15 January ~ It’s the clash of the titans, or at least it’s about as titanic as it gets in League Two, as Oxford Utd take on Bradford City at the Kassam Stadium today. Bradford and Oxford draw the largest crowds in the division and both consider themselves "big" teams, with recent experience of top-flight football – Bradford’s being far more recent than Oxford’s.
Oxford are recent returnees to the League’s bottom division, having managed to escape from the Conference by beating York 3-1 at Wembley in last season’s play-off final. They have had mixed fortunes so far, but seem to be finding their feet at just about the right time of the season. United have won five of their last six games (the exception being a rather dismal home defeat by Southend on New Year’s Day) which followed on from a run of five successive defeats, four of them in the league.
Although manager Chris Wilder has retained the core of the promotion-winning side, he has also brought in players with decent League pedigree, most recently Paul McLaren who was a Bradford player last season. Wilder has also not been afraid to allow some Wembley heroes to move on, notably midfielder Dannie Bulman and defender Mark Creighton, who have both returned to the Conference with Crawley Town and Wrexham respectively.
While some of these decisions are not universally popular, their replacements have tended to be players who fit Wilder’s long-term vision of being young and "hungry". Wilder is certainly not a manager who is comfortable with the concept of consolidation, with his ambition, shared by the board, being to aim for at least the play-offs.
Bradford, on the other hand, were relegated in 2007 and have found a return to League One less easy than they might have initially envisaged. A succession of mid-table finishes have perhaps grounded the fans’ expectations in something approaching reality, and it would be interesting to see what their attendances would be without the massive discounts on season tickets that have been on offer the last few seasons.
In their first meeting in October, Bradford beat United 5-0 at Valley Parade in a game notable for three sendings off; the half-time score was 0-0. Oxford will obviously be looking for a measure of revenge, while Bradford will want to bounce back from an unexpected home defeat by Barnet on Saturday. Martin Brodetsky