Doncaster v Bradford: Stead welcoming chance to oppose City’s run-in rivals

Jon Stead shields the ball from Reading's Danny Williams during Bradford City's FA Cup adventure (Picture: James Hardisty).
Jon Stead shields the ball from Reading's Danny Williams during Bradford City's FA Cup adventure (Picture: James Hardisty).
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AFTER playing such a key part in the run to the FA Cup quarter-finals, Jon Stead admits it would be “devastating” if such a magical season for Bradford City was allowed to peter out.

The Bantams travel to Doncaster Rovers tonight for the first half of a crunch Easter double-header that could go a long way towards deciding the club’s play-off fate in League One.

Phil Parkinson’s men blew an opportunity to move into the top six on Tuesday night by losing a scrappy encounter at home to Chesterfield.

That defeat, which saw the Spireites move into the play-off spots instead, has cranked up the pressure on both the trip to the Keepmoat and Monday’s clash with second-placed Preston North End at Valley Parade.

“Easter is a hectic time but, as players, we just love playing games,” said Stead, who scored in the first five rounds of Bradford’s stirring run to the last eight of the Cup.

“If we can get a couple of results, build up a bit of momentum, then that can carry us through.

“Easter is usually a time when you think, ‘In two or three games’ time, we will know what is going to happen’.

“But that isn’t going to be the case this year. Not at all. It is going to go all the way to the final game. I, for one, will be buzzing if that happens.”

City’s loss to Chesterfield brought a five-game unbeaten run to an end and Stead admits to being desperate for the club’s play-off challenge to continue all the way to May 3.

He added: “No one wants the season to fizzle out, not after how it has gone. I’d personally have been devastated if we were sitting in lower mid-table and had nothing to play for.

“That would have taken the gloss of such a magical season for the club. We are buzzing for the run-in and want to go for it.”

City’s play-off hopes may have suffered a blow in midweek, but they do still boast a game in hand on all but Rochdale of the six sides immediately above them in the table.

A run-in that also pits Parkinson’s men against Sheffield United and Barnsley as well as tonight’s clash also offers the chance to rein in several of their main rivals for a play-off place.

Filipe Morais is due to return from suspension at the Keepmoat, and Gary MacKenzie is expected to continue at centre-back despite the uncharacteristic blunder that presented Chesterfield with their winner in first-half stoppage time.

For Stead, the chance to take on so many of the sides that the Bantams are looking to pip to a place in the top six can only be a positive.

He said: “I can’t remember a season where so many teams still have a genuine chance (of finishing in the top six), I really can’t.

“I think that is just the way the leagues in general are going. The Championship is a lot like that. Anyone can beat anyone and that is why football is becoming such a difficult game.

“It does help to play teams also involved. Taking three points off them can make a big difference. We have some tough games, every one of them will be difficult.

“The run-in is tough, especially the last five. That is why we need to pick up some points over Easter to set ourselves up and give us a chance of being in and amongst it.

“It is becoming difficult get out of a division, but I do believe we have put ourselves in a good position.

“These are the games we all want to be involved in. It would be devastating not to be in there, challenging.”

City’s squad warmed up for the final push late last month by snatching a few days of warm weather training in Portugal.

The trip was timely, coming on the back of a late collapse against Fleetwood Town that saw the seaside club come from two goals down at Valley Parade with just four minutes remaining to snatch a point.

On their return from the Algarve, City beat Oldham but then stumbled three days ago against Chesterfield.

Stead added: “We do look at things game by game and see where it takes us. That has to be our mentality. We are also up against teams in and around us, so we can’t look too far ahead.

“I would say we are looking at 10 or 11 teams that are in and around us, and hoping to get there. That is why I say we can only look at each game.

“Let’s influence what we can influence and see where that takes us.”

Stead, as an experienced campaigner with a dozen previous Easter playing schedules behind him, recognises the importance that is often attached to this time of year in football.

In just his second season as a professional, Stead netted an Easter Monday winner against Fulham at Loftus Road that proved the turning point in Blackburn’s Premier League survival push.

Leeds United, at the time level on points with Rovers in the table, ended up being relegated.