JPT Final Preview

Bristol City v Walsall (Sky Sports 3, kick off 3:30pm)

Referee: Mick Russell. At least one yellow card in nine of his last ten games, 2.3 yellows on average over the same period. Just the one red though.

The showpiece for the lower half of the Football League is always a fun day out for the fans, but there’s an added angle this season. If Bristol City are victorious, the Robins will have won the trophy for a record three times. On the other hand, Walsall have never played at Wembley before; they’ve reached four previous semi finals – two in earlier incarnations of this competition – but have failed to qualify for any of the finals they were aiming for.

Bristol City

First round bye

Second Round: 3-1 at Cheltenham (Burns, Korey Smith 2)

Area QF 2-1 v Wimbledon (Wilbraham 2)

Area SF 2-0 v Coventry (Williams, Wilbraham)

Area F 4-2 at Gillingham (Matt Smith 4), 1-1 at home (Matt Smith)

Matt Smith’s amazing goalscoring feat in the area semi finals is all the more bizarre when you consider that he’s now been recalled from loan by Fulham and can’t play in the final, although he will be attending. It’s fair to say that City’s path to the final has been easier than Walsall’s but they’ve still scored more than twice as many goals on the road in League One as the Saddlers have in 2014/15. City have suffered three defeats on the road and have only failed to score three times in away matches in all competitions this season. Aaron Wilbraham is the club’s leading scorer in the league; four other players have scored more than five goals this season, including former Swindon centre half Aden Flint.

Walsall

First round bye

Second round: 1-0 at Rochdale (Manset)

Area QF: Sheffield United 1-0 (Sawyers)

Area SF: 2-2 aet at Tranmere (Forde, Cain), 5-4 on pens (Grimes missed)

Area F: 2-0 at Preston (Forde, Bradshaw), 0-0 at home

One of Walsall’s largely unheralded strengths is their away defensive record, they’ve conceded two fewer goals away from home than Bristol City have this season and any side that can stop Rochdale, Sheffield United, MK Dons and Preston from scoring at home should be able to put up a similar effort against City. That’s why the recent 3-0 reverse at Barnsley was a surprise as the Saddlers haven’t conceded that many in an away game since mid September and until that point had scored in eight of their previous away games in all competitions. Leading scorer Tom Bradshaw has only scored once since the second goal at Preston in the first leg of the area final; none of his teammates has scored more than four goals this season but Manchester City loanee Jordie Hiwula-Mayifuila looks like one to watch.

Here’s some general stats from the finals from the last 20 years to keep you going for the next couple of days. Bristol City are favourites, probably because since Johnstone’s Paints took over as title sponsor six of the eight finals have been won by the higher placed team on the morning of the final.

* Half of the last 20 finals have had more than 2.5 goals and both teams have scored in the same number. The bookies see a low scoring game, with a 1-1 draw at the top of correct score market but only five of the last 20 finals have finished all square and the last 1-1 draw was in 1994.

* There’s only been one goalless draw (1997), which was also the only time penalties have been used to sort the winners in last two decades.

* The largest margin of victory over the last two decades has been three goals by Southampton in 2010 and Blackpool in 2002. Both games featured a total of five goals

* Six of the last 20 winners have gone on to play in the Premier League; Southampton, Swansea and Stoke are still there. Two of the last 20 winners (Grimsby and Wrexham) are no longer in the football league.

* The losing team has only scored more than one goal in just two of the last 20 finals; last season was only the fifth time since 1995 that the winners had scored more than twice.

I mentioned last week that I might be able to get something done for Easter Monday, but there’s less of chance of that than there was. The plan is now that I ought to be able to post a recap of the Easter action, so I shall see you then.

Update: Bristol City 2, Walsall 0. In other news, Notts County are searching for a new manager.

Can Bradford City Pull Off Another Surprise?

The quick answer: yes.

As part of the preview for the original game, I wrote that I thought Bradford City‘s chances would have been better if they’d played at the Mad House and now they have the opportunity (BBC1, 7:45pm). I’ve covered the Reading angle here, but it’s sufficient to say that the Royals have not been at their best at home this season.

On the other hand, the Bantams are marginally better on the road than they are at Valley Parade in 2014/15. Although they blew a lead at Notts County on Saturday and they’ve only won once in seven road trips in the league in 2015, they’ve only lost three away matches over the same period. They’ve also done really well in Berkshire over the years – one defeat in their last five league encounters.

This could be a classic FA Cup tie, which may well go to extra time and beyond. The issue facing Bradford if they win this evening is that it remains to be seen how reaching a semi final at Wembley will affect their chances of promotion. As it stands, Phil Parkinson’s side have to play five of their last eleven games against clubs that are currently above them and with only one home victory against that group this season, it might be a tall order.

The race for second and the last playoff spots didn’t change much last weekend; either Preston and Swindon will be second on Wednesday morning. Both teams won on Saturday, but MK Dons could only manage a draw at Walsall and are currently marooned in fourth place. Any of the teams from Sheffield United to Doncaster Rovers could be in the last two playoff spots after tomorrow’s games, but I don’t think it’s any accident that both Barnsley and Peterborough have suddenly become playoff contenders after making managerial changes.

