Bradford City vs AFC Wimbeldon preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 22 April, 2017
By Jason McKeown
One more point does it for Bradford City. A play off finish will be guaranteed, and with it the excitement of a two-legged semi final and the opportunity to go to Wembley. It will be only the fifth-time in the club’s history they’ll have reached the play offs, with two Wembley wins and two semi final defeats their mixed record so far.
Moments like this are rare dots when judged against City’s proud 113-year history. Over that time, the Bantams have only won promotion nine times. There is still a lot of work to do to claim the 10th, but Stuart McCall’s side are getting close.
These are the occasions we should enjoy and savour. It shouldn’t matter that City have stayed in the top six since August. The chasing pack have more than made a game of it, and actually finishing inside the play offs has never been a given. 12 months on from big change at top to bottom, that City are close to achieving a second successive shot at the play offs is a considerable achievement. One that everybody connected with the club should feel proud of.
The 3-0 thrashing at Sheffield United has left a sour taste in the mouth, but the visit of Wimbledon offers the chance to put it behind us and celebrate a season’s good work. The growing nerves that we supporters have felt over these last few weeks will only heighten during the play offs, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. This is a terrific time to be a Bradford City fan, and Saturday could prove to be another moment to treasure.
Key games elsewhere
The penultimate weekend of League One is a big one for teams at the top and at the bottom, with only three of Saturday’s 12 fixtures not having something riding on it.
Three of City’s play off rivals face trips to strugglers, with Scunthorpe United at third-bottom Swindon Town, Southend travelling to Shrewsbury Town, and Fleetwood venturing down south to Gillingham. Rochdale have a big derby with an Oldham side who are virtually safe. Millwall have a relatively straightforward home game with Oxford – although if the Us play as well as they did at Valley Parade last Friday they have a chance of taking points.
Fleetwood now have a great chance of catching Bolton, so will be keeping a keen eye on how the Trotters fare from a trip to another struggling side, Port Vale. City can technically still overtake both sides and finish second, but it’s highly implausible after Monday.
One thing that is clear is that no one promotion contender has a kinder-looking fixture than City. We would not swap our game with anyone else’s.
AFC Wimbledon cannot be promoted or relegated, but they do have one very special incentive to end the season well. 15 years after they were re-formed and started again in the ninth-tier of English football, the Dons could finish above the club who so controversially stole their identity – the MK Dons.
With two rounds to play, Wimbledon are two points behind MK, who are enjoying a decent end of season run of form. AFC recently defeated MK at the Kingsmeadow Stadium in a game full of symbolism, and finishing above them would cap off a good first season in League One.
The Dons have only won one of their last seven fixtures, and are winless on the road since turning over Scunthorpe United at the end of February. Their away record isn’t bad though, with only seven defeats on the road.
The pre-match debate: which members of the current squad do you think could flourish in the Championship?
WOAP writers share their views
“James Meredith, Josh Cullen, Charlie Wyke, maybe Mark Marshall and Romain Vincelot. Case to be made for Alex Jones in a year or so, Timothee Dieng could also step up if he improves. Problem is a lot of 29 or so year olds at high League One level are unlikely to improve.” Tim Penfold
“Meredith, Cullen and Wyke too. Although I think we’d need a better partner for Wyke to be able to flourish in it. Marshall could do a job but I’d want someone with a bit more pedigree in all honesty. Potentially Vincelot, but I have doubts over whether he could compete with the midfields at that level. Jones could in a year or so, and I think Jordy Hiwula has the potential to be a Championship player but he’d need another year or two in League One for me.” Nikhil Vekaria
“I think it might be a step too far for Vincelot and Marshall. Vincelot didn’t really cut it during his spell at Brighton in the Championship a few years back (when he was probably at the right age for pushing on his career at that level). Marshall is a good lower league winger, but at the age of 29, I’m not sure he will improve any further.
