Shrewsbury Town vs Bradford City preview
@The New Meadow on Saturday 16 April, 2016
By Phil Abbott
The next few weeks will define Bradford City for some time to come. With big games ahead and challengers poised to seize on dropped points, the League One promotion push is set for an exciting epilogue. There are many unknowns and there will be many twists and turns to come after the weekend, win, lose or draw. But, City’s encounter with Shrewsbury this weekend could be the first determiner in whether our remaining games will be played as genuine automatic promotion contenders, or realistic play off hopefuls.
Where will this weekend’s chapter take us?
I remember as a kid I used to be enthralled by the ‘choose your own adventure’ type books. I wasn’t a prolific reader – far from it – but these books caught the imagination in a way some regular books failed to do so. What seemed to make them work for me was that I was in charge, to some degree, of the direction of the plot.
The main characters often had an aura of confidence, the challenges posed along their journeys were invariably surmountable and the endings therefore, were nearly always positive. As a simplistic chap, I was comfortable with this. Now I’ve grown up (a bit) it’s clear that this cosy fantasy world is far from our daily reality and it certainly doesn’t stretch to supporting your beloved football team.
It’s been somewhat of a journey for City this season, albeit their climb up the table has been steady and sustained for the most part. Success has been built on a particularly miserly defence, backed up with clean sheets galore by Ben Williams. We’ve rarely threatened to win games comfortably and sometimes, we’ve conspired to drop points (or even lose) when we least ought to.
I know that’s what football is all about, but, contrary to my former reading preferences, it is this great unpredictability that excites me and many more fans of our club. We are not in charge of our club’s destiny and we need to trust our team to make those choices for us.
In my mind, football wins hands down as an entertainment, in that the intrigue, the debate, the nerves, the disappointment/elation carry on throughout the week, well after the final ball of the match has been kicked. Indeed, there is also a ritual of preparing in advance of the next fixture, in mind of form, opposition etc.
We went through quite a barren spell where there was much soul searching by fans and club staff alike. Happily, we’ve come out of the other side of this and to fans of other teams around us, our current form and momentum is a great worry. As one or two teams have fallen away from the play off scene, City have been one of the form teams coming into the closing weeks of the season. And, to add to the intrigue, Burton’s untimely loss of form and confidence has opened up what could be a dramatic race for the final automatic spot. Who would have thought this only a few weeks ago?
There are many who quite fairly point out that the distraction of what other teams are doing is irrelevant when our players step onto the pitch. They are right insomuch as our play off/promotion destiny is largely in our own hands. If we keep winning, at worst we will make the play offs and, if we win three games from there, we will be a Championship side. There are others (admittedly, rather like myself) who are cutely aware of the many possible connotations, speculating to the nth degree. (Have you tried those league predictors where you fill in your match by match predictions?!)
So, why is the Shrewsbury fixture so pivotal in our quest for promotion? You just have to look at this week’s round of fixtures to note that the difference between a win and a loss for the Bantams, alongside the combination of other potential results could see City either in pole position to further close in on Burton in 2nd place, or leave us clinging onto a play-off spot by a couple of points.
Such is the probable drama yet to unfold in the coming weeks, this will not mark an ultimate resolution, but will surely point more accurately towards City’s most likely final placing. Whilst it ought not to be doom and gloom if we fail to beat a struggling, yet determined Shrewsbury team, it would make our task that much harder.
Add to this the quick turnaround of fixtures, alongside our less than impressive form at Shrewsbury and this makes for a pivotal week.
On a team selection front, Phil Parkinson has a strong squad to pick from for this fixture and there is genuine competition for places for the starting line-up and on the bench. At centre back, with Rory McArdle ready and raring to go following his recent shoulder injury, Parkinson has a tough decision to make as to whether the increasingly impressive Nathan Clarke is to be deposed from his recent run in the team. There is much to be gained from maintaining an unchanged team, but to have the quality of McArdle on the bench is somewhat of a blessing at this stage of the season. Would you replace Clarke given his recent performances?
Up front, there are calls from some quarters for the return of James Hanson to the starting XI, or to start super-sub Stephen Davies. The jury is split on this, given the excellent work Jamie Proctor is doing. Again, what are you thinking here?
Whatever the line-up, there are at least a few certainties going into Saturday;
- A win is incredibly important (although not yet ultimately essential) to maintain the push for automatic promotion.
- Every player will be up for the challenge and every one of the 1000 plus travelling army will be in full voice
- A loss would not be a killer blow, but a win would be an incredible shot in the arm for the City team and their fans.
However Saturday plays out, we can only hope that the City team can chose their actions in a way that shapes an adventure we could only dream about. To see what happens, you could either wait until mid-May when it’s all been played out, or you could turn to the undoubtedly excellent WOAP match report on Saturday night.
Choose your own adventure folks.