Opportunity for forgiveness

Forgive the tedious Easter analogy, but after Bradford City’s promotion hopes appeared to have been firmly nailed to a cross on Good Friday they have being partially resurrected after Chesterfield’s slip up against Darlington the following day. The gap is still only two points – and there are four games left to claim the elusive seventh spot.

Four games is not much. The phrase ‘now or never’ has been overused in recent weeks, but the failings of others keep it relevant. One can only imagine the mood among Chesterfield and Shrewsbury fans right now with no one able to grasp the opportunities and steal a march. Surely someone’s form is going to pick up at just the right time, why can’t it be City’s?

Lincoln at home is not easy, but far from impossible. With the Imps’ faint play off hopes effectively ended by drawing at home to Luton yesterday, they probably represent the easiest of City’s four remaining matches. Equally they are less likely to keep ten men behind the ball, time waste and frustrate the crowd in the manner a lot of visiting sides have this season. Manager Peter Jackson would love nothing better than a win over his old club and that should allow City more space to attack.

The big question, which has failed to evaporate during the weekend sunshine, is of the squad’s appetite for the fight. Friday’s weak second half surrender was worrying, but there were still positives to take from the first half performance. With Dean Furman still out, I would personally stick with the same starting eleven and give them the opportunity to put right what they lost. With Stuart’s habit of rotating his team, the possibility of freshening things up appears more likely.

Rhys Evans will keep goal behind a back four which, in the centre, struggled badly on Friday. Matt Clarke was brilliant against Brentford but calamitous at Christie Park while more should be expected of Graeme Lee than witnessed during recent games. Zesh Rehman at right back is troubling, given the on-loan defender’s preference for cutting onto his left foot, but he was much better at Morecambe and would expect to keep his place. Paul Arnison might be unlucky to be on the bench but his last start, where he was torn to shreds by Rochdale’s Will Buckley and had to be substituted, remains vivid. Luke O’Brien was one of the few players who could walk off Christie Park with their head held high on Friday.

In midfield Nicky Law Jnr is likely to continue alongside Paul McLaren, though Lee Bullock will be pushing for a rare start. The fall in popularity of Bullock is curious in that he’s done little wrong but get injured, but every time he comes on as sub there are loud groans. Joe Colbeck was a surprise starter at Morecambe and did very well, he should retain his place and hopefully those fans who like to spend 90 minutes calling him the “worst footballer ever to play for City” will have their clueless minds occupied elsewhere. Chris Brandon looked decent but is still struggling for fitness, leaving a strong possibility of the less-than-committed Steve Jones or the forgotten Kyle Nix taking his starting spot on the left.

Up front it’s to be hoped Peter Thorne’s early departure from the field at Christie Park will enable him to be fit to start alongside Paul Mullin. The on-loan Accrington striker had a decent first half on Friday but poor second. Questions continue to be raised over why he was brought in and Barry Conlon shipped out, though reliable sources suggest it had little to do with football and that such questions might be better directed at the Irishman and his attitude

Little had been made of some fans choosing to booing Stuart for taking him off for Michael Boulding and that’s probably appropriate. After Bullock was brought on, two supporters in the Main Stand choose to stand up and shout abuse at Stuart, who was within earshot. Yet while others might have agreed, everyone else stayed seated and it should not be a case of believing those who make the most noise represent anyone but themselves. A poll on the club’s message board found 68% of fans have lost belief in Stuart – at the time of writing, a mere 25 people had voted.

The game follows a minute’s silence that means as much to Stuart as any one else inside the stadium. After it he’ll hope his players put in a performance fitting for the occasion.

The path to forgiveness starts now.