“I agree with the comments about the “holy trinity” of Meredith, Cullen and Wyke. I think Colin Doyle would probably be solid enough. Perhaps a wild card choice for Danny Devine but much would depend on how he develops over the next year.” Kieran Wilkinson
“I totally agree on Devine – was greatly impressed at how he was at 18. Maybe wouldn’t cut it straight away but I think there’s definitely the talent to be a championship midfielder in there, looked very comfortable at this level from his debut onwards!” Nikhil Vekaria
“There would always be players who would surprise you too. Had we been having this discussion 18 years ago, would anyone have picked Wayne Jacobs as being one to step up to make a significant number of Premiership appearances?” Kieran Wilkinson
“I’m not totally convinced on Meredith. On his day he is great, but I find him inconsistent. I think Wyke, Jones and Tony McMahon should be okay. Not sure about anyone else. I’d like to see Matt Kilgallon given a new deal, his experience would be invaluable. I’m struggling to make a case for anyone else.” Ian Hemmens
“I think Marshall could make it (and would certainly deserve a shot), alongside Wyke, Jones, McMahon, Meredith and (controversially perhaps) Doyle, who might be a reasonably cheap option to allow money to be spent elsewhere in the squad.
“I’m not convinced that Cullen’s performances against the better teams in League One have done him too much credit thus far, but as he’s likely to go to a Championship club next, he’d be worth a shout as he matures – especially if someone else is subsidising his wages.
“I think what is interesting about the Championship is that some players who are less well suited to League One are sometimes more suited to the Championship and the likes of Nicky Law and Billy Clarke might actually cut it. We’d certainly need to strengthen in all areas across the park.” Phil Abbott
“Meredith and Cullen cut could it, and I think Wyke and Jones will get there. We’d certainly need a big summer from Greg Abbott!” James Pieslak
“Cullen, Wyke and Vincelot for me. Possibly Marshall if he can keep his form up. From what I saw of Alex Gilliead and the fact that Barnsley are rumoured to be interested in him then maybe him too. Kilgallon has the pedigree too although we didn’t really see enough of him to be sure. Meredith definitely from an attacking perspective but I’m not sure defensively.
“I think Kieran raises a good point about players surprising us too. Jacobs was a prime example.” Gareth Walker
“Alarming lack of Rory McArdle mentions on this thread. Not sure what more he can do at this level, and never had a chance above. Same goes for Meredith. Also regardless of the Moneyballing Tim Penfold types, there is definitely merit in keeping a strong core together even if not the best players available – see Bournemouth’s backline.
“I think we’d want more quality depth in wide areas, and in attacking midfield – I would be slightly concerned with Clarke / Law as the primary options there – but otherwise it’s a strong squad. Wouldn’t be worried with bringing the band back. Failings this year – to the extent they are failings – are probably more down to mentality rather than ability.” Alex Scott
“There can sometimes be good reasons why players have not had a chance at the level above. Most of our players will at some point over the past few years by Championship scouts. They cannot have seen any obvious indicators that the step up can easily be made (or that a player would flourish) as we haven’t really had that much speculation about our players going to a higher level – even the Meredith speculation didn’t really go anywhere.
“I think the lack of McArdle mentions are completely understandable – whilst he has been a fantastic player for City, we know he has his limitations. Now that isn’t to say he wouldn’t do a Jacobs and flourish at a higher level but he isn’t really an obvious candidate for doing so. As Tim mentioned, we have quite a few players in that 29 year old bracket. They are unlikely to get that much better as players.
“I think the average age of the Barnsley squad is around five years younger than that, which, for me, gives a little more scope for development and potential when stepping up. I suppose another way of looking at it is, if we don’t get promoted, which of our players are likely to be picked up by Championship clubs? I would reckon Cullen and possibly Meredith – but I don’t think that the latter is nailed on.” Kieran Wilkinson
Reasons to worry
If City fail to better Scunthorpe or Fleetwood’s result, they can effectively wave goodbye to their hopes of a play off semi final second leg at Valley Parade. Scunthorpe’s final game is at home to bottom club, and already relegated, Coventry, and Fleetwood sign off the league season with a home game against Port Vale.
If neither side drops points on Saturday, we might as well start selling tickets for a Thursday night first leg play off at Valley Parade.
Reasons to be optimistic
Wimbledon haven’t scored in their last four matches. And, in case you missed it, Bradford City are unbeaten in 22 home league matches this season. Just one more to go for the full set…