Assessing Bradford City’s promotion run-in

By Jason McKeown

There are now only eight weeks to go until the regular 2022/23 League Two season comes to an end. The final set of fixtures take place at lunchtime on a Monday Bank Holiday, two days after King Charles has his official coronation.

The bigger question, at Valley Parade at least, is whether that will also be a weekend of crowning a Bradford City promotion.

The League Two promotion race is tight and finely balanced, with the Bantams slap bang in the centre. Saturday’s slightly underwhelming 1-1 draw at mid-table Newport County means City have dropped one place to sixth. The cushion inside the play off places a decent four points, although eighth-place Mansfield do have two games in hand.

Looking upwards, City trail third-place Stevenage by four points, having played one more game than Steve Evans’ side. It’s one reason why – as reasonable as the draws away to Walsall and Newport appeared to be – it feels like the Bantams have missed an opportunity to close the gap on the automatic promotion places. Second place Carlisle are five points ahead of City, with leaders Leyton Orient a distant 13 points ahead.

So what, exactly, are Bradford City realistically playing for over the final 11 matches, and who stands in their way?

The run-in

The always-useful site has a valuable run-in analysis tool. For each team, it looks at the average points per game (PPG) total of the clubs they’ve already played, and the average PPG total of the sides they’ve still to face. If the average PPG total of your remaining fixtures is lower than the teams you’ve already played, it suggests you have a favourable run-in.

And on that basis, City have the kindest run-in of all the sides currently in the top seven. The Bantams’ played opponents PPG is 1.37, and their remaining opponents PPG is 1.27. This means that overall, the last 11 fixtures are 7% easier than the 35 games completed.

Carlisle are an interesting side to compare with here. Played opponents PPG is 1.26, compared to their remaining opponents PPG of 1.62. So their run-in is a considerable 29% more difficult. Mansfield (14% easier) and Barrow (21% easier) are play off chasers with on paper the kindest run-ins.

As ever, the devil is in the detail. And going through City’s run-in, some of the trickier fixtures come right at the end.

Home is where the Hart(lepool) is

Next up for the Bantams is a home double-header with lots at stake. Hartlepool travel to Valley Parade on Saturday, before second-place Carlisle make the trip to West Yorkshire the Tuesday after.

Hartlepool stand 22nd in League Two, just outside the relegation zone, nervously looking over their shoulder at a Crawley side who beat Harrogate at the weekend to cut the gap to one point, with two games in hand.

Hartlepool United haven’t won in seven games and have the second worst away record in the league. Just three wins on the road – the same number of permanent managers they’ve had over a dismal campaign. It’s the kind of fixture you want to have in the run-in, but we all know about City’s track record of playing beleaguered opponents.

In contrast Carlisle have the third best away record and have won four games in a row (and 10 of their last 13). They’ve not lost on their travels since New Year’s Day, and have four ex-Bantams in their squad. This one is going to be a real battle. The biggest home game in years.

If City can emerge from these two games with six points, automatic promotion hopes will rise. To keep their strong play off grip, four points has to be the minimum.

It would be very Bradford City to lose/draw with Hartlepool and then beat Carlisle.

Notable League Two fixtures: Carlisle vs Stevenage, Stockport vs Mansfield (Saturday)

The insignificants

After those two intriguing home games, City have back-to-back games against League Two’s most middle-of-the road clubs. Crewe (who City play at Gresty Road) and Grimsby (who come to Valley Parade) stand 17th and 16th respectively. Positions it’s felt they’ve held all season. Neither side has looked like pushing for the play offs, or seem in any danger of getting sucked into a relegation battle. They’re average League Two fodder, watching on as others sweat over promotion/relegation.

That said, Grimsby have been flying the flag for League Two with an amazing FA Cup run, one that seems them face Brighton in the quarter finals this weekend. If the Mariners can pull off another cup shock, they’ll come to Valley Parade on April 1 with one eye on an upcoming FA Cup semi final at Wembley.

Given both Crewe and Grimsby have little to play for, these are ideal fixtures for Bradford City to face during the run-in.

Notable League Two fixtures: Mansfield vs Sutton, Stevenage vs Salford (25 March); Orient vs Carlisle, Northampton vs Stevenage (1 April)

Easter meetings with former friends

The Bank Holiday weekend begins with a Good Friday trip to 23rd-pace Crawley Town, before Sutton United come to Valley Parade on Easter Monday.

It’s been a woeful season for Crawley, with huge upheaval, high manager turnover and a squad looking ill-equipped to stay in the Football League. And given all of this has been overseen by Wagmi United, who infamously tried to buy Bradford City in December 2021, it’s a soap opera that has been keenly watched in these parts.

