Bradford City 1
Crawley Town 2
Leon Clarke 54, Alexander 76
Tuesday 27 March, 2012
By Luke Lockwood
This evening’s match report is written through blurry eyes following 90 minutes trying to look for the ball somewhere in the floodlights. It wasn’t pretty and in fact a typical League Two football match. As the Liverpool fan who attended tonight’s fixture with me remarked ‘There were more aerial attacks than in a Blitzkrieg’.
The game actually started with a lot of promise as Bradford looked reasonably lively for the first 20 minutes. Crawley Town are a well organised, side filled with brutish thugs and it appears they are managed by one too. This was epitomised by two very tall, very tough, very strong centre halves that will have not lost many battles over the course of the season.
What Crawley Town are not is a footballing side, full of quick, agile, intelligent players. Crawley didn’t win a football match tonight because they didn’t come to Valley Parade to play football; but they do take home three points and what disappoints me about Bradford’s display is that we stooped to their level not just for 90 minutes but also following the final whistle.
For a period Bradford showed that they could have the beating of the promotion contenders if they kept the ball on the deck. Chris Dagnall more than most threatened Crawley with intelligent and direct running and had the best chance of the opening exchanges as he latched onto a loose ball and – with the ball at his feet – easily beat the Crawley defender before flashing his strike over the bar. However, it seemed from that point on Bradford played the game into the hands of Crawley.
The rest of the first half was controlled by 4 good centre halves. Andrew Davies his usual self threw himself at everything and appeared to win everything. However, any small amount of possession Bradford did have would bypass all midfielders and go straight down the throats of the Crawley defensive pair.
Lee Bullock on the back of such impressive recent displays and David Syers returning to the starting 11 must have thought they’d bought front row seats to a tennis match. Syers was his usual energetic self but, for all his running, he could probably count the times he touched the ball on one hand as he spent 45 minutes chasing shadows.
The game as a spectacle wasn’t helped by the referee. In recent weeks Bullock has dictated the tempo of games deep in Bradford’s midfield but today it was dictated by a whistle and the tempo followed a rhythm of stop, start. The referee appeared much like a young boy who had just got his whistle out of a cracker on Christmas day and this played into the hands of Crawley.
In the second half Bradford were slow out of the blocks and still seemed to be in the dressing room as they inexcusably gifted Crawley Town their first goal. 10 minutes in from yet another free kick, Crawley caught the Bradford defence asleep on the edge of the area and Leon Clarke was presented his goal on a plate as he guided his free header past Jon McLaughlin to put City a goal down. Despite all the plaudits we supporters have given Bradford’s defence over the course of this season, time and time again Bradford have conceded cheap goals such as this and on too many occasions it has cost us dear.
Crawley continued to hoof, head and kick (players more often than the ball) their way through the second half as Bradford searched for an equaliser. Parkinson had quickly responded to going behind by putting another striker on the pitch and sacrificing a defender but Bradford struggled to create any clear cut chances.
Bradford had shown at the beginning of the game that it was possible to open up the Crawley defence and it appeared that we were crying out for someone with the guile of Ritchie Jones to create the openings. Alas, once again the imaginative midfielder had been left out of the squad altogether and as arguably a Player of the Season contender it is difficult to understand Parkinson’s thinking on that particular decision.
Bradford did manage to pull level, however, when little Dagnall managed to find space amongst all the big men to head home a Kyel Reid free kick. Unfortunately, the scores didn’t remain level for long. Crawley showed they do have the ability to play football as they carved Bradford open down the right hand side with the best move of the game. As the Bradford defence attempted to scramble back into position they were left exposed at the back post allowing Gary Alexander to head home.
Bradford not for the first time in recent weeks pushed Davies into the centre forward role and – whether it was his presence or just the extra body – Bradford began retaining a lot more possession in the final third. It still wasn’t pretty but Bradford had the opportunity to equalise in a number of goalmouth scrambles. Unfortunately, the ball never seemed to drop kindly at the right time for City.
In an ugly game what followed the final whistle was even more unpleasant. There was an obvious confrontation between Davies and Claude Davis, but the scenes that followed were unacceptable from both sides. Obviously in the heat of the moment things boil over but the mass brawl that ensued was quite frankly embarrassing. Having witnessed their approach to football this evening and also my previous perceptions of them, the actions of the Crawley players and staff does not surprise me. What annoys me is how some of the members of our team stooped to their level and have possibly cost us valuably in the close of the season.
Supposedly Davies, Luke Oliver and McLaughlin have all received red cards following the fracas and will all receive suspensions for our vital run in. This means we will have a completely new look defence for the vital game against Plymouth this weekend and the following two games. Davies our outstanding, rock at centre half will also miss the Northampton and Macclesfield games which are likely to decide our fate this season.
The commitment and desire of the side can’t be questioned and the events following the final whistle, although indefensible, show how much passion there is for the cause. Tonight Bradford beat themselves by falling into Crawley’s trap and playing Crawley’s sport which only has the slightest of resemblance to football – I think the resemblance is probably the round ball.
What is more worrying is what impact the events following the match will have on our season and – if the worst was to happen – Bradford City’s future as a football club.
City: McLaughlin, Kozluk (Wells 55), Oliver, Davies, Fry (Ravenhill 55, Flynn 71), Fagan, Bullock, Syers, Reid, Hanson, Dagnall
Unused Subs: Annerson, Smalley