Bradford need to overturn a two-goal deficit at the New Den on Friday night - can they do it?
Bradford will be hoping history can repeat itself as they attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit at the New Den. In two previous play-off campaigns, the Bantams have progressed to the final despite losing the first leg on home soil, winning 3-0 at Blackpool when trailing 2-0 in 1996, then winning 3-1 at Burton when trailing 3-2 in 2013.
Phil Parkinson was the man who presided over the latter success and he’s promising a much-improved display from his team in the capital, having looked on in horror as they froze in the midday sunshine at Valley Parade. For Bradford to ship three cheap goals before half time was extremely uncharacteristic. Prior to that, they had conceded only twice in almost 14 hours.
And that’s the key statistic we should consider when approaching this return game. Millwall possess many qualities but variety of attacking play isn’t one of them. In Parkinson’s own words: "I don’t think Millwall are going to do anything different to surprise us. We’ve just got to be able to deal with it a lot better than we did. And we will do."
So now the tie has settled down, the goalless second period is likely to be a better barometer of what to expect here than the explosion of goals in that opening 45. But given the extra onus on Bradford, the lessons learned from knocking at the door for so long at 3-1 down and the possible return of key players (Reece Burke, James Hanson and Billy Clarke), there’s value in the 13/5 about the visitors prevailing on the night.
The psychodynamics are not exactly what Neil Harris had in mind when, in the build-up to the first leg, he talked staying in the tie so his younger players could experience the special atmosphere of big game at the Den. Harris, it seems, was anticipating a draw and gearing up for a raucous home crowd to help push his team over the line in the return.
The Millwall fans will no doubt be as hostile as ever but an experienced campaigner like Parkinson knows only too well how the first goal changes the mood instantly. Should Bradford get it, the presence of a 17,000-capcity crowd only adds to the tension and anxiety as the stick-or-twist conundrum is played out to even bigger stakes.
If you offered Harris a narrow defeat now, I’m convinced he would - begrudgingly - accept it. And that’s essentially the basis for additional bets on the Bradford 1-0 and Bradford 2-0 correct scores at 9/1 and 18/1 respectively. These two sides are too evenly-matched to be so far apart on aggregate and Bradford going 1-0 up brings us to a more natural simmering point.
The Lions have broken the deadlock only twice in eight home games against the rest of the top nine (W1 D2 L5), while they’ve also been turned over three times by League Two opposition in knockout competition with Barnet, Wycombe and Oxford all scoring twice in smash and grab raids at this venue. So the outcome isn’t a formality just yet. Far from it.
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