Bradford City vs Millwall FA Cup third round replay preview
@Valley Parade on Wednesday 14 January, 2015
By Jason McKeown
This could prove a huge evening in the modern history of Bradford City. At stake is more than a day out to the capital’s most glamorous football outpost – short-term financial security is on offer.
Should the Bantams be lining up at Stamford Bridge a week on Saturday, around £500k would be pocketed and this season’s playing budget deficit all but wiped out. A sounder financial footing is the prize, which can act as a springboard for the rest of this season and the next. A more prosperous future can be made in Chelsea.
The club fully recognise the importance of this evening’s FA Cup third round replay against Championship side Millwall, developing an innovative marketing campaign in an effort to boost what would typically be a low cup tie attendance. ‘Be the difference’ is the strapline that has been squeezed into a hashtag, alongside an eye-catching poster listing tantalising what ifs. Against a backdrop of years of often dismal marketing efforts, headed up by the infamous ‘Santa Dave’, it is impressive stuff and has undoubtedly made a big impact.
For not only were flyers distributed at Saturday’s home game with Rochdale, the club has engaged with its local community and in particular its businesses, who have been encouraged to display their #bethedifference flyers and Tweet pictures of their support. Good publicity for them, all of which feeds into Bradford City and its aims.
One can only assume that acting Chief Operating Officer James Mason is behind this campaign, which has significantly raised the bar in the Bantams’ marketing communications.
The benefits of a larger crowd tonight are two-fold. Financially, the greater number of people through the turnstiles will boost the coffers regardless of the result. And in terms of aiding City’s chances of causing an upset, a large vocal crowd can prove hugely influential.
Let us, as supporters, praise ourselves for a moment. The upturn of results has reinvigorated the atmosphere of late, restoring it to a passionate level that was last reached during the blistering start to the previous season. The backing the players received on Saturday was incredible, and it is a rarity not only in this division but around the top four leagues of English football.
Watch City on the road and you won’t come across a noise anywhere to match Valley Parade. Premier League Crystal Palace are well-known for making a racket and Portsmouth chimes are said to still ring loudly despite their nosedive to League Two. But while other grounds can be loud also, few can rival the way in which we supporters back our team.
It is a mightily potent weapon, and the players can be assured of its continuation tonight.
If there is a particular chord that strikes you about the #bethedifference campaign aimed at getting fans to attend tonight, it is the line ‘What if you weren’t there to see it?’ The tennis multi-grand slam winner Leander Paes once said that “The journey is more important than the destination” and Bradford City’s League Cup run, two years ago, was a case in point.
Once the cup final with Swansea kicked off it was a forgettable occasion, yet the road to Wembley will be forever celebrated. And though Aston Villa, Arsenal and Wigan are the most prominent nights from that adventure, those of us who were lucky enough to attend the third round home tie with Burton will still cherish what was also a special night.
The Burton game was a thriller, the home performance fantastic. 2-0 down with six minutes to go, it was a night that gave birth to the “It’s only a cup…” chant, saw wild scenes of celebration after Nahki Wells’ stoppage time equaliser, and featured more joyous outpourings when Stephen Darby struck an extra time winner. And yet, there were less than 4,000 Bradford City supporters inside Valley Parade that evening. A lot of people must still rue missing that night.
Getting to play Chelsea – the best team in the country – would be a fantastic moment as a Bradford City supporter, no doubt sparking a desperate scramble for tickets; but being there to witness the club book that Stamford Bridge date will be very special too. That’s why the #bethedifference campaign is so well-positioned: tugging at the heartstrings of those who might be easily dissuaded from a freezing January evening in BD8, and encouraging them to commit to attending by purchasing a ticket in advance.
As a result of this campaign, which the players have been heavily involved with, City will attract a five-figure crowd tonight. Mason and his team deserve a large pat on the back.
