionate supporters and the Bantams have sold their full 4,000 allocation. Expect an edge tonight, but hopefully it won’t spill over again.

Because the true sadness about tonight is that, deep down, we’d all prefer to be scrapping each other for league points and spending the season desperate to finish above the other. Tonight the loser can put on a brave face and shrug their shoulders – it is indeed “only a cup, who gives a f…” – and though victory will taste good for the winners, there are much bigger prizes to be won elsewhere.

I’m really looking forward to being part of a huge City following tonight. I’m looking forward to contributing to what will no doubt be a terrific atmosphere tonight. But above all else I am desperate for three points against Carlisle United on Saturday.

Anything extra is just a lovely bonus.

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