“Backlash or Flashback?”

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Sheffield Utd vs Bradford City preview

@Bramall Lane on Saturday 18 April, 2015

By Damien Wilkinson

After the calamitous 6-0 home drubbing by champions elect Bristol City on Tuesday night (surely now “Black Tuesday” or “the Great Crash”), Phil Parkinson faces the unenviable task of applying a footballing defibrillator to a City side laying cold on the slab, its promotion pulse having well and truly stopped.

10 goals conceded and none scored in the last three matches paints a sorry story, and has made a complete and utter mockery of the euphoria following the 3-0 win at Doncaster Rovers, still only an incredible 14 days ago.

So the Bantams commence their final four matches of the 2014/15 League One campaign with a short trip down the M1 to Bramall Lane, to face Sheffield United, in a match that has changed dramatically for both sides over the last few weeks.

At one point City would have viewed the match as a key step in cementing a late play off surge, whilst the Blades themselves would have been hoping to be pushing for an automatic promotion spot.  City’s demise is all too familiar and still raw in the mind; but United, after recent results, including Tuesday night’s shock defeat at Yeovil, find them looking nervously over their shoulders at a rampant Chesterfield.

Despite the changed landscape, and City’s recent capitulation, it would be a great shame for the season to peter out with a dismal finish – and Phil Parkinson will be looking for a big response to a result described in the aftermath as one of his worst moments of his career as a manager or player.

Easier to say than do though, with similar sentiments still fresh in the mind about putting Bristol City’s promotion party on ice, as City’s battle weary players approach the club’s fifty-fifth match of the season (although interestingly in comparison it will be Sheffield United’s fifty-ninth league and cup match).

City must somehow recapture some form not to mention the desire that has epitomised Parkinson’s teams over the past few seasons, but it isn’t easy to see where that will come from.  The double whammy of a normally reliable defence shipping goals and the absence of any firepower up front couldn’t have occurred at a worse time, and there are limited fixes available from a squad that has revealed its lack of strength and quality in depth.

Parkinson will no doubt shuffle the attacking options again, ex-Blade Jon Stead seems to be in and out at the moment with his indifferent form, and James Hanson clearly needs a goal to end a drought that goes back to mid-February.

Time will tell whether it is now the time to blood some of the youngsters, Dylan Motley-Henry’s cameo against Preston showed some promise and an injection of pace into an attack that has very much returned to the turgid and predictable manner that was threatening to derail the season last October, when dissatisfaction with the “diamond” part one reached its zenith.  17 year old striker, Reece Webb-Foster having made the bench lately could also be afforded some game time, if only to aid his experience and development.

Unless Andrew Davies is deemed fit, the defence will probably pick itself by default and hopefully a return to the normal solidity can be achieved after the catastrophe of Black Tuesday.  Following the departure of Jordan Pickford, Ben Williams has faced some criticism in goal now he has been examined over a sequence of league matches rather than just ad hoc cup games. And whilst he will be looking to bounce back from Tuesday night as much as anyone else in the team, it is fair to say he doesn’t currently look a guaranteed first choice keeper option for next season.

Sheffield United have also suffered some ups and downs during the season,  and remain somewhat hit or miss, as Tuesday night’s defeat away at already relegated Yeovil demonstrated (a side that did manage a double over City this season!) Given early season promise there must be an air of disappointment  at not achieving an automatic promotion spot and in a similar vein to City, the Blades may also point to the distractions of a cup run, following their journey to the League Cup semi finals coupled with a number of FA Cup replays.

Whilst accepting some mental and physical tiredness, Nigel Clough questioned the desire of his team after the Yeovil defeat and will also be seeking a response from his side as they navigate their way to the play offs.  The Blades lost both forward Steven Davies and midfielder Ryan Flynn to injury before half time and this may again require Clough to make a number of changes to his starting line up, as he looks to freshen things up.

Last season’s visit to Bramall Lane saw a Gary Jones inspired second half performance rescue a point for the Bantams in a pulsating match, which also saw winger Kyel Reid kick his last ball for City after the knee injury sustained during the match (incidentally after a strong challenge by Tony McMahon now on loan at Valley Parade).  Aaron Mclean also made his debut in the fixture.

In the televised Valley Parade encounter with the Blades earlier this season, City fell to a disappointing 2-0 loss in a game compounded by Stephen Darby’s sending off at the start of the second half, and wouldn’t chalk up a win until over three weeks later when the Halifax cup game kick started the season.

With the emergence of a possible takeover, there continues to be never a dull moment at BD8 and we could be on the brink of the onslaught of a hectic few months.  The inquest has already begun into the promotion ‘fail’, but it would be good to see a positive finish on the pitch, if also to avoid completely tarnishing a season that has contained some incredible memories, and has been complemented with some fervent and noisy support throughout.

Here’s to a packed and rocking away end showing their fantastic support again in what will hopefully be a passionate and competitive Yorkshire derby – with both teams playing with something to prove.

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