I can’t really believe how quickly our fortunes have turned around this season. From the absolutely woeful performance and loss against Colchester at Valley Parade back on the first day of March I thought there was no hope and I don’t think anyone was quite expecting us to be within a shout of automatic promotion come the end of the League One season. Sitting just six points behind second placed Burton with five games left to play and fifteen points still up for grabs, the Bantams are gunning for a second placed finish and a return to Championship football next term.
First of all, for those mumbling and pointing out that we’re not even guaranteed a play-off position, I know and I understand your concerns but with only five games remaining, an eight point gap to Barnsley in seventh even though they have a game in hand on us and a similar goal difference to the Tykes, we’re looking highly likely to obtain a top six finish in League One this season. Further if you factor in each clubs remaining fixtures it is very unlikely that Barnsley are able to catch us but then again, anything can happen in football.
It has to be said too that we’re not the only ones breathing down the neck of Burton Albion who are currently sat in second place, Millwall currently sit a point behind us on 69 whilst Gillingham and Walsall are situated on 68 points but both have games in hand, one fixture versus each other this midweek.
First of all lets assess the five teams remaining fixtures:
Burton fixtures: Barnsley (H) Wigan (H) Colchester (A) Gillingham (H) Doncaster (A)
Bradford fixtures: Shrewsbury (A) Coventry (A) Walsall (H) Southend (A) Chesterfield (H)
Gillingham fixtures: Walsall (H) Port Vale (H) Rochdale (A) Shrewsbury (H) Burton (A) Millwall (H)
Walsall fixtures: Gillingham (A) Southend (H) Swindon (H) Bradford (A) Shrewsbury (H) Fleetwood (H) Port Vale (A)
Millwall fixtures: Coventry (A) Fleetwood (H) Bury (A) Oldham (H) Gillingham (A)
If you’re ranking how difficult each teams remaining fixtures are then Burton have to go top. Already somewhat out of form the Brewers start with a visit from in-form Barnsley then face probable champions Wigan the week after at which stage City could have leap frogged them into second place if we defeat lowly Shrewsbury and an out of form Coventry in our two fixtures and turn around the goal difference. Burton also face a tough home match against Gillingham in between two difficult away matches versus Doncaster and Colchester, both of whom are fighting for League One survival.
On the other hand you’d have to say that Millwall probably have the ‘easiest’ run in. The South Londoners should overcome Coventry and Bury with relative ease but they too face difficult home encounters against teams fighting for survival in Oldham and Fleetwood. The Lions also face Gillingham at the Priestfield on the last day of the season which could potentially be a huge match if both teams are still battling for second spot themselves.
Walsall are somewhat sitting pretty right now with their two games in hand but in football you would always rather have the points on the board as City have and as a result they sit in sixth despite having to play extra matches versus Gillingham and Shrewsbury. Whilst Gillingham too have a mixed bag of fixtures left with big games against Walsall, Burton and Millwall, a difficult trip to in-form Rochdale and two games against Port Vale and Shrewsbury.
If you’re a betting man, you’d probably go with City at this point as the outsiders with the now decent odds of grabbing second position. Over the last eight matches in League One Bradford have taken the most points from what has been available grabbing five wins and suffering just one loss, an unfortunate 1-0 loss to Wigan at the DW Stadium. Since then however the Bantams have won four straight matches in the league all by a 1-0 score line proving that they can grind out wins even when not necessarily playing at their best. The main problem comes in the form of goal difference for Bradford. The Bantams sit on +9, a decent total but nowhere near that of all the other teams involved. As the league currently stands it basically makes the gap to Burton Albion seven points rather than six, a tough ask then if we are to overcome them.
Something that is interesting is the fact that all five teams involved in the push for second place have to face at least one rival during the remainder of the season and some have to face each other on more than one occasion still.
Maybe we have made our move to grab second place a little too late. If the gap sat at three points with five games left then I’d say we would probably be favourites over Burton Albion due to both teams differing form but a six point gap could be difficult to overcome irregardless of how difficult Burton’s remaining fixtures are compared to ours.
Current odds for promotion from League One this season:
Wigan – 1/100
Burton – 1/6
Walsall – 13/8
Bradford – 9/4
Millwall – 9/4
Gillingham – 5/2
My predicted League One tables
The two tables below represent what my best case and worst case scenarios for Bradford result in over the coming weeks. For both I’ve entered the results I believe Bradford will get in their remaining fixtures. All other opposition results are based on recent form and are entered by the website itself.
The table above represents our best case scenario in my opinion. It has us taking four wins out of our last five League One matches. This set of results would see us winning our huge match against Walsall at Valley Parade but would see us lose away to Coventry next mid-week. Regarding the Walsall fixture, I believe we can take all three points from that game if we’re still in the same form as now as we usually win the big matches when they occur just like we have in our recent history in both the League Two play-offs and our major domestic cup runs.
This is the worst case scenario in my opinion. With our remaining fixtures, our fantastic form and a return to fitness for key players in the last few weeks, ten points is the minimum we should be aiming for from our last five league matches.
League form over the last ten matches
Over the last ten matches out of the five teams of concern, City have the best league form. With seven wins out of ten, the Bantams have picked up 22 points from a possible 30 and have conceded the fewest goals thanks to their tight defensive line whom have also kept seven clean sheets in the process. Milwall too have done well during their last ten matches as the Lions have only lost on one occasion but Gillingham, Burton and Walsall have seen a drop in form at the crucial time.
It’s perhaps surprising that out of the five teams Bradford are not the lowest scorers over their last ten matches. With 47 goals this season the Bantams are the lowest scorers overall but over their last ten they have managed 10 goals and to outscore or equal all Burton, Gillingham and Walsall respectively.
What we have to do for the final five matches?
The players need to just maintain the pressure on Burton. Despite struggling in some of our last four matches, especially against Swindon in the second half, we’ve managed to grind out four 1-0 wins in a row. The backline is extremely solid for this level, Burke and Clarke have been fantastic in recent weeks especially Nathan Clarke whom has stood in admirably in the absence of injured Rory McArdle. In the midfield Evans and Cullen have both excelled during their loan periods at Valley Parade and have the serious ability to change a game at the drop of a hat. On the wings we have a lot of depth, McMahon has shone this year and has back up in the form of Reid, Morris, Morais, Marshall and Anderson whilst up front we also have various options in Clarke, Proctor, Hanson, Davies and Thomas.
Rory McArdle this week has said that “if anyone at the top starts slipping up a little bit, without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we want to be in a position to take advantage.” He has also further hinted at the fact that he himself will stay away from obsessing over other results in the league for the remainder of the season. When asked about if he would be keeping up with other results the defender answered; “I’ll probably leave it be. I might have a little glance (at the scores) every now and again but it’s nothing we can control. We’ve got ourselves in a position now where it is in our hands. We’ve not really had that all season.”
As for the fans, well we have to stay calm and behind our team until the last kick of the season. We need to make Valley Parade a horrible, intimidating ground to visit for Walsall and Chesterfield especially Walsall in that huge game in two Saturdays time. Just remember that a few months ago we weren’t even expecting a play-off finish so the position we are in now is almost a sort of bonus that surely no one can complain about.
In my opinion this team can grab second spot from under the nose of Burton Albion. We have the form, we have the manager and we have the players and squad depth to make it happen. We need to take each came as it comes but with a lot of hard work over the last five games and a bit of luck, anything is still possible.
Support the team and we can achieve promotion together!