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Match Previews

PREVIEW | Wrexham vs Bradford City

Back home at last

9 February 2024

Match Previews

PREVIEW | Wrexham vs Bradford City

Back home at last

9 February 2024

A clash between a title-chasing team who are coming off a rough patch on the road and a side still looking for their first league win of 2024. The stakes are high for two clubs eager to get back to winning ways.

THE WREXHAM ANGLE

It feels like an eternity since Wrexham enjoyed the comforts of home, not least because recent away games have been disappointing to say the least. However, Wrexham's home form remains strong, with the last 8 league games at the Stok Cae Ras all ending in victory.

The injuries which have beset Phil Parkinson all season seem to be clearing up, as it appears the whole squad will be available except for Rob Lainton, Anthony Forde and Tom O'Connor. That means the possible of a couple of home debuts: Luke Bolton and Jack Marriott made their first Wrexham appearances at Salford last Saturday, and will be eager to make a positive early impression on another big Stok Cae Ras crowd.

The sides have already met at the Stok Cae Ras this season, in the second round of the Carabao Cup, fighting out a 1-1 draw before City went through on penalties. The match started dramatically as City were awarded a controversial penalty after 90 seconds following a challenge by Aaron Hayden on Jamie Walker. Tyler Smith scored from the spot and City would hold onto the lead deep into the second half, despite Ben Tozer hitting the bar and Sam Dalby having a shot cleared off the line.

The equaliser came in the 72nd minute when Will Boyle headed home Luke Young's corner and the game went to penalties: The Bantams held their nerve to win 4-3.

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LAST MEETING

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THE OPPOSING VIEW

After coming close in the play-offs last season, Bradford have suffered a frustrating season, although a late surge of good form could still propel them into the top seven. Changing manager in October hasn't immediately led to an improvement in their league position as they stand in 18th place, exactly where they were when Welsh legend Mark Hughes was removed in October, although under Graham Alexander there have been signs of promise under the experienced gaffer, who made his reputation at MK Dons, Scunthorpe United, Motherwell, Fleetwood Town and Salford City, leading the last two to promotion.

After a tough start, losing his first two games to promotion candidates Barrow and Notts County, his side reeled off 6 wins in a row. Since then, league form has dropped off, and City haven't won in their last 8 matches in League Two, drawing 5 and losing 3. Despite that poor run of form and lowly league position, they're only 7 points off the play-off places.

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City haven't scored in 4 of their last 6 games, and that lack of goal power has concerned their fans. Alexander saw promising signs in last Saturday's goalless home draw with AFC Wimbledon, feeling that his side are creating chances and will become prolific once they start being more efficient in front of goal.

“We cannot feel sorry for ourselves,” he told Bradford's club website.

“Our players are committed and they are not holding back, we just need that one goal, then we can hopefully build on that, and it can snowball from there. I thought we were the better of the sides. We had the opportunities. When we had the chances, we just could not finish them off.

“We just need to show that we have the required quality to score. It was a game we should have won, we just could not grab that goal to come away with the win.”

“January can be disruptive, with players looking over their shoulders of players coming in or out, but we are settled now and happy moving into the rest of the season.

“I was pleased with the defence and their performance. Our defensive structure is good and we have consistency to our defensive play. We just need to add the intent to score and that comes from all other the pitch. The strikers have the intent to score, and we need that from all over the pitch. Going forward we can hopefully add that. Whether it is from a set-piece or other means, hopefully we can add goals around the squad.”

It's surprising to see The Bantams struggle for goals considering the quality of the strikers in their squad. The prolific Andy Cook is a very familiar face to Wrexham fans, and not only because Dean Keates pursued his signature constantly during his two spells as Wrexham manager. Cook has scored over 20 goals in a season 4 times, and has often scored against us, most famously at Wembley when the sides met in the 2012 FA Trophy Final.

He came off the bench against AFC Wimbledon, having been withdrawn at half time in the previous match at Swindon, and Alexander explained to the Telegraph and Argus that he felt the totemic forward was taking the team's scoring struggle to heart and trying to do too much.

“I think Cooky needed a little reset. I spoke to him at length on Friday and he was really good about it. I watched him in the changing room before the game and he was really positive with the players supporting them. I thought he looked sharper with his movement when he came off the bench. Sometimes you just need a brain dump and then go with a fresh start.

“We can’t be a team that doesn’t give opportunities for performance or keeps going with the same line-up. We have to try things to try and win. I said to him that he looked like a ball of frustration all the time at many different things.

“We want Cooky to be at his best level. But we have to have a policy here where it’s performance-related as well. If we’re not winning and not scoring, then we have to give the opportunity to other people.”

While Alexander will hope that Cook will be rejuvenated by his mini-break, he has other attacking options available to him. Jake Young was on loan to Swindon Town for the first half of the season and was a sensation, with 16 goals and 4 assists. Half of those assists, and 4 of his goals, came at The Stok Cae Ras in The Robins' insane 5-5 draw last October. Inevitably, City recalled him during January and although he was substituted prematurely on Saturday, he will be available for selection.

