Millwall vs Bradford City FA Cup preview
@The New Den on Saturday 3 January, 2015
By Phil Abbott
Earlier in the week, Phil Parkinson moved quickly to quash emerging opinion that his high flying Valley Parade charges were favourites to see off a wilting, battle-trodden Millwall side in their FA Cup Third Round tie on Saturday. To most observers, there’s more than a whiff of an upset in the romantic air of English football’s most cherished and famous competition. However, just how well placed are those optimistic pro-Bantam suspicions of knocking the 2013 semi-finalists out on their home patch?
Unlike the vast majority of WOAP previews, there’s no real back-story or subtle line of approach on this occasion, but rather, let’s just take a look at some of the more obvious factors that might lead us to appointing our own favourites for victory.
Much of the excitement from the City perspective surrounding this game is the polarised form of the two teams. The Bantams’ last nine games have yielded an impressive seven victories, a tally that was only stunted with two unlikely and untimely injury time equalisers. What is perhaps of more interest is the fantastic away form that has seen City notch victories against a number of high quality opponents already this season.
On the other hand, Millwall would give anything for an improvement in their league form. At home, they’ve amassed a mere four points from a possible 24 in recent times, alongside an equally barren five points from a possible 24 away from home, to extend their winless sequence to eight games. To add to their woes, the Lions are currently rated as the second most generous defence in the Championship. If the Bantams are to progress to the fourth round, this factor may well be the most defining, especially with an early away goal.
On this factor, Bradford City clearly have the significant advantage.
Home advantage generally counts for a lot at home, unless of course you are Millwall or Bradford City! The Lions will take some heart from the fact that Bradford’s last away victory at Millwall was way back in the 87/88 season. I’m not sure this plays on the minds of the manager or players, but it clearly shows that City will need to be on top form if they are to topple this unwanted record.
In some respects, the more pessimistic Millwall fans may have been hoping for an away draw so as to deflect some of the flack that would come their way in the event of a premature cup exit to lower league opposition. Does a home tie really suit the desperate Millwall team?
But let’s be sensible about this; to play at home is most often an advantage and one that Millwall really ought to profit from. With The Bantams’ recent away form however, there is some doubt over who is to benefit the most from this arrangement. For me, it’s Millwall, but only just.
It was hardly the glamour tie that either team were looking for, but in a strange way, I feel that the Bantams might actually be happier with it than their opposition. I expect between 500-800 Bantams fans to cheer the side on, made up of a large London and South exile community and a good number of supporters travelling down from Yorkshire. They will make noise, they will sing their anthems of support loudly and proudly; of that there is no doubt whatsoever.
On the other-hand, dwindling numbers of home fans and a general fear of a cup upset may render the home crowd as low as four or five thousand loyal souls. As if this alone wouldn’t be a kick in the private parts for the home players, with their fans rattling round in the home end, there are obvious reasons why the Millwall fans may quickly become agitated if City get on top.
For as much as their fans are renowned for their less than hospitable welcome to their opposing supporters, they will be quick to get on the backs of their own players if things don’t go to plan. An early City goal will make this one a really tasty opportunity. I’m backing the City faithful to make the difference in this department.
Forget their recent form; there’s a positive for Millwall. They are a Championship side, City are a League One team. Whilst clearly The Lions are struggling to find any sort of form, they are plying their trade against better teams than City on a weekly basis. Make no mistake, there is a significant difference in quality between these two leagues. This is the reason why teams generally have to spend big (on transfers and/or wages) to stay in the division.
I remember City’s last promotion from League One to the Championship, and whilst we ultimately met the challenge, we took some time to find our feet. It’s a quicker, more skilful league and Millwall haven’t just become a bad team overnight. We only get one chance to get it right.
Underestimate this factor at your peril Bradford. It’s Millwall with the slight edge here.
The eccentric live-wire Ian Holloway expects to be able to pick from a largely fit squad, although a number of unimpressed locals would argue that their team is playing like a bunch of invalids currently.
As for The Bantams, it is far from a clean bill of health and a factor that plays right into Millwall’s hands. As if a small squad and lengthening injury list wasn’t enough of a difficulty for City, the potentially absent personnel cause far more concern for Saturday.
We functioned well enough without the in-form Mark Yeates in our last outing, and didn’t seem to miss Billy Clarke too much after all. However, the game could hinge on the availability of the most recent patients on the physio bench. A Bradford side without Andrew Davies and Fillipe Morais will be significantly challenged. Davies’ stats at the back are well documented and whilst Rory McArdle is in the form of his life, I remain unconvinced by Alan Sheehan at centre half. As for Morais, do we have another natural winger at the club?
Their possible absence may mean a bit of a reshuffle tactically, possibly with Francis’s Zoko taking a wide role, or Jason Kennedy slotting into the middle. Christopher Routis may even get a start instead. Whatever the combination, this would be a significant break up of an established team/formation.
I think Millwall might just have the edge here, but a surprise return for Davies and Morais would blow this one out of the water.
Finally, despite all of the above, which will no doubt have been factored into the equation, the bookies have Millwall as clear favourites. They are evens for the victory, whilst City sit menacingly at 3/1 for the ‘shock’ win. I never feel sorry for bookies, but I do feel on this occasion this one is a vey difficult game to call. City love the scent of cup football, Millwall are on their knees. The bookies are still calling it the way of Millwall. You?
With the above factors, I’m predicting a 1-1 draw and a replay to whet the Fourth Round appetite. The statistician in me says City will take an early lead and Millwall will save themselves in injury time. Whatever happens, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.
Bring on the Bantams!