The have-nots travel to the now-haves – Bradford City vs Bournemouth – League Two Preview 2008/2009

29 points separate leaders Bradford City and second-bottom Bournemouth going into this one; though no one, least of all those who chose to boo the team off at half time last week, should be fooled by the deceptive nature of League Two.

The Cherries are one of three teams who began the season on minus points due to financial difficulties, with the early indications already suggesting this year’s relegation battle will have ultimately been decided before a ball was kicked. A good start was clearly vital and, while one of the three, Rotherham (deducted 17 points), would now be occupying a play off spot had they started on zero, for Bournemouth (17) and Luton (30) the prospects are already looking grim.

The away fans dedicated enough to make the 540-mile round trip will arrive at Valley Parade having yet to celebrate a league victory this season and could be forgiven for feeling a touch bitter. Were it not for a ten point deduction last season they’d have finished mid-table in League One, now they’re facing up to non-league. It’s difficult to argue with the logic clubs who spend beyond their means should be punished, but the loss in revenue Bournemouth can expect should they go down is hardly going to help matters. Are Boston and Halifax uncomfortably closer than they’d like to imagine?

Such financial problems are thankfully a thing of the past for the Bantams, though the resultant lessons should not be forgotten. This week Mark Lawn has talked about promoting the Bradford City brand in America but behind those headlines were some interesting, if unsurprising comments. The Rhodes family and Lawn pushed the boat out during the summer and this will result in the club losing “a fair amount of money” this season, which they will cover. More investment is welcomed and Lawn has made it clear that this summer’s considerable transfer activity is unlikely to be repeated.

All of which means the club has taken a gamble of sorts on gaining promotion this season and, while the risk of it causing financial headaches later is faint, the plight of clubs like Bournemouth should remind us supporters that relative high levels of spending should not be demanded if things don’t go to plan.

The early indications are that the summer transfer activity has left manager Stuart McCall with a squad capable of matching the club’s ambition. He’s likely to name an unchanged team for the sixth consecutive league game and the benefits of building familiarity are evident. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four which failed to convince last week but has earned three clean sheets from six. Paul Arnison still has something to prove but the form of Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Paul Heckingbottom has been pleasing, so far.

In midfield Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren are developing a decent understanding, with the latter playing a deeper role to enable the former to get forward more. Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck took most of the plaudits last week and will consider the muted response to their efforts from those supporters who’ve spent the last couple of seasons yelling abuse at them a victory of sorts.

Up front Peter Thorne continues to suffer from minor injuries but continues to find the back of the net, while Michael Boulding’s brace last week will help him to settle. There have been minor questions raised by some over the former Mansfield man’s start with City, but he’s looking sharper with each game under his belt.

Boulding will do well to match Stuart’s opposite number’s enviable goal record. Former Bantams striker Jimmy Quinn has sat in the away dug out at Valley Parade before – a 3-0 defeat for Swindon during our promotion campaign 10 years ago – and will have similar limited ambition for his current team this season. No Cherries player has managed more than one goal so far this campaign but, in Lee Bradbury and Darren Anderton, they have players of some pedigree. Striker Brett Pitman is also one to watch.

A home win is expected of course but, as Exeter threatened to prove last week, assumptions can be dangerous. City have pushed the boat out this season and the early signs are promising, but many battles lie ahead. As Stuart has stated, it’s how you finish which counts and it should be remembered how challenging it will be to realise our ambitions next May.

Only four teams will be promoted from League Two this season, even if only 21 began it standing any chance.