Closing in on survival as Bradford City go to Shrewsbury

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Shrewsbury Town vs Bradford City preview

@New Meadow on Saturday 22 March, 2014

By Gareth Walker

Bradford City travel to Shropshire this Saturday in search of the first of the two victories that are likely to be required to guarantee their League One status. Opponents Shrewsbury Town are a further 11 points behind us, and will surely have identified this game as one where they need to pick up maximum points if they themselves have aspirations of staying in this division next season.

A win for City would pretty much ensure that the Shrews would be unlikely to catch us in the table; and if that were to be coupled with anything but a win for Notts County on the same day, it would all but ensure that City would be unlikely to finish lower than 22nd in the league table. We would then only need to better two more teams in order to avoid relegation.

On the face of it, the task facing Phil Parkinson and his side shouldn’t be one which they fear. Shrewsbury only have one win in ten games since Michael Jackson replaced Graham Turner as manager at the end of January. However, nobody knows more than the Bantams faithful how games such as these can prove to be huge banana skins.

Our history is littered with tales of us coming unstuck against struggling sides or allowing them to end their dreadful runs of form against us. Just looking at this season alone, we can see that there have been four occasions when City have played against the side who was bottom of the division at the time, yet the games against Tranmere (home), Crewe (away), Notts County (away) and Stevenage (home) yielded just one point between them.

Throw into the mix the away form under Parkinson (only 14 away league wins during his entire tenure, as pointed out by Jason McKeown this week), plus our dreadful record at New Meadow (only one win in our five games at their newish home), and any nerves amongst City supporters are entirely understandable, especially seeing as we will be up against a team who will be fighting for their lives.

Things aren’t all doom and gloom for City, however, as we head off to Shropshire. On the plus side, current form isn’t bad, and we have three wins in our last six games since we ended our dreadful run of form by beating Port Vale on February 18. Aaron Mclean also finally broke his scoring duck by netting against Gillingham last weekend. This should ensure that Parkinson’s men go into the game with anything but trepidation in mind.

Mclean’s goal brought relief not just to him, but to the City supporter base too. Fears were beginning to grow that the former Peterborough player would become another Ashley Ward or Danny Cadamateri type striker – someone who arrived to huge fanfare, but struggle to score the goals that his reputation promised, or would take half a season to get off the mark.

Considering the wages that Mclean is rumoured to be earning, it must have also come as a huge relief in the boardroom and to Parkinson and his management team. City can ill afford another highly paid passenger in their ranks, considering the lack of impact that Mark Yeates has made this season and the injury problems that continue to beset Andrew Davies.

Parkinson’s transfer record had been coming under increasing scrutiny this season, and many argued that he was in desperate need of a good January market after the disappointments of last summer’s acquisitions. Fortunately Mclean and his fellow new signings have all shown at least glimpses of what they are capable of in their fledgling City careers to date.

Kyle Bennett seems to be getting better game by game and was particularly impressive in the victory away at Colchester last week. Adam Drury, although he has only started two games so far, also appears to have had added much needed balance to our left side. He could prove to be the competition for the left back spot that the currently injured James Meredith appeared to be severely lacking at the start of the season.

Then there is Matty Dolan who has impressed me greatly so far. Dolan seems to be a midfielder who has a little bit of everything in that he can pass as well as tackle; but his mobility is what has stood out for me the most. He has the ability to get back and cover the gaps that he leaves when he breaks forward. This is something that is occasionally missing from Gary Jones’ game, as his ageing legs can make it difficult for him to get back and cover space that he has previously vacated.

Dolan’s qualities were particularly evident in the first half against Gillingham when we played some of the best football that I have seen us play this season. He seemed to completely compliment the less-mobile Nathan Doyle. Considering Parkinson originally wanted to sign the Middlesbrough youngster on a permanent deal, I can’t help but wonder if a Dolan-Doyle partnership could be our first choice central midfield pairing next season.

Unfortunately, City couldn’t carry their first half dominance against Gillingham forward into the second 45 minutes. A sloppiness crept into our game and we allowed The Gills to equalise with their only real chance of the whole match. The Bantams’ seeming inability to maintain performance levels for a full 90 minutes has reared its head on a regular basis throughout this campaign, and it is something that Parkinson will have to work on going into next season, whichever division we are in.

The one recent signing who I am yet to mention is the one who has been the most impressive of the lot. Adam Reach is someone that Shrewsbury know all about after he spent the first half of this season on loan at New Meadow. He has been a revelation on the left wing since he joined us on loan from Middlesbrough in January, and his form has already seen his initial one month loan extended once.

The second month of Reach’s loan spell ends after the game on Saturday and City are bound to want to extend his stay even further. It will be interesting to see if Middlesbrough are willing to comply with this request.

I for one would feel much more comfortable if City had Reach on the wing as they strived to collect the remaining points still needed to guarantee safety, than I would if we had the disinterested Yeates or another summer 2013 recruit, Rafa De Vita, out there in his place.

When we played against Shrewsbury in the home fixture back at the end of September, a last-minute James Hanson winner ensured that we came away with all three points. We only won once more in the following eight games, however, and whatever, the result on Saturday, we have to ensure that we avoid a repeat of such dreadful form.

The aim has to be for us to accumulate the points needed for survival as soon as possible. Thoughts can then turn towards planning for next season, and what needs to be done this summer so that we can continue our progression.

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