There can’t be any Bradford City supporter left who isn’t relieved Stefan Rupp turned down that lucrative offer from Wagmi United to buy the Bantams. This could have been us. With 10 defeats in their last 14, it looks bleak for Crawley. And there will be more than a few of us hoping City can add another nail to their relegation coffin.

Then it’s a visit from a Sutton United side who are in very strong form and remain a potential rival to City’s quest to finish in the top seven. Sutton are unbeaten in nine. Unbeaten, as it happens, since Lee Angol left Bradford City to sign for them. Angol has three goals in a Sutton shirt so far. The same number of league goals that Vadaine Oliver has managed for City all season.

Notable League Two fixtures: Salford vs Orient, Sutton vs Stockport (7 April)

Familiar opponents lie ahead after

After the Easter weekend it’s two away games in a row, with visits to Rochdale and Swindon. Before Gillingham come to Valley Parade. These are the sort of opponents it feels like City are always playing. I worked out the other day that, since 2008, I’ve been to Spotland 12 times to watch Bradford City play.

My (ticket availability depending) 13th visit could be the last for a while. Rochdale are rooted at the bottom of League Two, with just six victories all season. They’ve won just two games since November, with 13 losses in their last 19. One of those paltry two wins was of course against City.

The Bantams then face Swindon on a Tuesday night, which will see most of us glued to iFollow in the hunt for huge points. A repeat of last season’s 3-1 success at the County Ground would do nicely. Prior to that, City hadn’t won at Swindon since 2005. The Robins are not out of promotion contention just yet, but have so far lacked the consistency to push harder. By the time City travel to Wiltshire, their season may well be over.

Gillingham too should have little to play for by the time they come to Valley Parade in late April. Their mid-season takeover and strong January spending spree has lifted them out of danger and they’re on a trajectory for mid-table. A repeat of City’s excellent win at Gillingham in February will do just nicely. Especially as this fixture occurs with only three games left.

Notable League Two fixtures: Carlisle vs Northampton (15 April); Carlisle vs Stockport, Sutton vs Northampton (18 April)

The toughest of endings

You really do hope City have plenty of points on the board by then, because their last two fixtures are tricky. Northampton away, followed by a visit from leaders Leyton Orient on the final day.

Northampton were hugely impressive in their Valley Parade victory in November. But curiously they’ve not really kicked on since, winning only five of their subsequent 16 fixtures. It’s allowed Carlisle to overtake them and they’re only one point above City in the table, after seemingly being on another level that November afternoon.

If they keep their post-Valley Parade form up, automatic promotion hopes might well be over for them by this stage, although they would still be in the play off shake up. Either way, this fixture has strong whiffs of promotion six-pointer.

If City need a result on the final day of the season, they’ll not be too happy to face Leyton Orient. But given the O’s fantastic campaign, the chances are they’ll come to Valley Parade with promotion and the league title sewn up, meaning they won’t have too much to play for.

Whatever their situation, a huge Orient away following seems very likely and this could prove some atmosphere to end the regular league season. Another fourth tier City attendance record broken?

Notable League Two fixtures: Carlisle vs Salford, Orient vs Stockport (29 April)

Can City do it?

Based on the last 11 seasons, on average you need 72 points to seal a play off spot. And 82 points to finish in the top three. The Bantams currently have 59 points, suggesting five wins (or 13 points) from their last 11 will be enough to secure a play off position.

To finish third, on average you need 82 points. For City, that means winning eight of their last 11 (or getting 23 points). After a pair of fairly average draws on the road, this kind of form does feel a bit beyond them. Until you remember the Bantams have won five of their last eight.

To reach 82 points, City need to average 2.09 PPG. They’ve averaged 2.13 over their last eight games. Keep going is the message.

That fixture list certainly features some favourable games to claim those needed wins, and a few that will be huge tests. But doesn’t it all look like a lot of fun? There’s going to be so many twists and turns, but every reason to be confident that City can accomplish at least a play off finish.

And over the coming weeks, as we lay awake at night fretting about different scenarios and spend 90 minutes of games biting nails, we can do so with the welcome perspective of remembering just how often we reach this point of the season with hopes already dashed and with little to play for.

This is the sort of position we’ve craved to be in. And it’s something we should really try and relish.

