Bradford City vs Preston North End preview
@Valley Parade on Monday 6 April, 2015
By Jason McKeown
What was always going to be a big game has become a huge one. Everything is at stake this Monday when Bradford City welcome Preston North End, and everyone at Valley Parade, with a partisan viewpoint, will be riddled with nerves come kick off. Whatever the result, it will have a significant bearing on both teams’ seasons.
City are right back in the top six hunt. The weekend results have propelled them up four places and just three points outside the play off zone, with a game in hand. The mission is simple: keep winning. Three home and four away games left, the margin for error remains wafer thin. Back-to-back wins would be huge. They know what they need to do.
Yet within the away dressing room will reside an equally determined group of players. On Good Friday, second-place Preston defeated Rochdale 1-0 at Deepdale and – following third-place Swindon’s 3-0 home defeat to fourth-placed MK Dons – the Lilywhites are now five points clear in the automatics. Like the Bantams, Preston have seven games left to play. They are closing in on a first promotion since 2000.
The stakes therefore are huge. Whilst Preston have a cushion over MK Dons and Swindon, they still have to play the latter – and leaders Bristol City. Meanwhile the Bantams are not only chasing sixth-placed Chesterfield, but fending off the rest of the chasing pack. The four teams directly below them are just one point behind.
It is games like this why we love football. I remember Easter Monday five years ago, where City – in League Two – lost pathetically at home to Macclesfield in a meaningless end-of-season campaign. It was the only fixture played in League Two that day which didn’t have promotion or relegation riding on the outcome. We used to go through quiet ends to the season – where there is nothing but pride to play for – year-on-year. It was boring. Everyone else was having the fun, or at the very least had a sense of purpose to their run-in.
The big question is: can we do this?
The four subsequent seasons have included Easter fixtures that were anything but meaningless for City, albeit three of those campaigns were due to relegation fears. And if you were considering backing the Bantams for a play off finish, you’d be greatly encouraged by their form at this stage of the season – especially under Phil Parkinson.
For in the three previous campaigns, City have finished off relatively strongly. Distilling the last eight games of each completed season with Parkinson at the helm points to some encouraging statistics. When it has really, really mattered, Parkinson’s Bradford City teams have delivered.
The last eight games of the three previous seasons
At first glance, these records may seem unremarkable (especially 2011/12). But it is when judging the average points-per-game acquired over these final eight games, in comparison to the season as a whole, where the upturn can be truly measured.
City’s last eight game record compared to full season
|Season||Avge pts game FULL SEASON||Avge pts game LAST 8|
Prior to Friday night’s game against Doncaster Rovers – the start of this season’s last eight run-in – the Bantams had acquired 54 points, an average of 1.4 per game. The emphatic victory at the Keepmoat Stadium was a start; and if Parkinson can repeat his trick of getting his players to deliver a strong end to the season, it could lead to another mission achieved.
How tough is the run-in?
Very. Preston is going to be a difficult fixture, and there is no let up. Bristol City are in town a week on Tuesday, closing in on the title. The final Valley Parade game of the season sees play off rivals Barnsley in town. If both City and the Tykes are still in the hunt at that stage, Saturday 25 April promises to be some afternoon.
On the road it is undoubtedly easier. Gillingham, next Saturday, have little to play for. Scunthorpe United currently have lingering relegation worries, but will probably have put them to bed by the time City travel to Glanford Park. Crewe on the final day will be tricky given they are likely still be fighting the drop. The toughest away match is at fifth-placed Sheffield United, although the Blades have a poor home record this season.
And what of our play off rivals? Width of a Post writer Alex Scott has taken time out to assess the run-ins of our rivals and predict the outcome – you can play along here too. Alex forecasts that City will fall just short of the top six (he makes it we will achieve 14 points from these last eight games, or 1.75 points per game).
|Alex Scott predicted City run in||
Alex Scott predicted final table
|Bristol City (h)||D||
|Sheffield United (a)||D||
|Final points haul||68||
Most teams face a tricky fixture or two in the run-in – and the final day of the season includes Sheffield United vs Chesterfield, Peterborough vs Oldham and Barnsley vs Rochdale – but on paper City clearly have the toughest run-in. They are going to have to do this the hard way.
Friday’s stunning victory at Doncaster Rovers has put a spring back into everyone’s step. And with the luxury of a five-day break coming up, expect to see the same team and the same approach.
Ben Williams will certainly be in goal after Jak Alnwick’s loan spell ended before it even got going; the Newcastle stopper picking up an injury that has ended his season. In front of Williams is Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary MacKenzie and James Meredith. MacKenzie’s promising form is a hot topic of conversation. He has filled in for Andrew Davies extremely well. It is unclear when City’s number five will be fit to return, but when he is back it will be interesting to see if MacKenzie will keep his place.
In midfield, Gary Liddle and Billy Knott will be flanked either side by Filipe Morais and Mark Yeates. Up front, Jon Stead could be recalled but it would be cruel to leave out James Hanson or Billy Clarke.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Hanson had made the Four-Four-Two magazine Top 50 Football League players survey – another measure of how far his remarkable career has taken him. Hanson’s confidence has dipped slightly from a lack of goals, but he has been here before and recovered quickly. It would be great for Hanson to experience an end to the season similar to how he began it.
Preston are unbeaten in 12 and in Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford have one of the division’s most potent strikeforces. Simon Grayson is closing in on his fourth promotion from League One as manager – with four different clubs. His Leeds and Huddersfield connections means he is hardly loved in BD8, but there is no doubt Grayson is a fantastic manager at this level and a proven winner.
Indeed, this Monday sees two fine English managers pitting their wits against each other; leading two teams who see their natural level as being a division above, and who are desperate to climb back into it. The rewards for victory are huge – the pain of defeat would be considerable. It is all or nothing. I cannot wait.