Both Bradford and Plymouth Argyle come into this League One clash in desperate need of three points. Second-bottom City are just a point from safety whilst Argyle are just four points clear having played at least a game more than many of the relegation threatened sides but will be looking to build on a run of form which has seen them lose just once in their last eight matches.
Right-back Kelvin Mellor looks set to miss out once again through injury. The 28-year-old played for Argyle between 2014-16, racking up 92 appearances before leaving to join Blackpool.
Forward Billy Clarke will be pushing for first start after joining from Charlton at the end of January.
Bradford will look to bring forward George Miller back into the line-up. The Bantams have failed to score in four of their previous six league games and are in need of strengthening their forward line.
Predicted Line-Up (4-1-3-2)
Caddis, Knight-Percival, O’Connor, Chicksen
Ball, O’Brien, Payne
Style of Play
Whilst deploying a number of different formations throughout the season as they look to avoid relegation, Bradford have recently favoured a 4-1-3-2 system. This system allows them to flood forward in waves on the counter, creating plenty of options for attacking targets. By starting with two strikers, the load is lightened from their absence of a target man as the pair can work together to cause problems. Despite Bradford’s lowly position of 23rd in the table, the pair of Eoin Doyle and George Miller have recorded a respectable 11 goals and 10 assists between them this season.
Attacking midfielder Jack Payne is perhaps their most influential player. The former Huddersfield player is the top scorer with nine goals and has recorded a further four assists, meaning he has directly contributed to 36% of his sides goals this season. The 24-year-old often controls the play in the final third of the pitch, looking to beat an opposition player before cutting in to create a chance or lay off a pass for a teammate. His tally of just four assists for the season are certainly not reflective of the chances he creates with only forward George Miller (seven) registering more. He is undoubtedly one of the best creative players in the division – as he has showed with Southend, Oxford and Blackburn – but is limited by Bradford’s unbalanced squad and tactics.
Hope Akpan shields the back four from a defensive midfield position. With two wingers and two forwards in this system, it often leaves Bradford vulnerable on the counter-attack. At times this has seen them revert to a 4-3-3 formation against more attack-minded sides like Fleetwood, who beat them 1-0 last weekend. This meant the introduction of new signing Jacob Butterfield and Lewis O’Brien in the middle to combat the impressive fontline of Paddy Madden, Ched Evans and Ashley Hunter. Against lower sides such as Rochdale and Accrington however, they enjoyed 4-0 and 3-0 wins at the turn of the year with just Akpan in that role with his aggression and agility vital traits.
Defensively, Bradford look to keep their back four in shape but due to their limitations in midfield they are often dragged out of position. Their full-backs have a tendency to join the attack when City are pushing numbers forward in games. At 6ft 2in, former Pilgrim Anthony O’Connor is the tallest of their backline which often leaves them vulnerable in the air against sides with a targetman. Despite this disadvantage they have a generally pacey backline which allows them to be quick to the second ball and pressure opposition attackers quickly to force errors.
Attacking midfielder Jack Payne is Bradford’s most valuable outlet. The former Blackburn loanee is one of few relatively consistent players in what has been a poor season for David Hopkin’s side. Only Payne and goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell have featured in every league game.
A tally of nine goals and four assists has been an impressive return in a Bradford side that has struggled for goals this season. His tireless pace and ability to take on players has been a breath of fresh air in a side clearly lacking both confidence and consistency. Payne particularly impressed when his side met Argyle earlier in the season, scoring twice in a 3-3 draw. This would prove to be a run in form that would see him score and assist six goals over as many games.
Despite their attacking formation they are amongst the lowest scorers in the division with just 36 goals from their 32 league games to date. They don’t have a great spread of goals throughout their side with centre-back Anthony O’Connor (five) contributing more goals than many of their more attack-minded players. Only Payne (nine) and Doyle (eight) have scored more in the league this season. Just seven sides in have scored fewer goals this season.
Defensively, as has already been noted, their attacking style and personnel often leads to them being caught out on the edge of their area. Akpan cannot defend the entire box and spaces appear frequently on the counter, so opposition players can often find themselves in space to shoot from the edge of the area. This was most apparent in their recent 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Southend. With the current form of Ruben Lameiras and Graham Carey’s impressive performance against Portsmouth last weekend, the duo will surely be looking to exploit this to great effect.
With Argyle in a positive run of form they will be favourites heading into the fixture and should look to exploit Bradford’s defensive frailties. As the 3-3 draw before Christmas showed, the Bantams will be no pushovers and will look to get the ball to the likes of Jack Payne and Eoin Doyle as much as they can to cause problems. City’s potential 4-1-3-2 formation should allow Argyle more time on the ball and in turn more time for Argyle to create chances. I predict that Argyle will win this 2-1.