Categories: Opinion

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26 replies

  1. Most interesting. Who knows how it will play out. With Andy Cook in such goal-scoring form we have grounds for optimism – but it is a great pity we can’t find some other player to chip in with, say, one goal to his two. The run-in would be much much smoother. The persistent lack of shots on target is quite worrying. At the moment we don’t look like conceding many but neither does it appear there are many goals in the team, Cook apart. Regardless of whichever system we employ, the only other player currently available with a history of goalscoring, albeit from deeper and wider, is Walker. Maybe when Derbyshire returns he will in the short term make good our deficiency. It’s been said before but it is a pity we did not sign a ‘fox in the box’ to play off Cook or Oliver. Sadly, I’ve seen enough of Costelloe to conclude he is not precisely this type of player. For all our huge squad we are gambling that Cook and Lewis stay fit. Both are currently irreplaceable. I see the latest statistical buzzword is ‘ field tilt’ which indicates possession in
    meaningful areas. I wonder what ours is overall?

    • I have to agree with you , if the odd goal was coming in from other areas I would be hopeful of an automatic place as it is the playoff’s look a good bet at this stage , as for progress beyond them I have my reservations, a knock to cookie and we are out of it , more long term what are we going to do with squad players who basically aren’t good enough

  2. I did a bit of research on ‘who plays who’ amongst the Top 9 – as realistically it’s four of these that will go up and posted elsewhere as follows;

    Remarkably Carlisle have a host of ‘six pointers’ to play – they play 7 of their 8 rival teams in the top 9, i.e. that’s more than half the remaining matches

    Orient play 6 of the Top 9. Mansfield, Northampton and Stockport – 5.

    Salford and Stevenage – 4 of the Top 7, with us 4 of the Top 9.

    Sutton’s rise up the table, might have everything to do with them having to still to play 6 of the teams above them. Again like Carlisle that’s more than half their games

    It’s very much in our hands and at the beginning of the season, we couldn’t have asked for more than that.

  3. need 6 wins from the next 9 which is tough but doable – then see how the land lies and hope that northampton and orient dont have much to play for

    • I’m not worried about Northampton.

      I didn’t go along with the praise they got – we were terrible, easiest our worse performance of the season. I thought Walsall, Salford and Mansfield all performed better than them.

      They are ruthless, but rely so much on physicality, that as soon as they get a few injuries they look very ordinary.

      No issue going to there and say needing a point. After all we’ve won at Salford, Mansfield, Sutton and Stevenage.

      To be honest Grimsby at home, who blow hot and cold and Crawley away (we rarely play well there) worry me more.

  4. Easier run in means nothing, this is a team that lost at home to Rochdale, every city fan knows we seem to play better against the better teams.

  5. Great analysis. Sadly, I feel that Mark needs to be bold in his team selection. I thought the last 2 away performances were not good. Both were winnable but the play was too defensive imo. I believe his determination to persist with Gilliard and Smallwood would come and bite him on the bum! I am certain we will get into the playoffs. Which in it’s self a massive achievement. I feel however, we could have got into the top 3, with a more attacking formation.

  6. as I live in South Wales finally got to see them in the flesh and the rain at Newport on Saturday
    found it very disappointing particularly in the second half
    we seemed to be half a yard off every? 50-50
    very unlikely to come away with the ball from any headed ping pong
    and rushed all the time when on the ball
    and simply nervous around the box and unwilling simply to shoot
    mostly preferring to try and give it to someone else which then broke down
    I thought Newport harried us all day long…

    had gone excited about the automatics
    but came away feeling it unlikely we will make those or make it through the playoffs which I do think we will make

    I do think that overall Mark knows what he is doing and we are hugely improved as a club
    but I am not sure we are there yet and so want to scrape out of this division somehow!

    • For me the performance doesn’t influence my thinking. We’ve four matches coming up of which and still realistically we can win three.

      I think we forget that the team have travelled more than 1200 miles in three away matches in 11 days. That affects all the squad – not just those playing

      Also, if you go on their forums / youtube comments etc, several of our rivals have been ‘complaining’ similarly about their clubs footie.

      I think what you saw, is a typical fancied team having to fight for a point at a lower positioned club. We had lots of these in 1982 and particularly 2013, i.e. it was rarely pretty.

      Talking to supplier of mine who’s a Sheffield Wednesday fan. He said that their recent 3-0 win against Morecambe was the most boring 3-0 win you’ll ever see – but he acknowledges that finally, his club realise what is needed to get out of the division and are doing it.

    • You were lucky to live locally Wollix, we travelled over 200 miles each way to watch a terrible game in cold and wet weather.
      It couldn’t have been a worse advert for league 2 football if you had tried.
      No attacking flair at all, except of course for the goal.
      2 poor away performances on the trot, both winnable games against average mid table teams, with a bit more attacking intent we would have got 6 points.
      I’m sorry I don’t buy this travel tiredness, they travel in style and stay in excellent hotels, no excuse at all.

