Both Bradford and Plymouth Argyle come into Saturday’s tie at Home Park on the back of clean sheets in wins against high flying sides. The Bantams beat Exeter City 2-0 whilst Argyle beat top of the table Forest Green 1-0.
Forward Clayton Donaldson remains out with a foot injury. The 35-year-old has scored just twice in 15 League Two appearances this season.
Full-back Joe Riley (not that one, the ex-Manchester United under 21 captain) and midfielder Jamie Devitt are also unavailable due to long-term injuries.
Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3)
Mellor, Richards-Everton, O’Connor, Wood
Pritchard, Akpan, Cooke
Oteh, Vaughan, Ismail
Style of play: direct
Predominantly playing in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, Gary Bowyer’s Bradford side tend focus on keeping the ball out wide in order to stretch their opponents. This results in a large number of crosses per game from wingers Aramide Oteh and Zeli Ismail. The Bantams average 24 attempted crosses per game, the highest by some margin in League Two.
Despite the disadvantage of standing at just 5ft 9in, forward James Vaughan is surprisingly effective in the air, top-scoring for his side with five goals so far this season. Possessing a mixture of both pace and physicality, the former Everton man is the perfect foil in a formation that relies heavily on crossing and counter-attacking play.
This style means that City tend to attempt a higher volume of long balls as opposed to other sides, but this has a cost in possession. Bowyer’s side average 49.8% of possession with just a 67.4% pass success rate which ranks them in the bottom half of sides in the division. Despite this, it suggests that they are effective when they do keep the ball.
Harry Pritchard is by far the most attack-minded of the midfield trio. The 27-year-old is naturally a winger, which often shows in his play. The former Blackpool man often enjoys a freer role going forward due to his lack of defensive qualities and this has earned him five goal contributions in 10 League Two appearances this season (2G, 3A).
A big fault of Bradford last season was their weakness in the air. However, the signing of centre back Ben Richards-Everton offers them more aerial strength in both attack and defence. He records an average of 8.5 aerial duels won per 90 minutes this season.
Star player: James Vaughan
Forward James Vaughan is, without doubt, the vital cog as Bradford aim to return to League One at the first attempt. The former Norwich man, along with veteran Clayton Donaldson, was selected ahead of last season’s first choice Eoin Doyle who has gone on to net 16 goals in 15 games on loan at fellow League Two side Swindon Town.
With Donaldson well past his prime and registering just two goals this season, Vaughan has stepped up to the plate, top-scoring with five goals. With a mixture of both pace and physicality, the 31-year-old suits their system to a tee, latching onto crosses as well as running onto long or through balls. With goals in back-to-back games against Port Vale and Exeter City, Vaughan will be heading into Saturday’s tie brimming with confidence.
Whilst not conceding many goals this season, Bradford have remained susceptible against set-pieces. Bowyer’s side have conceded the joint least goals from open play (eight) but have conceded a further five from dead-ball situations. Against a side like Argyle who have been productive in such circumstances, it could be the difference in Saturday’s fixture.
With Vaughan picking up the goalscoring burden to an extent this season, Bradford look likely to struggle should the 31-year-old pick up an injury at some stage. Five other players have registered two goals this season so there’s a fair spread amongst the goalscorers, however none stand out in terms of getting 10 goals a season.
Prediction: Plymouth Argyle 1-1 Bradford
Argyle have made Home Park into a fortress once more in League Two this season, losing just once at home, and come into the game full of confidence following their win over Forest Green last weekend. Both sides have looked fairly disciplined of late, but with Argyle’s quality down the left side against Kelvin Mellor and Bradford’s frequent use of wide play, both sides could find themselves stretched throughout. This ought to lead to both sides creating opportunities, so I believe a tightly fought score draw is on the cards.