Fleetwood Town 2
Goodall 21, Parkin 75 (pen)
Bradford City 2
Wells 45, Dickson 52
Saturday 2 February, 2013
By Gareth Walker
One thing that has been highlighted by City’s magnificent Cup run this season is the massive gulf in quality that exists between referees at Premier League level and those that officiate our games in League Two. It is something that has grated on me for years now: when I hear managers on Match of The Day complaining about the refereeing they have witnessed, I often think that they should try putting up with the standard of officials that we have to endure every time we watch our team play.
I understand that refereeing is an extremely difficult job, and I can’t for one minute see why anyone would want to do it. However, if a person doesn’t think that they could handle such criticism or crowd persuasion, without letting it affect their work, they should not become a referee.
What for me is totally unacceptable is when an official deliberately goes out of his way to show a crowd that he is not going to be influenced by them. And that, I’m afraid, is what Tim Robinson appeared to do at Fleetwood today, whenever he had any kind of close call to make in front of the travelling Bradford City fans.
As time after time again Robinson awarded Fleetwood a decision, the performance of Howard Webb in the semi final home leg against Villa, and also the less spectacular displays of Mike Dean and Phil Dowd in other matches, flashed through my mind. All three acted as though the crowd were not even there. And they manage to do this in front of crowds of 40,000+ people on a regular basis.
If Robinson has to make a deliberate and forced effort to show that he is not intimidated when faced with 3,500 fans in League Two – to the detriment of his better judgement – what chance does he have of ever going on to perform in front of those much bigger crowds in the top flight?
There were numerous debateable decisions made today; not least the way that James Hanson was penalised every single time he won the ball against a Fleetwood defender. It was as through the referee was saying that it was impossible for Hanson to win the ball fairly. On the flip side, the centre backs were allowed to bully, push and at times physically assault Hanson and Nahki Wells, without so much as a second glance from the man in charge. In Hanson’s case, this is something that is beginning to happen on a regular basis and he is getting no protection whatsoever. No wonder he has a long standing toe injury.
However, Robinson’s most telling contribution to the game was when he failed to give a stonewall penalty to City, after Wells was swung around by his shirt and hurled to the floor like a Rag Doll, directly in front of both the official and the screaming Bradford faithful. You are never likely to see a more deliberate attempt from a referee to show that he is not going to be influenced by a crowd. What was even more difficult to stomach was the fact that, approximately 10 minutes later, we conceded our own penalty – though it was awarded for what looked like a blatant handball by Hanson.
Despite the protestations of Hanson and our entire back four that it was a case of ball to hand, as well as Phil Parkinson’s post match comments that it was an extremely harsh decision, it looked pretty clear cut from the away end. And nine times out of 10 those penalties are given.
It would be easy to describe today as a game of two penalties and do nothing but talk about the referee. But in truth, it was actually quite an entertaining affair, battled out by two very committed teams. In fact, a more fitting cliché to describe today would be “a game of two halves”. From a City perspective, we were relatively sluggish in the first as Fleetwood dominated. Parkinson spoke afterwards about how he thought that we were too deep in the opening period. In my opinion, this was particularly a problem as we had no real pace on the flanks, in order to provide width and help us break out when we did get the ball.
However, despite their control of possession and territory, The Cod Army failed to really test Matt Duke, and they actually scored with their first real attempt on our goal. Inevitably, Gareth Evans, who was roundly booed throughout, had to be involved as his corner was headed home by Alan Goodall, who got ahead of Carl McHugh at the near post.
The only other real effort from the home side was a free header that went over the bar from their record signing Jamil Matt, who looked lively throughout. Still, we could consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to go in level at the interval, when we scored with only our second shot on goal. Wells bent a stunning free kick over the wall right on the stroke of half time after Gary Jones had been fouled. It was a goal that would have been worthy of winning the game, rather than just drawing us level, as home keeper Scott Davies was rooted to the spot.
The only other point of note during the first half was Rory McArdle hobbling off to be replaced by Ryan Dickson, with McHugh moving to centre back. It was a worrying sight to lose McArdle, who has been outstanding this season. Parkinson did nothing to allay our fears after the match, when he confirmed that the busy defender’s ankle is badly swollen and he is on crutches.
The second half was a much livelier affair from a Bantams’ perspective, as we pushed higher up the pitch and began to get a foothold in the game. In truth, we were the better team for large parts of the second period – largely due to our bravery at trying to play some decent football on what was one of the worst pitches that I have seen this season.
This was rewarded in the 52nd minute when McHugh atoned for his earlier error by playing a pivotal role in us taking the lead. It was the young Irishman’s searching through ball down the left channel that skimmed off the top of a Fleetwood head and was raced on to by Dickson, who surged into the box. With red shirts choosing to cut off the passes to the advancing Wells and Hanson, our number 15 went alone and coolly slotted past Davies to complete a turnaround that had us dancing in jubilation on the away terrace.
At this point, Fleetwood were clearly rattled and resorted to time wasting in order to stem the City tide. Jamie McGuire and Paul McKenna were the main culprits, as they attempted to prevent us from taking quick free kicks and were constantly chirping away in Robinson’s ear. This turned the contest into something of a niggly affair, and it was surprising that only one yellow card was shown.
Fleetwood began to play more directly in an attempt to change the flow of the game, but it wasn’t until the introduction of Jon “The Beast” Parkin, who had been enjoying the banter whilst warming up in front of the away end, that they began to threaten again. In truth, City were in complete control of the game, until the aforementioned penalty call.
It was Parkin who took the spot kick but it was a tame effort that went low to Duke’s left; our penalty shoot out hero was extremely unfortunate not to keep it out as it squirmed under his body and over the line. From where we were stood at the opposite end of the ground, it actually looked like he had saved it and some City supporters began to celebrate; only to have their joy cut short as we saw the scorer run to his own fans with his arms aloft.
It was harsh on City, who had been playing very well. It also forced Parkinson into a bit of a rethink on the touchline, as he had looked set to bring Zavon Hines; only to change his mind and bring on Kyel Reid in place of Garry Thompson. It was Reid who created the only real chance in the final stages, when he fizzed a ball across the six yard box that was begging for someone to put away at the back post. Unfortunately, nobody had gambled. Once the scores had been levelled up again, the game began to peter out and nobody could argue that a draw wasn’t a fair result
The positives for City were the MOTM performance of Gary Jones, who returned to his best form. Plus the debut of Michael Nelson, who looked commanding and imposing at the back.
Having looked at the league table this evening, it looks to be pretty much a case of “as you were”, with only Rotherham having made significant strides upwards. Although what is noticeable is that, if we can win our games in hand, we could become part of a top 10 who are opening up a bit of gap on the rest.
Before the game, we talked about how four points from the next two games would be probably be a good return. But that now means that we need a win next week when we return home to face second placed Gillingham, who despite a recent stutter have still only lost once away from home in the league this season.
What chance of getting Howard Webb down to Valley Parade to referee that one?
City: Duke, Darby, McArdle (Dickson 42), Nelson, Thompson (Reid 80), Jones, Doyle, Atkinson, Hanson, Wells (Gray 85)
Not used: McLaughlin, Ravenhill, Hines, Connell