By Tim Penfold
If this Bradford City season had been written by Hollywood, it wouldn’t have been Millwall in the final. It would’ve been Bolton, with all of the drama that comes with it. But, as far as redemptive narratives go, facing the side that cost us promotion last season also makes for a pretty good script.
Having faced them so often recently, we surely know all about them. So what can we expect?
A club legend in charge
Neil Harris has earned considerable plaudits for stopping Millwall’s decline and establishing them as a League One force. The side he inherited from Ian Holloway was, as we found out in January 2015, an easily bullied pushover prone to collapsing at the first sign of difficulty. Harris’ teams have more steel, and can scrap with the best of them – they’ve out-fouled their opponents in 58% of their games so far this season.
He’s set them up in what my fellow writer Alex Scott would call a “Bassetian” 4-4-2 system. It’s based around a solid defence, two wingers, and two big forwards, with the ball being crossed in as often as possible – over 25% of their shots this season have been headers, which is by some distance the highest total in the division.
Dangerous going forward
The one thing that everyone was worried about with Millwall was their strikers. Steve Morison and Lee Gregory proved too strong for us last time, and both have had productive seasons again with 18 goals apiece. Morison is a traditional target man, while Gregory is more mobile and probably the bigger goal threat. It was notable in our encounter in January that Stuart McCall decided to go with a back three to counter them – the spare man was a necessity against two strikers of such quality.
They aren’t the only goal threats however. Winger (and occasional backup striker) Aiden O’Brien has picked up 15 goals, and has done so from chances of lower quality according to Experimental 361’s stats, while Jed Wallace is also a capable goal threat, though only has three from his half-season loan so far. Fred Onyedinma is also dangerous, though his six goal return is possibly a little low and signifies some issues with end product.
They are creating a middling amount of chances – 11.5 shots per game compared to our 14 – but they are good quality ones and their strikers finish well.
They don’t allow many chances…
Millwall, on average, one less shot against per game than we do, and they aren’t high quality chances either – Experimental 361 rates their defensive efforts as on a par with Bolton.
In the spring, they managed a run of 744 minutes without conceding a goal – a superb effort, and around 3 games longer than the next best team. Byron Webster is central to this effort, and has recently been partnered by Shaun Hutchinson, who played under Stuart McCall at Motherwell.
They have two good attacking right backs, with Mahlon Romeo likely to get the nod over Shaun Cummings, and the veteran Tony Craig at left back. It’s a fairly settled unit, and has done a good job.
…but still occasionally leak goals
Despite all of these excellent defensive stats, they’ve still conceded 57 goals, which suggests a weakness in the goalkeeping spot. Jordan Archer is highly rated, but when he was injured in the spring and they played backup Tom King, they conceded fewer goals (with the exception of the Tottenham FA Cup game where King had a match to forget).
Despite this, Archer got back in at the end of the season – and promptly conceded six goals in two games. He improved in the play offs, but this looks like something that City should be looking to exploit.
When ahead, they stay ahead
Millwall are the second best side in League One at closing out leads, behind only champions Sheffield United. When they got in front, they won 85.3% of the points available to them.
That said, the second best side in League One at comebacks (also behind Sheffield United) are none other than Bradford City, winning 37.9% of available points when they’ve gone behind. It will be interesting to see if City can keep this up against a side so good at winning when they’ve gone ahead.
You never get easy games in play off finals (well, except Northampton), and this one will be no different. Their attack is almost perfectly designed to hit our weaknesses, and their defence is good at limiting chances. But they are beatable – there’s a particular tendency to concede more goals than they really should do, given the chances against them – and our attack is much more clinical than it was earlier in the season.
Play off final: Width of a Post build-up
Pushing back to where we belong by Jason McKeown
The first era of Bantam Progressivism, 1981-88 by John Dewhirst
Speaking to James Mason by Jason McKeown
The second era of Bantam Progressivism, 1995-00 by Kieran Wilkinson
Bradford City’s 1996 play off final remembered by John Dewhirst
The third era of Bantam Progressivism, 2012- by Nikhil Vekaria
The local media view by Richard Sutcliffe, Simon Parker, Jason Thornton, Tim Steere and Tom Fletcher
Our Stuart by Jason McKeown
Categories: The 2016/17 play offs