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Monday, 13 April 2015

The Inside Line: Bradford City v Bristol City (14/04/2015)

April 14th, 2015.

Could this be the day? The moment of crowning glory this team has worked so hard for all season? The maths are now simple. A win at Bradford on Tuesday night will mean Bristol City become the first team in the country to gain promotion this season. That in itself is a mark of the success we’ve had, and I’m pretty certain this success-ravenous manager City somewhat stumbled across will be drilling this into his players in the dressing-room before the match.

This is another chance to make headlines as ‘winners’, a chance to get our club’s names and their own names up in lights at the same time.

The accolades will follow as and when promotion is achieved, but I think it’s fair representation of our season, and of our approach, that most fans are travelling up to Yorkshire in expectation rather than hope. Cotterill seems to have created a team of winners across the club and even the fans are now turning up with a a more positive mindset than at any previous time I can recollect.

But it won’t be easy. As explained below, Bradford are another dangerous team in desperate need for points to get anything out of their season. Just as Oldham and Barnsley have proven recently, games against teams scrabbling for those final positions aren’t straight-forward, and especially so away to a team that has already beaten MK Dons twice, Preston, and, of course, the Champions of England-elect, Chelsea.

Mesh Johal @meshjohal of the excellent Width of a Post discussed this key match with Stu Radnedge.

“Come full time on Tuesday night, you guys could clinch promotion and our slim play-off chance could be over. 

For Bristol City, it's a case of nearly job done. Reading snippets of your great blog, I get the impression that this promotion has been two years in the waiting. Once completed (hopefully not on Tuesday...) the promotion and JPT Trophy double achievement will be fully deserved.

For the Bantams, I personally see this season as a major step towards our long-term goal of promotion to the Championship. 

We still have a mathematical chance of a play-off spot, but with seven points to overhaul in just five games, it's a huge ask. Some will see this as a missed opportunity to make the play-offs, however I can't help but feel proud of our League achievements.

Pre-season saw a massive squad overhaul. Many of the League Cup Final/Play Off winners of 2013 departed and there was uncertainty about the team assembled. Fortunately for us Bradfordians, this current class has gelled quickly and performed very well. We've been in and around the mix all season and have had some great wins including a double over the Franchise, and a late winner away to Preston. At times we've shown we can mix it with the best in the league.

Unfortunately, it has been our inability to see out games that has hampered our progress. We've conceded several late goals and have dropped 13 points from winning positions.

The success in the FA Cup has once again propelled us into the mainstream media and further enhanced fans expectations. The victories over Chelsea and Sunderland were crowing moments, however the catalyst for the season was in the less glamorous First Round tie against Halifax. Losing by a goal at half-time, a second half turnaround saw us grind out a 2-1 win, which kicked off a seven game unbeaten run in the league.

Jon Stead started the revival that day and he has been influential this season. Similarly to his days at Ashton Gate, Stead has gained a cult following with the Valley Parade faithful (if you haven't seen it, he did an "Aden Flint" in a Sky Sports interview in January  http://youtu.be/57eCm6xZ88E).

Stead has been vitally important but I still believe manager Phil Parkinson is the key to this club’s success. He has changed the entire mood and ethos around the club during his four year tenure. He has made us proud of our club and city again!

Hopefully with funds from this year’s cup run, he'll be able to add this squad and mount a real promotion push next season.

Or, he could knock off the seven point deficit and take us up this year.

Sounds crazy I know but so was thinking we'd come from two down at Stamford Bridge. And we all know what happened there...”

Despite Mesh’s optimism, I believe this is our time. Championship here we come.


The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Inside Line: Preston North End v Bristol City (11/04/2015)

It’s tantalisingly close now. Tuesday’s captivating and hard-fought victory over local rivals and promotion rivals Swindon Town has left us within a game or so of securing our passage back to the second tier of English football.

Despite a run of tough games still to come, it does seem a case of ‘when’, and not ‘if’ now for even those most pessimistic of City fans.

