Swindon Town vs Bradford City preview
@The County Ground on Tuesday 24 February, 2015
By Andrew Baxter
Despite the team’s lacklustre performance on Saturday, Jon Stead led the line well, and his impressive form has become the cornerstone for City’s surge up the league table.
Stead signed on loan in the middle of October, and shortly after that City began a run of just two defeats in 20 games. They have failed to score just once in the 23 games that Stead has featured in.
It is clear that Stead is a quality footballer, especially in League One. His vision, technique, and footballing brain are outstanding, bringing other creative influences such as Billy Clarke and Billy Knott into the game, through good hold up play. He offers a focal point for the team, and his ability both in the air and on the ground means that City can give him the ball at any height, with his impressive first touch and close control an asset to any team at this level.
With an extended run of games in quick succession, it is vital to City’s chances of reaching the play offs that Stead remains fit, as the likes of Filipe Morais and James Hanson remain out of action.
City missed Hanson and Morais on Saturday. Morais’ direct running style was lacking, and whilst the likes of Mark Yeates are good on the ball, there was a lack of urgency and directness that was frustrating to watch. The loan signing of highly-rated youngster Oliver Burke from Nottingham Forest may fill the void until Morais recovers. Another player who could be out of action soon is Gary Liddle. The midfielder is just one booking away from receiving a two-match ban, and will be missed at the base of the diamond, should he get suspended.
Any ban could see him miss the FA Cup quarter-final, but attentions first turn to a trip to the County Ground to play Swindon Town.
Swindon Town will be a tough test for City. Third in the table, a surprise home defeat to Crawley Town at the weekend has seen them slip to three defeats in a row, after a blistering first half of the season. Their recent dip in form may be due to the absence of influential midfielder Massimo Luongo. The Australian was away with his national side at the Asian Cup during December, and a groin injury has limited his appearances for the Robins recently. Manager Mark Cooper, however, will bring Luongo back against City, and Liddle will need to be at his best to keep the 22 year-old quiet.
Swindon will play a 3-5-2 formation, with the dynamic Nathan Byrne and Harry Toffolo playing as wingbacks. Byrne is an outstanding player. His versatility means he can play at right back and as a winger, and his pace will be a test for James Meredith. Robins manager Mark Cooper has hinted that centre back Raphael Branco may be brought into the side to combat City’s physicality, with a relatively inexperienced defence contributing to Swindon’s problems of late.
In midfield, the dangerous Luongo will return, and City will need to keep striker Andy Williams quiet. The 28 year-old is Swindon’s top scorer this season, and he scored Swindon’s only goal on Saturday to take his tally this season to 20 in all competitions. Gary McKenzie, who played well on his full debut on Saturday, will be given the task of keeping tabs on Williams.
Swindon will be a tough test for City, but the Bantams have a habit of playing to the best of their ability against the better teams. Demonstrate that form tonight, and they could really strengthen their play off position.