BRADFORD CITY manager Simon Grayson believes top scorer Charlie Wyke’s desire to make up for time lost during an enforced lay-off could be just the lift his side needs in the race for the play-offs.
The Bantams head to Blackburn Rovers tonight for a televised clash that has potentially big ramifications for both clubs’ quest to escape League One.
Victory for the hosts will be enough to return them to the top of the table, while City have the opportunity to move to within a point of the top six.
Fourteen-goal Wyke returns from a 33-day suspension, a flurry of postponed games being behind the unusually long time required to serve a three-game ban following the striker’s red card at Plymouth Argyle on February 24.
Grayson, while refusing to confirm if Wyke will start in front of the live Sky cameras, is in no doubt that Bradford’s hopes will be boosted by the return of a forward who is hungry to make up for lost time.
“Charlie being back is a big thing,” admitted Grayson to The Yorkshire Post ahead of tackling a club where he spent three years as a player.
The lads needed those three points. We have tried to be positive since coming in but results dictate a lot in football.Simon Grayson
“He has 14 goals this year and it is always a positive to get your top scorer back. He has been out for quite a while, due to how the fixtures have fallen.
“Sometimes, a three-game ban can be gone in a week but Charlie has had to be patient. But he is fit and firing, and looking really fresh and sharp. We said at the time that Charlie was harshly done to with the red card.
“Now, though, it is behind him and I can see there is a hunger within him. He has worked hard and, by being mentally fresh, hopefully he can come in and make a big impact over the next nine games.
“Charlie will definitely play a big part. The lads are glad to have him back, as they know what a difference he makes to the team. The opposition also know what he brings.”
Grayson, buoyed by getting his first win as Bantams manager at the fifth attempt last weekend, heads to Ewood Park for a fixture that has extra resonance for the family.
Son Joe, 19, is part of Rovers’ Under-23 squad after coming through the junior ranks. He is yet to be involved with the first team but the teenager’s presence at Blackburn means Grayson, a regular at his son’s matches, is well versed in the fortunes of the Lancashire club.
“Blackburn have done really well,” he added.
“I look at their squad and, to me, it is stronger than this time last year when they were in the Championship.
“That is testament to the good work Tony (Mowbray, manager) has done. We go there as underdogs, but feeling confident after finally getting that first win last weekend against Gillingham.
“The training ground has been a much louder place this week after that result. Not in an arrogant way, just that they feel lifted by winning a match.
“The lads needed those three points. We have tried to be positive since coming in but results dictate a lot in football.”
City’s triumph over the Gills meant an unwanted club record was avoided.
It had been 82 days since the club’s last win on New Year’s Day, just two short of the previous longest run set in the early weeks of the 1948-49 season that ended with Bradford finishing rock bottom of Division Three (North).
More importantly, Dominic Poleon’s winner has fuelled belief that Grayson’s fifth promotion from the third tier is still on.
The man himself certainly believes so, pointing to his previous experience of how the business end of a season can do strange things to previously unassailable teams.
“As Sir Alex (Ferguson) used to say, this is “squeaky bum” time in the season and people can feel the pressure,” added the Bantams chief, whose previous promotions came at the helm of Blackpool, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Preston North End.
“I have said all along that the top six won’t stay the same all the way to the end of the season.
“It is up to us to make sure we are in there. Blackburn will be feeling the same about automatic promotion.
“This is their chance to get back into the top two and that brings pressure.
“Our job is to play on that and give our own hopes a big lift.”
The 1,300 or so City fans heading across the Pennines will be hoping referee Christopher Sarginson can avoid a repeat of the high farce that was his last game involving the Yorkshire club.
Following a melee in October’s 1-1 draw with Oldham, the official spent more than two minutes walking around the pitch trying to find the main aggressors to the accompaniment of ironic cheers from the Valley Parade crowd.
Last six games: Blackburn Rovers WWWWDW, Bradford City LDDLLLW.
Referee: C Sarginson (Staffordshire).
Last time: Blackburn Rovers 2 Bradford City 2; April 1, 1990; Division Two.