FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Gabriel Sutton takes a look at Thursday night's live fixture between Bradford and Shrewsbury.
Bradford v Shrewsbury | Thursday 12th April 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Bradford City have become the footballing equivalent of the main character in your typical Jane Austen-based film.
She planned to marry (or win League One promotion with) her childhood sweetheart (Stuart McCall), but her father (chairman Edin Rahic) instead sold her off to a more successful but less endearing fella (Simon Grayson).
Parking the analogy, it’s easy to see why Grayson’s managerial record appealed to the owners, but at previous clubs, he was given control of transfers and trusted to offer competitive contracts to powerful players performing at their peak.
The board at Valley Parade wants to ensure recruitment of young players on the cheap – a few older heads with declining fitness thrown in – meaning the current squad is some way off Grayson’s usual template.
The result therefore is a marriage of convenience in which nobody gets quite what they’d hoped for: the board wants kids, Grayson wants control while the hearts of fans and players still belong to McCall.
Of course, that tension is exacerbated by bad results. Bradford City have taken a mere five points since New Years’ Day – three of which coming in an unconvincing 1-0 win over Gillingham. For context, Oxford possess League One’s second-worst record in the same timeframe and even they have mustered 12 points; the Bantams play-off hopes are in tatters.
Shrews won’t be tamed
You’ll probably have guessed by now that there’s no way in hell we’re siding with flailing Bradford against the high-flying Shrews.
Yes, Paul Hurst’s side will be without the inspirational midfielder Abu Ogogo through injury. Yes, they didn’t play to their potential on Sunday at Wembley – where they lost the EFL Trophy Final 1-0 to League Two Lincoln – a game which followed a 3-1 league loss at Rochdale.
In both encounters though, there were periods when their opponents rode their luck and we reckon back-to-back defeats represent a standard disagreement in their marriage, rather than anything more significant.
The closest things Salop have had to a blip previously under Hurst have been the back-to-back defeats in December, poor home form over February or – going back to last season’s relegation battle – four consecutive losses during the Spring period.
Each of those spells had comprised of narrow defeats, mostly against in-form teams, which shows Shrewsbury are almost guaranteed to put in a competitive performance in every game. For victory, therefore, they often need just one or two moments of quality.
Creativity could be provided by Jon Nolan, who has recently reverted to a more favourable free attacking role since Bryn Morris has come into central midfield to partner Ben Godfrey, but who might capitalize?
The betting angle
Shrewsbury’s main striker tends to change between Stefan Payne and Carlton Morris, so we’re looking elsewhere in the anytime goalscorer market; winger Shaun Whalley is the team’s joint-top scorer this term with 11 goals in all competitions and can be found at 4s with Betfred.
Dominic Poleon could be Bradford’s biggest threat – the forward averages one strike every 211 minutes of football and might be worth an outside poke at 11/4 anytime with bet365.
For our best bet, we’re taking Shrewsbury to win and Under 3.5 Goals at 15/8 with Boylesports. Those odds imply a probability of 35%, but it would have occurred in 55% of Shrewsbury’s league games this season, while Bradford have lost 54% of their encounters in the same circumstances since New Years’ Day.
We fancy Salop to continue their happy marriage by exposing the strife in West Yorkshire.
Bradford v Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury to win and Under 3.5 Goals (15/8 Boyle Sports)