Bantams face heavyweight rivals in fight to avoid drop

AHEAD of a run-in that includes fixtures against five of the top six in League Two, Bradford City fans are breathing far from easily right now.

Just four points separate the Bantams from the relegation zone with eight games of the season to play, meaning while the club’s Football League status can not quite be described as ‘precarious’ just yet it is still nevertheless far from secure.

Adding to the furrowed brows of the Valley Parade faithful is a daunting schedule with tonight’s visit of fourth-placed Crawley Town being the first of five clashes against promotion chasing teams due to City still having to play Southend United, Shrewsbury Town, Cheltenham Town and leaders Swindon Town.

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For a side fighting relegation, such a run-in is far from ideal but joint chairman Mark Lawn believes Bradford can rise to the challenge.

He said: “It is a difficult run-in on paper but we seem to perform better against the teams near the top. We have got some decent results so far when facing the top teams.

“We seem to be better suited against opposition who come at us. The ones who come to Valley Parade and shut up shop are the ones we have struggled against.”

Lawn’s belief that City can prevent Crawley from claiming a win that could be enough to leapfrog Shrewsbury Town and return to the automatic promotion places stems from an impressive set of results against League Two’s better teams.

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Of the top seven, only Crawley and Cheltenham have beaten the Bantams even once this season with Phil Parkinson’s side having taken a maximum six points off Torquay United and four off Oxford United.

Bradford have also drawn 0-0 at Swindon, beaten Shrewsbury 3-1 at Valley Parade and claimed a 1-0 win at Southend to take their points tally from clashes with the top seven to an impressive 17 from nine meetings.

Lawn added: “Crawley is our game in hand so, in effect, anything we get from it will be a bonus. No-one else around us plays until the weekend so if we can get some points on the board then we will earn ourselves some breathing space.

“Everyone wants a win and, hopefully, it will come against Crawley. But we have to be patient. Crawley are a very good side, as their league position shows.”

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City’s run-in also includes potentially key fixtures with fellow strugglers Plymouth Argyle, Macclesfield Town and in-form Northampton Town.

“When you get to this stage of a season,” added Lawn. “ I am like any fan in that I look at our fixtures and who the others are playing. Of course, it is impossible to predict results with any real accuracy.

“All you need is a last minute goal like the one Dagenham & Redbridge scored on Saturday (to beat Accrington Stanley 2-1) to upset the predictions.

“But I do believe two or three wins will do it. We will be as good as safe if we do that. It may be that 48 or 49 points will be enough but we want to get to 50 points as soon as possible because then we can start properly planning for next year.

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“I honestly believe if we can get through these next few games with the points we need, then with the right signings made in the summer we could be challenging for the play-offs next season.”

Bradford have been here before, of course, with it taking until the penultimate game of last season for safety to be assured courtesy of a 1-1 draw at Hereford United.

The hope is that the spectre of relegation will be banished before then this time around, which is why Lawn was left so frustrated by Saturday’s draw at home to Gillingham when the Bantams had a last minute ‘goal’ by Craig Fagan chalked off for a foul on goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga – one of three to be disallowed by referee Scott Mathieson.

It meant another controversial afternoon for City in terms of decisions by the officials, just five days after Lawn and manager Parkinson met referees’ chief David Allison.

“I felt we deserved to win,” added Lawn.

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“We got the ball in the net so many times only for most to be disallowed. They were all down to the same linesman.

“It isn’t just frustrating, it is potentially damaging too. I thought the referee was very even-handed following the meeting we had last week (with referees’ chief Allison) but then we had the linesman.

“The referee overturned one of them (when the linesman flagged for offside as James Hanson netted what turned out to be the equaliser) but not the rest.

“What I was pleased with on Saturday was the fans as they really stuck with the team, even when we were 2-0 down. They didn’t put any pressure on the players and instead got fully behind them.

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“I believe it was a big factor in us coming back like we did. But for a couple of debatable decisions, we would have won, too, and that shows what can happen when we all stick together.”

Parkinson has no fresh injury problems ahead of tonight’s game.

Last six games: Bradford City DWLLLD, Crawley Town DDDWWW.

Last time: Never met.

Referee: I Wlliamson (Berkshire).