At the bottom Crawley came from behind to win at Colchester and Leyton Orient (who established a two goal lead in less than ten minutes against Yeovil) won the two matches between the bottom four and both could overtake Coventry tomorrow night even if Crawley’s chances of doing so would mean some kind of unprecendented defensive meltdown by both Fleetwood Town and Port Vale. Colchester could overtake Crawley if they beat Yeovil and the Red Devils lose but the bottom two sides will occupy those positions regardless of what happens tomorrow.

As I mentioned last week, the weekend post will focus almost entirely on the JPT final between the current leaders and Walsall, but although there’ll be a post appearing on Friday 27th March, I’m taking a break after that. It may be possible to knock something together for the easter monday games, but I’m not promising anything…

It’s Tough At The Bottom

It’s decision time this week.

Bristol City are thirteen points clear at the top of the table, they have ten games left to play and look as if they’ve definitely qualified for the playoffs; at more or less the same point in last season’s Championship campaign, I stopped writing about Burnley and Leicester. To be honest, the jostling for second place and the playoffs as well as the relegation dogfight look like the most interesting stories at the top of the table for the next couple of months, especially as it’s worth remembering that the only teams that are probably out of playoff contention are the bottom three.

So what I’m going to do is leave City out of the proceedings unless they suddenly look as if they could be overtaken and as the bottom four are playing each other, that’s where the focus is this week. Only two points separate Orient and Yeovil with Coventry and possibly Notts County (who have suddenly reverted back to being a very poor team) still possible contenders for the drop

Colchester v Crawley

United made an early decision to sack Joe Dunne, but although Tony Humes only lost two of his first ten games in charge and Colchester were in mid table at the end of October, five straight defeats before Christmas was the end of Humes’ honeymoon period. Two wins in ten home games since January isn’t exactly going to banish the threat of relegation and twelve games since a home draw won’t help either. However, the Us have yet to be beaten at home by any of the three teams in the drop zone.

Crawley had a massive upset win at Swindon last month, but that was only their second away win of the season and if their form on the road this season is anything to go by then that victory in Wiltshire may be their last away win in league one for a while as they’d lost their previous six on the road. The Red Devils have already lost at both Orient and Yeovil and have only scored more than once in three of their 17 games away from Broadfield Road.

This is the third meeting between the clubs in the league in Essex, previous encounters have both finished in 1-1 draws.

Leyton Orient v Yeovil

Orient’s last home game against the current bottom four, but three wins and a draw in ten home games since January 1st combined with a brutal looking home run in featuring three promotion visiting Brisbane Road after this game doesn’t inspire confidence in a Great Escape. Orient have collapsed completely since losing the playoff final on penalties nearly a year ago and so far the ‘Italian’ experiment has been a complete failure. Current boss Fabio Liverani has lost 13 of 22 games in his entire managerial career.

Yeovil visit Colchester next week but they’ve not won any of their last seven away games and finish off their away slate this season with trips to Swindon and MK Dons. The Glovers have been in the bottom four since mid October and are almost at the point where the bookies won’t accept any more bets backing them for relegation. This time last year they’d manage to put a five game unbeaten streak together in the championship, which wasn’t enough to save them in the long term; in a year’s time they’ll probably be wondering if that their spell in the second tier actually happened.

There are no form clues from past meetings in East London; this is their tenth meeting in the London borough of Waltham Forest and the last nine have been divided equally between the three outcomes. Orient won the last league meeting 4-1 in September 2012.

I’ll be back on Monday to take a look at Bradford’s cup replay and the midweek programme, but the focus will be on the JPT final next Friday.

Bantams Attempt To Make History

If Bradford City beat Reading in tomorrow’s FA Cup quarter final (12:00pm, BT Sport 1 – free to air), it’ll actually be pretty remarkable how similar their journey to that stage of the FA Cup is when you compare it to the previous sides from the third tier who made it to the semi finals. Last season Sheffield United became only the seventh club from this level since 1920 to reach the last four; Bradford still have to beat Reading tomorrow, so instead of getting carried away prematurely let’s provide a bit of historical background to the Bantams’ current achievement.

In the first three decades of the 20th Century, Bradford City regularly reached the latter stages of the competition and actually won the FA Cup in 1911 when they defeated Newcastle at Old Trafford after a draw at the old ground on the current site of the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palce. Four years earlier the Bantams reached the sixteen of the FA Cup, a run which included the only previous game against Reading in the competition, which City won 1-0.