“Jake reported a little bit of a tight hamstring at half-time," Alexander explained, "We were conscious of the fact that we lost Tyreik Wright after him not being with us and coming back and playing. “Jake Young hasn’t been with us for a long time and played.It was a precautionary message with him reporting something at half-time. He feels fine now."

“We couldn’t afford with the goal threat and pace we need in the front line to lose another guy who’s got that quality. We’ve already lost Tyreik for a few games and we can’t lose Jake as well."

“We worked hard in January, we brought in players, we improved our squad and attacking threat. We do not have them all up to speed but we will get there and we can build on that in training. 

-Graham Alexander

Another option up front is Callum Kavanagh, son of ex-Irish international Graham, who signed on deadline day and made a lively debut off the bench on Saturday.

"It feels brilliant to be here. It is a huge club with huge ambitions, and this is a new chapter in my career that I am really looking forward to", he told the club website.

"I met the manager and we had a conversation, and as soon as we had spoken I knew this was the place for me. This is what I need at this stage of my career, and this club gives me a platform to progress as a player and hopefully achieve promotion.

"I would say I am an energetic player who likes to press, get in behind players and get in people's faces and ultimately score goals. I am here to win games. 

"I am looking forward to getting on the grass and showing what I am about, doing really well in this league and for this club. I cannot wait to meet the fans and pull the jersey on."

"It feels brilliant to be here. It is a huge club with huge ambitions, and this is a new chapter in my career that I am really looking forward to. 

"I met the manager and we had a conversation, and as soon as we had spoken I knew this was the place for me. This is what I need at this stage of my career, and this club gives me a platform to progress as a player and hopefully achieve promotion.

"I would say I am an energetic player who likes to press, get in behind players and get in people's faces and ultimately score goals. I am here to win games. 

"I am looking forward to getting on the grass and showing what I am about, doing really well in this league and for this club."

HEAD TO HEAD

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Stalemate has been the usual order of things in our recent games against Bradford, with 4 of our last 5 matches being draws including two clashes already this season. City also drew their most recent Football League game at the Stok Cae Ras, in January 2008: Neil Roberts gave us a half-time lead, but a goal by Kyle Nix denied us victory and began a sequence of 3 draws between the sides in North Wales.

A sequence of draws was inevitable, I suppose, as that 2008 game was City’s first draw at The Stok Cae Ras since March 1969, and the last goalless draw between the two sides in North Wales was in 1949!  In fact there has only been one 0-0 in this fixture home or away in fifty-four games since then, at Valley Parade in December 1982.

In the 1970s we won four consecutive games against The Bantams at The Racecourse, then promptly lost four out of five home matches to them in a row.

Our last win over The Bantams came in September 2004 when a Dennis Lawrence goal in the second minute decided the game, while their previous visit, for a League Cup tie in September 2002, had a memorable conclusion.  City arrived as firm favourites as they were two divisions higher, and when they took the lead with seven minutes left against the run of play it looked like they would triumph.  However, Andy Morrell equalised in the eighty-ninth minute and Carlos Edwards hit a dramatic winner before the game could go into extra time!

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Our best ever win against Bradford was a solitary victory in the midst of that run of run of four home losses in five I mentioned earlier.  It was a 6-1 win in an Autowindscreens Shield tie in November 1994 with Gary Bennett scoring a hat-trick in a game which ironically attracted the smallest ever crowd for a visit by City of just 1,407.

Prolific 1950s forward Tommy Bannan is our top scorer against The Bantams with 8 goals, 3 ahead of Ron Hewitt and Don Weston. On 4 goals are Gary Bennett, Arfon Griffiths and Jack Boothway.

As I mentioned earlier, Bennett has a hat trick against Bradford to his name; the only other Wrexham player to achieve that feat is Eric Betts in a 4-3 away defeat in August 1955.

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A bruising encounter, the match was something of a reunion as Peter Jackson, who left Wrexham the previous season to take charge in Bradford, fielded his twin sons, Peter and David, who had both followed him to Valley Parade. Indeed, David opened the scoring but Betts kept us in the game, equalising twice. City took the lead for the 3rd time in the 80th minute, and when David Jackson added another 3 minutes later it looked like it was all over. Betts completed his hat trick with 5 minutes left to set up a dramatic finale, but Wrexham couldn't manage a 4th goal and travelled home empty-handed.

TODAY’S OTHER FIXTURES

AFC Wimbledon v Barrow
Crewe Alexandra v Crawley Town
Doncaster Rovers v Tranmere Rovers
Forest Green Rovers v Mansfield Town
Grimsby Town v Stockport County
Harrogate Town v Colchester United
Milton Keynes Dons v Accrington Stanley
Morecambe v Sutton United
Swindon Town v Salford City
Walsall v Newport County
 
On a weekend when most of the promotion-chasing sides will fancy themselves to obtain 3 points, the match of the day sees AFC Wimbledon, one point off the play-offs, take on 3rd-placed Barrow. Leaders Stockport visit Grimsby, and 2nd-placed Mansfield travel to bottom team Forest Green Rovers.
 

POTENTIAL MILESTONES

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Jordan Tunnicliffe's 325th career appearance.


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