By Andrew Baxter
This week’s short trip to Portugal gave the Bradford City squad time to refresh, re-energise, and re-engage for a promotion push, which is still not an unrealistic notion, despite City’s league position.
Oldham’s midweek win saw them overtake The Bantams, and City lie thirteenth with 10 games to go. Having said that, the gap to sixth place is five points, with Bradford City having two games in hand over the majority of the teams scrambling for the elusive last play off spot.
City’s run-in sees them play many of the teams around them in the hunt for sixth place, such as Doncaster and Barnsley, as well as the teams in contention for the automatic promotion spots, including Preston North End and Bristol City. However, playing games against teams of that standard may be a blessing in disguise for City, who have a tendency to play better against higher quality sides.
Despite the result last Saturday, the performances of players such as Mark Yeates, Billy Clarke and Christopher Routis were positives. Routis, in particular, has reinvented himself as a midfielder, putting an impressive shift in at the right hand of the diamond, with a well-deserved goal to show for his efforts.
Routis’ contract is up at the end of the season, along with several other members of the City squad. As has been previously mentioned, the contracts of Andrew Davies and James Meredith expire during the summer, along players such as Mark Yeates and Billy Clarke.
The likes of Clarke and Yeates could be the make-or-break difference between a play off spot and a mid-table finish. Both have shown spells of outstanding form this season, and both certainly have the ability to change a game. With City lacking an out-and-out goalscorer, a good run of form from either player could decide the fate of the Bantams this campaign.
With City about to start a period in which they play three games in nine days, and eight matches in 28 days, now would be a great time to build some momentum with a couple of good results.
Oldham visit Valley Parade on Saturday, with play off ambitions of their own. Currently without a permanent manager, caretaker boss Dean Holden has overseen three wins and three defeats from his six games in charge. Tuesday night saw Oldham defeat Rochdale 3-0, with a brace from Rhys Turner and a goal from Jonathan Forte moving the Boundary Park outfit to within four points of the play off places.
Jonathan Forte will be one to watch for Saturday’s visitors. A blistering start to the season saw him score 11 goals in his first thirteen games, including the winner when City visited Boundary Park in October. His form has cooled somewhat of late, but his tally of 15 for the season still is the hallmark of a quality striker at this level.
Should Oldham keep the same starting XI that saw them win so convincingly in midweek, then they will line up in a similar formation to City’s diamond, with Joel Coleman in net, behind a back four of Connor Brown, Huddersfield loanee Anthony Gerrard, skipper Adam Lockwood and Matt Sadler.
Mike Jones will sit in front of the back four, with Carl Winchester and Luke Woodland occupying the centre of midfield, and Danny Philliskirk playing in the number 10 role. The dangerous duo of Jonathan Forte and Rhys Turner will start up front, and Dean Holden has options off the bench, such as the pacy Dominic Poleon, as well as Bolton loanee Conor Wilkinson.
Oldham will provide a stern test of City’s character, but following a chance this week to regroup and reorganise, this is an opportunity for the Bantams to show what they can really do, following last weekend’s disappointment.