RARELY can a team going into Easter have a shot at moving from 13th in the table to a play-off place in the space of two games and just four days.
That, though, is the huge incentive for Bradford City tonight ahead of Chesterfield’s visit to Valley Parade.
League One is proving to be an enthralling affair this term. Whether it be at the top, where three sides are bidding to snatch second place behind runaway leaders Bristol City, or down at the tightly-packed foot of the table, each weekend seems to bring another twist.
Ditto a play-off race that, right now, features as many as 10 teams, all chasing the two places that will remain once the three-way scrap for automatic promotion has been settled.
Just last weekend, Sheffield United and Peterborough United – fifth and sixth going into Saturday – suffered surprise losses at home to Crewe Alexandra and Coventry City respectively.
Those two losses offered an opening to the chasing pack and several, including Bradford, took advantage to further concertina a table whose make-up is changing rapidly with each game.
Tonight will be no different, with victory for either City or the Spireites meaning Rochdale will be bounced out of the top six ahead of the all-important Easter double-header.
“It is incredible how tight things are in the table,” said Bantams manager Phil Parkinson to The Yorkshire Post at the club’s Apperley Bridge training ground, yesterday.
“And it is also incredible what is happening with some of the results. Crewe going to Sheffield United and winning on Saturday, for instance.
“Peterborough, too, had won five out of six (before the weekend) and yet lost at home. I was at Fleetwood versus Preston on Sunday and talking to a lot of scouts.
“Everyone was saying there is absolutely nothing in this division. Nothing at all. Anyone can beat anyone.
“In terms of tightness in games, this has been a great division to watch this year. If a team isn’t focused or committed, they come unstuck.
“We always say that when we win we deserved to. I can’t think of a game where we played poorly and yet won. All the teams are very similar.”
City’s victory over Oldham at the weekend was timely. Parkinson’s men may have been unbeaten in four games going into the Latics’ clash but three of those had been drawn.
That lost ground meant Bradford had slipped into the lower half of the table ahead of flying off to Portugal for some warm weather training last week, the value of which could be seen in Saturday’s performance.
“We needed a change of scenery, more than anything,” explained Parkinson. “Just to freshen everyone up. It has definitely done the trick in terms of the mood around the place.
“I can feel that. And I also know how I felt when I came back. The players will have felt similar.
“We were thinking of giving the players three or four days off. But that would still have meant the players being at home, doing the same things – picking the kids up from school and so on. This way, everyone got a total break and it was great.
“Hopefully, we can keep that positive mindset and take it into Chesterfield.”
Victory tonight would leave Bradford in charge of their own destiny in the race for the play-offs.
There would, though, still be plenty to do in order to secure a berth in the top six with the Bantams’ run-in including clashes with Doncaster Rovers, Preston, Sheffield United and Barnsley.
For Parkinson, the tight nature of things in League One makes constant studying of the league table a waste of time.
“I am not even looking at the top six,” he said. “Or even the table. It is all about the next game. That is what we will do against Chesterfield. Wherever a win or whatever takes us, I won’t be looking at all. I’ll just be concentrating on performances.
“Against Oldham, we didn’t let our minds drift at all and that helped us a lot. Sometimes when you have a bad result like Fleetwood (when City conceded two late goals to draw 2-2), it does refocus minds. You have to learn from it and I think we did.”
As for tonight’s opponents, Parkinson added: “Chesterfield have had a good season. It was a terrific game down there (that City won 1-0) – tight and competitive, which was separated by one real quality moment.
“It will be another tight game with no quarter given by either team. It is one we are looking forward to.
“They have good technical players but I believe Chesterfield are a team we have to make defend. We will be endeavouring to do that.
“Confidence wasn’t low before the weekend, I can assure you of that. But it is always good to win and the lads came in to training raring to go.”
Last six games: Bradford City WDDDLDW, Chesterfield WWLWLW.
Referee: J Simpson .
Last time: Bradford City 0 Chesterfield 0; November 6, 2012; League Two.