    • Hi wollix, Saturday was indicative of what’s been on offer most of the home games. The side just doesn’t have a promotion “feel” about it. With the resources available to Hughes, we should be in a much stronger position.

      • Not convinced we have any more “resources” than Salford and Stockport and in some respects both those clubs have had a far more positive recent past than us. Hughes had lots of work to do when he came here. Remember Rupp has a policy of the club been run in a self sufficient manner.

        Orient and Mansfield’s budget will be similar.

        So it’s probably a Top 5 budget and currently we’re 6th

  7. Personally think this will go to the last game of the season, for me it’s the key game. Reason being is that inconsistency and the Bradford City are in town effects will play a part. We really need to up our game by 20% between now and the end of the season, this team has the ability. We can’t rely on other teams, our fate is in our own hands.

  8. I’ve been around lower league football long enough to know it’s pointless looking at a run in to assume “we’ll win that one, and get a point there”. Life isn’t just isn’t as easy as that and games aren’t won “on paper”. An injury to Cook would likely scupper our chances because, as has been stated, who could replace his goals output?

    I, naturally, hope we’ll win promotion but, at this stage, wouldn’t even bet on a play off place.

  9. Three of City’s remaining games are against Hartlepool, Crawley and Rochdale. The bottom three clubs in this very weak league. On paper they look very winnable games and should be a big boost to City at least making the playoffs. However, if City continue to play conservatively regardless of who the opposition is then like City’s last two results, anything could happen. By the way, first time around City got four points with 5 goals scored and 4 against.

  10. Great article. I think that City would have to find a gear previously unseen this season for us to get automatic promotion, and as a result it will be play-offs for us. Some people I speak to don’t feel we would make it through play-offs however…

    An interesting scenario with our tight defence and lack of goals upfront is 0-0 at Wembley, and who is in nets for us, only Harry Lewis that has saved 3/4 penalties he has faced!

  11. seems to me all the comments above are helpful insights
    but the situation we are in boils down to one simple truth
    every league game left is effectively a cup tie!

  12. I’m away in the far east for a couple of weeks now so I will miss the next 4 games – I head back on the 3rd – hoping that’s the position City will occupy by the time I next see them back at VP 👍

  13. Great article to generate some discussion, which is what football is all about. The beauty of WOAP is that most readers present their views in a balanced manner and as long as we respect other people’s views, long may WOAP produce these great articles.
    Whilst the second half performance was disappointing at Newport County, it’s not so long ago that I witnessed excellent victories at Doncaster Rovers and Stevenage. Yes, the last two results have been slightly disappointing, but I think that I am correct when I say that we’ve collected 17 points from our past eight league games. That’s promotion form. In my humble opinion, I don’t believe that we are consistently good enough to obtain a top three position, but I do believe that we will be involved in the end of season play offs, in May. I’m happy with where we currently sit in the league table. I think that others have said that football is often about fine margins, and that is what it might come down to in May.

  14. The returnees could be the difference now. Derbyshire’s ability and experience will be vital alongside Cook, with Oliver adding some additional aerial threat, and Osadebe providing extra link up play and dynamism just like he did against Colchester. All 3 should play a big part in the next three matches, and i predict wd will therefore win all three and be third by April 1st !

    • would be nice to return from my travels to see that 👍

      • Don’t get too excited – I think that Tony’s reference to the 1st April may be (inadvertently) relevant in any consideration of City being in the automatic promotion places after the next three games……..

  15. Clearly it’s impossible to predict and I like the point that it’s going to be fun. It should be! This is what following football is about. Being involved and enjoying it. We’d all do well to take a breath and have a bit of fun
    My honest thoughts on where we will finish are about where we are now. 5th or 6th
    We’ve shown flashes of great form and solid performances. But then the momentum has gone as we’ve run out of steam and had a couple of bad results in a row. We probably left ourselves a bit too much to do in the second half / final third of the season.
    As always we have to focus only on ourselves but in order to get an automatic spot it’s likely we’ll need some good fortune and to rely on others slipping up a bit.
    Here’s looking forward to an exciting run in

  16. Thought it was 10 games left not 11 ???

  17. Ive been looking at this site, the last few weeks, as I’ve backed Bradford on a few bets, Newport game a bogey lol. I follow all the league’s, and would have to say, Bradford still have a good chance of automatic, why not. So called big teams, don’t win every week. And if the top 7 play more top teams, then the percentage is there. Bradford beat Hartlepool then Carlisle. Guarantee the positioning will look nice.

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