Burton Albion 1
Bradford City 0
Saturday 27 October, 2012
By Jason McKeown
After a week of describing back-to-back Bradford City victories as ugly, the term was redefined by a dismal afternoon at Burton Albion which saw the 10-men Bantams defeated and also lose their centre back partnership for the next week at least.
Ugly in terms of a flashpoint close to half time, when Ricky Ravenhill was unjustly red carded after Lee Bell conned the referee. An ugly, bitty refereeing performance by Andy D’Urso that did much to ensure a poor game stayed a poor game. An ugly mistake from Garry Thompson which cost City a hard-earned point. And downright ugly scenes at full time when home captain Nathan Stanton goaded City supporters in a provocative manner that could easily have incited a pitch invasion.
Where did it all go so wrong? Let’s be frank, this was not a good performance from City who looked lacklustre and jaded from their recent winning exploits. The players failed to imprint their high tempo game style on an impressive Burton side, who themselves caused numerous problems from the left side of their attack. Stood in the away end directly behind the goal Burton was attacking, it had been enjoyable to watch Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver defend with dogged determination and assurance. Ravenhill and Nathan Doyle’s defensive-biased central midfield pairing doing much to provide required cover; but they and an impressive James Hanson needed far more from the wide areas of the team. It seemed only a matter of time until Burton scored.
But then came the red card, and the result was an entirely different football match in which City’s resilience and spirit shone brightly. Ravenhill was sentenced to an early bath by D’Urso after he jostled for possession with Bell and the Burton midfielder took exception to a kick from behind. Bell squared up to Ravenhill, who then moved his head forwards in a motion that gave Bell the creative licence to collapse to the floor claiming he was headbutted.
I have watched the incident several times via Sky and the miracle of pausing and rewinding live TV. There was no physical contact between Ravenhill’s forehead and Bell’s, and – just as I witnessed at the time – a clear delay (about 0.75 of a second) before Bell falls to the ground. I have already had Tweets from people saying Ravenhill should not have initiated a headbutt and perhaps they are right. (Although it’s not clear, again with the magic of watching in slow motion many times, whether Ravenhill was actually merely attempting to get into Bell’s face as they argued about his original challenge.)
Ravenhill may not be whiter than white in this incident, but Bell clearly dives and has already admitted to it (he also recovers from rolling over on the floor in agony remarkably quickly). That is cheating in my book, and it is extremely poor on the Burton midfielder’s part. He has cheated to get a fellow professional sent off. That is not right, and it is embarrassing to see. There should be some form of retrospective punishment for his actions. There will not be.
Even then, did D’Urso need to whip out his red card? Maybe, maybe not. But to my mind the game had been played in the right spirit up to that point, and he had not had cause to produce any bookings. Sadly this was typical of a poor display by the ex-Premier League official, who was inconsistent in his handling of the match throughout. It was also not the first time he fell for a Burton dive: take a bow serial offender Cleveland Taylor.
If Phil Parkinson’s task of reorganising the team was tricky enough after losing Ravenhill, the sight of Oliver hobbling off injured sank hearts even further. Luke is expected to be out of contention for a considerable time, and before the second half began Davies had joined him in withdrawing from the action, after twisting something just before the break. Parkinson has already announced he will be looking to dip into the loan market.
Which is understandable, despite the makeshift centre back replacement pairing of Rory McArdle and
Fraser Carl McHugh performing heroics in the second half. McArdle looked more comfortable in his natural central position compared to the tough grilling he had been receiving at right back, which Stephen Darby came from the bench to make a better fist of. It was interesting to watch how McArdle handled the physical Calvin Zola compared to Davies. He clearly stood off Zola and allowed him to win long balls, before quickly moving in to whip the ball from the striker’s feet.
With Gary Jones brought on to replace Ravenhill (a very disappointing – and clearly disappointed – Alan Connell sacrificed), all three subs were made early and 9 of the 10 men exerted themselves commendably to try and preserve at least a point. If City had fallen below recent standards up until the red card, they were cajoled into life thereafter and performed manfully. Bodies thrown in front of shots, great last ditch tackles and impressive positional discipline. It would have been nice to see us keep the ball better, but up front Hanson was chasing everything and on the left Craig Forsyth awoke from a first half slumber to give Burton something to worry about.
Alas, we come to Thompson. It’s been strange that, like Connell, his Bantams career has so far failed to ignite and today was a low point in his contribution. When 9 teammates are running themselves into the ground, they must want to see the 10th man do likewise as a minimum. Sadly, Thompson just didn’t look to be applying the same level of effort. I get that he’s not the type of player who will harass and chase lost causes, but some of his attempted tackles, flick ons and passes appeared to be half-hearted and suggested he was not as committed compared to others.
As was evident in his role for Burton’s winner in the 81st minute. A long ball into the box saw Thompson in an unfamiliar right back role and the chance to clear. He completely missed contact with the ball and Damien McCory was able to loop a cross over the stranded Jon McLaughlin for Zola to head home unmarked at the back post. A really poor goal to give away. A really poor way to throw away all that effort towards earning a draw.
City’s players were dead on their feet, and a comeback looked beyond them. Jones did have half a chance in the final minute of a stoppage time when the ball bounced up on the edge of the box, but his half-volley flew into the away end and the game was up. This was sadly not an afternoon for anything so beautiful as a manic last-minute equaliser celebration.
It was ugly instead. Personified by Stanton reacting to the final whistle by taunting City fans. I never heard about this at the time, but apparently last January Stanton stuck two fingers up at the Kop and was later punished for his behaviour. Bitterness on both sides continued with Stanton booed throughout the second half, and then the Burton “captain” provocatively celebrated Burton’s goal by repeatedly clenching his fist at us away fans. As the game was about to finish and Burton’s keeper take a goal kick, Stanton – with his back to D’Urso, so the official couldn’t see – was apparently sticking two fingers up at us and smiling. At full time, Stanton continued to goad City fans until Parkinson stepped in and had an almighty go at him.
Goodness knows what caused all of this in the first place and why Stanton hates City so much, but I think it is astonishingly bad behaviour and equally upsetting was the fact no one connected to Burton tried to stop him. Never mind Parkinson having a go (good on you Parky, by the way), where was his manager Gary Rowett to drag him away? As Stanton continued to gesture to irate City fans, I was just praying no one jumped onto the pitch in an attempt to attack him. Fortunately no one did.
Clearly there are two sides to every story and Stanton might have genuine cause to be upset. But only a small section of City fans booed him today (I certainly didn’t) and I don’t understand why the rest of us have to accept him behaving in such a disgusting manner. I’d like to think a public apology will be issued but it seems unlikely. Shame on you Stanton, shame on you Rowett and shame on you Burton Albion.
Defeat leaves City still in 5th, but the play off chasing pack – which includes Burton – are now that little bit closer. With injuries mounting up and Jones having been rushed back into action sooner than planned (Parkinson admitted after the game that the intention had been to give him 15 minutes), it is a good time for cup commitments to take priority so key players can rest up.
City go into Tuesday’s game in something of a weak-looking position personnel-wise, but with nothing to lose and the prospect of a 5,000+ City following causing an almighty racket. I can’t wait.
City: McLaughlin, McArdle, Oliver (Darby 36), Davies (McHugh 45), Meredith, Thompson, Doyle, Ravenhill, Forsyth, Connell (Gary Jones 37), Hanson
Not used: Duke, Hines, Ritchie Jones, Atkinson