But will promotion be enough? Without wanting to be greedy, we’ve been top of the table for most of the season, by a considerable margin for much of it, and we haven’t won a league title in sixty years. Of all the games left, Saturday’s at Deepdale against Preston North End is clearly the most important for that particular issue and will ensure that Cotterill will leave his players in no doubt they cannot ease off the gas right now.

Tuesday’s performance proved that is unlikely anyhow, although that was tinged with revenge for an animosity filled defeat in November. Our other defeat that month, the following week, was more routine and one that although we had three or four very good chances in the first half, few could deny Preston had done enough to earn a result.

Stu Radnedge caught up with Lancashire Evening News reporter Dave Seddon, (@Sedds_LEP) who has given us a great review of the Lilywhites season since that day.

“It is almost five months since Preston went to Ashton Gate and sent a few shock waves rippling through League One with victory over Bristol City. Since that November afternoon, it is fair to say that North End have packed much into their agenda!

The victory cigars from the 1-0 scoreline had only just been smoked when the Lilywhites were dealt a double blow. You might remember that Joe Garner came off at half-time in the game, appearing for the second half in the dug out in his tracksuit. It transpired that the tendon at the top of his shin had detached itself from the bone after he had landed awkwardly from a first-half collision. That was the first injury of its type seen in a footballer by the specialist who examined Garner and subsequently operated on him.

We were just digesting the news of the striker's impending surgery and lengthy absence, when Callum Robinson - scorer of the winner against the Robins - got recalled from his loan by Aston Villa. Annoyingly, Robinson did not get a single minute of first-team football at Villa after being summoned back.

The bad news concerning Garner and Robinson came literally hours apart and an air of gloom descended on Deepdale, smothering the feelgood factor built-up after beating City. North End vowed to cover their losses before the loan deadline a couple of days later but only ended-up with Bradley Fewster from Middlesbrough. The young striker lasted two weeks before getting homesick and returning to Boro without kicking a ball in the first-team.

Without Garner and Robinson, Preston coped remarkably well, following-up their Ashton Gate victory with a nine-game unbeaten run. But January was a sticky month to say the least, the only joy being a 2-0 win over Norwich in the third round of the FA Cup. They tumbled out of the JPT to Walsall over two legs, were beaten by Sheffield United and Crawley, while points were thrown away in Deepdale draws with lowly Leyton Orient and Yeovil.

The green shoots of recovery started to poke through with the £50,000 bargain-bucket signing of Daniel Johnson from Aston Villa in late January. Robinson rejoined on loan from Villa on transfer deadline day and Garner made the bench for the FA Cup replay at Sheffield United on February 3.
You could say that those three events were season-changing moments.

North End went to Bramall Lane and beat the Blades 3-1 to set up a fifth-round tie with Manchester United at Deepdale. Only once since then have they been beaten, United beating them rather controversially in front of a capacity crowd. Scott Laird's 47th minute goal had PNE fans dreaming of a huge cup shock, only for Louis van Gaal's side to battle back to win 3-1. Two of United's three goals should not have stood but referee Phil Dowd had his Premier League-tinted glasses on that night.

North End's unbeaten run stands at 13 league games, that sequence including a 2-0 away win at MK Dons and back-to-back Easter wins over Rochdale (1-0) and Bradford (3-0). For those City fans intending to travel to Valley Parade on Tuesday night, don't expect to see a playing surface conducive to passing football. 

As for Saturday's top-of-the-table clash at Deepdale, it should be a cracker. Johnson is the man in form with seven goals in 14 games from midfield, while Jermaine Beckford has helped himself to five goals since returning from five weeks out with a severe inner ear infection.

Preston need the points to keep a decent-size gap between themselves and MK Dons. Automatic promotion is a must, one glance at our play-off record telling you why.

Swindon still have to come here on April 25, with games against Gillingham (h), Port Vale (a) and Notts County (a) before then. After playing that Swindon lot, it is off to Colchester on the final day.

Fingers crossed, we will be meeting you again in the Championship next season.”

Fingers crossed indeed, I think the vast majority of City fans would rather North End join us in the automatic spots than Swindon or Franchise FC.

One last push for the title, COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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