After the pulsating 3-3 draw in the first game which saw the Bantams twice blow a lead – the second of which coming with just five minutes to go – there is a fear that the best opportunity to win this tie has passed the League One side by. Then again, Millwall are a team in complete disarray.
A paltry two wins in 20 games, and residing in the Championship’s bottom three, these are tough times for Millwall. On Saturday the London club were defeated by basket case side Blackpool, with Ricardo Fuller – who netted twice in the 3-3 Bantams draw – having an altercation with his own supporters. The former Tangerines boss, Ian Holloway, is under enormous pressure.
Just as defeat at Valley Parade did for Leeds manager David Hockaday last August, it is highly likely that a Millwall cup exit tonight would see Holloway pay with his job. Chelsea are to Millwall fans what Leeds United are to Bradford City supporters, and so the desire to win this game should be equally as high. What sort of effort the Millwall players put in tonight will say much about their motivation to save their manager’s job.
For City, the expected return to fitness of Andrew Davies is a huge boost. Over the two games that he has missed, five goals have been shipped in which included the three at the New Den. Despite this dismal statistic, City are making a better fist of coping with Davies’ frequent spells on the sidelines compared to last season. Rory McArdle looks more comfortable in taking a senior role, whilst Alan Sheehan is far from perfect but is at least a step up on Matthew Bates.
Sheehan will likely make way for Davies tonight, but has improved his dwindling standing over the past two-and-three-quarter games that he has appeared in. A nightmare performance against Yeovil in September aside, all season I’ve felt that Sheehan looks a better in the centre of defence than at left back, and he is a decent back-up option to have.
Davies will slot in alongside McArdle, with Stephen Darby and James Meredith in the usual full back slots. Both wide defenders are in excellent form after dips in performances earlier in the campaign, and on Saturday their energy in getting up and down the flanks for 10-men City was commendable. Ben Williams was always going to play tonight given Sunderland’s stance on the now-suspended Jordan Pickford.
In midfield, expect to see Mark Yeates slotted back into the side after he also returned to fitness, from the bench, on Saturday. The most obvious candidate to make way is Andy Halliday, despite the Scot having an extra freshness compared to his fellow midfielders, given he was unluckily hauled off early on Saturday so Williams could be brought onto the field. Billy Knott and Gary Liddle are certainly in too good a run of form to be left out to accommodate Halliday, whilst Filipe Morais continues his elevation from back-up to key player.
I must admit I was surprised to see Morais handed such a lengthy contract last week. Whilst I like his effort and think he has plenty of ability, I am not amongst the cheerleaders of his fan club just yet. What is clear is that, in Bradford City, Morais has found an environment that he can thrive within. A few weeks ago I heard, second-hand, a review of the Portuguese from a former coach, who was scathing of the player’s attitude when his club had employed him. The fact Morais has had such a high turnover of clubs would suggest he is a player who has up until now failed to grasp his talents, but this is evidently changing.
Despite higher league interest in his services, Morais would have been mad to have left Valley Parade now, just as his career is getting back on track. It will be interesting to see how he develops from here.
Up front will be James Hanson and Jon Stead, despite the possibility of Billy Clarke returning to match fitness. The Stead/Clarke partnership was hugely effective prior to Christmas, but Hanson has taken his opportunity well and cannot be dropped given the way he is playing. Past form has repeatedly demonstrated that Hanson is the man for the big occasion, and the possibility of locking horns with John Terry will bring out the best in him tonight.
It’s all set up to be quite a battle, and City need to seize on the fear that must be stalking their opponents. Millwall have only won once on the road since August, and have the third-worst away attack in the Championship. They go into this game in a similar mood as the Bantams entered the FA Cup first round tie against Halifax in November, only in this instance the gap between the two teams is much smaller.
Saturday’s set-back aside, City are in great spirits. They have the impressive cup pedigree of recent seasons, and won’t be daunted by playing a Championship club. And they have a loud and passionate crowd, ready to cheer every tackle, every pass, every corner, every attack.
A loud and passionate crowd, that is ready to be the difference.