However, the expansion of the Football League following the First World War combined with relegation to the old Third Division (North) in 1937 ushered in almost five decades of being marooned outside the top two divisions of the football league, during which time City only had two noteworthy cup runs. In 1976 they reached the quarter finals whilst they were in the Fourth Division, but the only time Bradford had a decent cup run as a third tier side was in 1959-60. They needed replays to dispose of Barnsley and Rochdale before meeting Everton at Valley Parade in the Third Round on January 9th 1960. The Toffees – just as they are now – were struggling at the wrong end of the old First Division and a crowd of almost 24,000 in West Yorkshire saw the Bantams win 3-0. After Bournemouth (at that point in the Third Division) were beaten in the next round, mid table City were drawn at home to Burnley and were actually beating the sie that was second in the old First Division 2-0 before the Clarets scored two very late goals to force a replay. That was the end of the road for City as they were battered 5-0 in front of almost 53,000 (!) fans at Turf Moor in the replay three days later.

The team that’s done so well in the FA Cup this season has been built around ‘keeper Ben Williams, defender Stephen Darby and James Meredith, Felipe Morais and Billy Knott in midfield and Jon Stead up front. Williams and Meredith have played all six games without being substituted, whilst Knott and Stead are most likely to be substituted if the circumstances are favourable. Darby, Rory McCardle and James Hanson are the only members of the squad who started the Capital One cup final two years ago.

City have a noticeable tendency to start both halves of their cup games on the offensive: nine of their sixteen goals in the competition have been scored within 15 minutes of kick off and they’ve outscored opponents by 11-3 in the second half of this season’s cup run, including the memorable blitz at Stamford Bridge earlier in the tournament. I’d expect more of the same tomorrow, especially as it’s been a while since Reading visited Bradford and it’s not a venue that the Royals have had much success at. City have only lost twice in the last ten games in all competitions but the last time The Royals won at Valley Parade was in March 2003. I’ve covered the Reading angle here but I’d like to wish Bradford City the best of luck tomorrow. I’ll post a score update ASAP.

Goalless draw.

Game Of The Evening: Preston v Doncaster

(Due to technical problems beyond my control – but probably of my own making – I was unable to publish last night. So for what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote…)

I wondered if last Saturday’s games would see any significant shifts and I was right. Bristol City beat Rochdale 1-0, but Coventry held on to an early lead to beat MK Dons for their first home win since October. Those results – combined with an emphatic win by Preston at Oldham and Swindon only earning a point at Crawley – mean that Bristol City now have an eight point lead over the Dons, who are in second place on goal difference from Preston. Swindon drop to fourth.

At the bottom, the plot thickened considerably. Leyton Orient won at Walsall to move within a point of safety whilst Notts County lost at Port Vale: that’s County’s sixth defeat in the last seven and they drop into the bottom six for the first time this season. The Magpies were in the playoff positions as recently as the end of November.

Tonight’s highlights:

Colchester United v Notts County

United haven’t won consecutive league games at home since October and but have won four of their last ten in 2015 including the recent shock win over Bristol City…have spent almost all of the season in the bottom four but have a superb record against Leyton Orient, Crawley and Yeovil in 2014/15…Notts have lost only once in seven games at teams currently in the bottom half of the table but have to visit Crawley and Yeovil over the next month…only Bristol City have lost fewer away games than the Magpies…Colchester have won half of the last ten encounters in Essex, last win was October 2011 but Notts thumped them 4-0 last season.

Leyton Orient v Bristol City

The Os have won three of their last four but have failed to win any of their home games against any of the sides currently in the top half of the table this season…haven’t won consecutive home games for a year…two of City’s three away defeats have been at teams in the bottom half of the table (Crewe, Colchester)…first of three consecutive away games against three of the bottom four…last time Orient beat Bristol City in East London, Barbra Streisand was number one with ‘Woman In Love’. Yes, that long ago.

Preston v Doncaster

Game of the evening. There’s a fourteen point difference between them but if the season ended today this would be a playoff game: North End have been in the top five since the end of September, which is almost exactly the same position as they were last season.

As I’ve mentioned Preston a lot recently, it’s only fair to focus on Doncaster. After relegation from the Championship in May, Rovers got off to an indifferent start – they were in the bottom six at the end of October – but just five defeats in their next 20 games have given them a chance of promotion that looked unlikely a few weeks ago. Their big problem is that after tonight they still have to play at MK Dons and Sheffield United as well as entertaining Swindon and they don’t have a good record against the teams above them. However, despite lacking an outstanding striker they have goals throughout the team and can be lethal on their day: the 5-0 win at Crawley last month was the first time they’d scored that many goals away from home for almost five years.

Rovers don’t have a bad record at Deepdale either. Preston haven’t beaten them in Lancashire since December 2008 and Donny have won their last two visits without conceding a goal and another perfomance like that would really put the cat amongst the pigeons in the race for sixth place. Bradford City are more likely to overtake them than Chesterfield are this evening but I suspect that in a few weeks it’s going to be the last play off place that is going to be the centre of attention: it’s highly likely that the sixth placed team won’t earn 70 points this season.

Back on Friday when I’m focussing purely on Bradford City’s FA Cup quarter final against Reading, but before I leave, Tony Mowbray has taken over the reigns at Coventry. Instant reaction: uh oh.