Bradford v Northampton, Wembley, 1.30pm
THESE clubs both have hungry young managers in demand, both were looking over their shoulders at the wrong end of League Two last season and both are clearly better than that.
They have regrouped and restructured, thrusting their managers into the spotlight with signs they could be of interest to clubs higher up the pyramid.
Bradford’s Phil Parkinson, the former Charlton manager, has found fame from the club’s run to the Capital One Cup Final against the odds as a fourth-tier team. Co-chairman Julian Rhodes hopes to tie him to a two-year deal after their 64-game season finally ends.
Meanwhile, Northampton chairman David Cordoza says he is expecting interest in Aidy Boothroyd who led Watford to the Premiership in the past via the playoffs and against the odds.
Arguably, Bradford are the bigger club of the two in this fixture. Home gates average 10,000 and they were a top-flight club as recently as 1999-2001. They have been ripe for a turnaround and Parkinson has been the catalyst.
Were it not for that cup run, Bradford might have won automatic promotion, but that run gives them two edges. They have recent Wembley experience and an English record nine straight penalty shoot-out victories to fall back on.
Forget the 5-0 reverse in the Cup Final, it simply gives them unfinished business. Defeat was also against a team, Swansea, from three levels higher who brought their A game, which clearly Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa did not in previous rounds.
Anyone who took previous advice to back Bradford for promotion at 6.0, after Burton beat them in the semi-final first leg, can cash out at 1.8. Latecomers should try the win at 2.46 (90 minutes) or to win on penalties if the eventually starts to look likely.
It might seem like there were contrasting styles in the semi-finals, with Northampton taking two 1-0 wins over Cheltenham and Bradford’s games being high scorers (2-3 and 3-1). But the Bantams had only themselves to blame as a lax first half in the first leg meant they had to chase goals.
They are quite capable of keeping things tight. Indeed Parkinson is pleased talismatic defender Andrew Davies, who missed a large chunk of the season, helped thwart the big physical forward line of the Cobblers, especially Ade Akinfenwa, during the season.
For the match to be decided with under 1.5 goals is tempting value at 3.0.
As well as those two 1-0 wins, Bradford have beaten beaten Northampton on penalties in the FA Cup after 1-1 and 3-3 draws, emphasise Opta. As a caveat, Northampton suffered two defeats to Cheltenham but beat them in the play-offs.
A tight game seems in prospect. Bradford 1-0 is 7.0 and Northampton 1-0 is 8.0. I’m backing the Bantams and adding draw/Bradford in the half-time/full-time market.
If Kyel Reid gets the nod to play, which he did not for Bradford’s first Wembley appearance this season, he could provide the key crosses. Nakhi Wells is the all-too-obvious favourite at 5.7 to convert them, as the division’s second highest scorer with 21.
Opta add that he has scored six in his last five games against the Cobblers – and seven in the last seven for the Bantams.
That he displayed footballers’ foot in mouth disease, bragging about his statistics and nicely doing Boothroyd’s team talk for him, counts against him. Might that leave the door open for James Hanson at 7.8?
Overall, I think Wells is the better striker and feel his quality could unlock the anticipated tight match. Alternatives, again if a set-piece proves most effective for Bradford, include centre-backs Rory McArdle at 42.0 or Davies at 36.0.
Northampton’s candidates start with Akinfenwa (16 goals from 41 appearances – 30 starts) but he has not netted since mid-February, so makes little appeal at 6.8. Irishman Roy O’Donovan, who has scored three in his last four games, is more interesting at 9.6 but Kelvin Langmead at 17.0 is even more attractive, in my tight game scenario.
If the game goes Northampton’s way from a set-piece has a good ratio, for a defender, of seven goals this season. It should be no surprise he was a striker until 2006.
Back Bradford to win (90 minutes) @ 2.46
Back Bradford to win 1-0 @ 7.0
Back Draw/Bradford in the half-time/full-time market @ 5.7
Back Nahki Wells to score first @ 5.7
Back Kelvin Longmead to score first @ 17.0