FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his views on Saturday's televised encounter between Bradford and Bristol Rovers.
Bradford v Bristol Rovers | Saturday 2nd September 2017, 12:30 | Sky Sports
Stuart McCall deserves huge respect for his role in guiding Bradford all the way to a Wembley play-off final last season. The small Scot underwent a major rebuild, reinventing the style at Valley Parade whilst keeping the Bantams competitive and streetwise.
Sadly, a sizeable chunk of the team moved in the summer and McCall was almost forced to start from square one once more. Over 700 club appearances in Stephen Darby, James Meredith, Rory McArdle, Mark Marshall and Billy Clarke left but the club have worked hard to bring in a number of eye-catching replacements.
Jake Reeves, Paul Taylor and Shay McCartan fitted the McCall bill and many expected City to continue their upward trajectory this term. But it may take time before Bradford begin to peak with the boss admitting early performances have been “bitty” with the team looking good in patches but yet to really produce a convincing game.
The club record 31-match unbeaten home run came to an end against Blackburn a fortnight ago and last time out in League One, the Bantams chucked away a 3-0 lead at Walsall after 49 minutes to pick up a point as they failed to deal with the barrage of pressure from the Saddlers in the second-half.
McCall was damning in his verdict, suggesting his men were weak to the second ball, and weak at stopping crosses. He’ll demand an improvement and loan signing Adam Thompson should slot straight in at centre-half while the return from suspension of skipper Romain Vincelot should also aid the hosts.
Bristol Rovers’ best piece of business this summer has been tying head coach Darrell Clarke down to a five-year contract and keeping hold of forward Billy Bodin. The club confirmed they turned down £500,000 bids for the latter, who has scored five goals in six appearances in all competitions so far this season.
The Pirates started their campaign poorly with back-to-back defeats, including a humbling 4-1 home defeat against Peterborough. That loss saw Clarke respond by switching system from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 and four successive triumphs have followed; Fulham just one of the sides beaten.
Twelve goals have been plundered in the four fixtures with Rovers playing with plenty of pace and attacking intent. Fleetwood were gunned down at the Memorial Stadium last week but the Gasheads will need to reshuffle their backline with both centre-halves Tom Lockyer and Ryan Sweeney on international duty.
Tom Broadbent and Jonny Burn featured in the 5-1 Football League Trophy win at Wycombe in midweek and could deputise again whilst loan signing Dominic Telford, who scored twice at Wycombe, is likely to return to the bench.
The betting angle
Bradford have been on the drift all week – as they have prior to three of their first four league matches – and with last season’s second-best defensive record already leaking 10 goals this term, there’s enough doubt to swerve the hosts at the odds on offer.
Despite their excellent Valley Parade record, McCall’s men have drawn as many as they’ve won (W12-D12-L1), whilst 11/22 (50%) encounters with top-half teams saw the points shared (W6-D11-L5) – 7/11 (64%) at home.
Bristol Rovers haven’t tended to succeed on their travels (W6-D6-L13) since promotion but 10/22 (45%) of games against the division’s leading lights, including 5/11 (45%) away outings also ended in draws, suggesting the stalemate offers value here at 5/2 (Bet365).
Indeed, four of the past six meetings have seen the shares spoiled whilst a speculative punt on the 1-1 correct score also appeals considering the Both Teams To Score market has rewarded backers in 9/13 (69%) of the duos collective games across all competitions in 2017/18.
The 1-1 correct score landed in both of last season’s meetings and is nicely priced at 6/1 with BetVictor.