Bradford City 0
Tranmere Rovers 1
Sunday 13 October, 2013
By Jason McKeown
I honestly thought that we had moved on from days like these. You know, with constructing such a heroic group of players, getting promotion and with the start to the season that we’ve made. But now this.
Yep, I really believed we’d elevated ourselves to such a status that we’d no longer have to encounter such Dark Age football and woeful time-wasting tactics of the type that Tranmere Rovers inflicted upon us today.
This felt like being back in League Two. It was as though Dagenham & Redbridge were in town once more and the last 14 months never happened. Ian Goodison’s forearm into Kyel Reid provided the smash, and then Ryan Lowe’s second half finish produced the grab. Bradford City’s first league defeat in eight matches, and it was awful, awful, awful to watch.
The frustration stemmed not only from enduring Tranmere’s horrendous football, but the role in which the referee, Darren Drysdale, played in helping them to succeed with it. And yes, how depressing it is that the first home defeat of the campaign is cue to have a moan about officials. This season I have been really impressed with the standard of refereeing, which has a lot more to do with merely City moving up a division (League One and Two basically get the same officials). But today we had a referee going a long way to deciding the game’s outcome due to his shambolic display.
The game’s flashpoint came after half an hour, when Goodison attempted to shield the ball out of play and, right in front of the two dugouts, caught Reid in the face with a suspected elbow. The 4th official, James Wilson, would later tell an outraged Phil Parkinson that it was the Jamaican’s forearm which made contact with Reid. Either way, it was clearly a straight red card. Parkinson’s own reaction in pushing Goodison was not the best judged and sparked angry scenes involving both sets of benches and players; but when Drysdale produced only a yellow it was hard to avoid the conclusion that he had bottled it.
As he had when it came to several good penalty shouts for the home side. In particular, after Mark Yeates wriggled his way past numerous challenges and was bundled over inside the box by a Tranmere defender. Drysdale waved the strong claim away, as he had with a couple of earlier, less convincing appeals. Yet it wasn’t just a few bad calls which were to affect the outcome, it was the way he let Tranmere get away with their negativity.
Right from the first minute, it was clear that Ronnie Moore’s side had come to spoil our attacking football through time-wasting and planting 10 men behind the ball. That is their call to make and – in view of their wretched form and league position – sort of understandable. But it needed the referee to take a firmer grip on the time-wasting, rather than allowing them to dictate the game’s tempo by bringing it to a near standstill. This was a game that needed a referee to referee it, and Drysdale failed to do his job.
Perhaps the worst example – and one that summed up how frustrating the whole afternoon proved – was when Drysdale finally saw fit to address Tranmere goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams persistent time-wasting. Just as the Welshman was finally going to get the game going again, Drysdale blew up and ran over to speak to him. But instead of producing a long overdue yellow card, he issued a long lecture and nothing more. So Fon Williams’ punishment for time-wasting on behalf of his team was for the referee to help him time-waste some more. At that moment I looked over at the clock: we’d only played 55 minutes.
All of which is not to excuse City’s failings in the match. They began in typical style of getting on the front-foot and forcing Tranmere back, but all-too-quickly seemed to run out of conviction and fresh ideas to break down a spirited opposition side. The re-shuffling of the team had not helped matters. Although moving Nathan Doyle to centre back was an understandable call – despite Carl McHugh’s mad dash back to West Yorkshire from Romania and Republic of Ireland Under 21 duty – City badly missed his drive and creativity in the centre of midfield.
Jason Kennedy came in for a full debut that will only live in memory for the wrong reasons. He is tidy on the ball for sure and rarely gives it away, but more is expected than to continually pass it sideways and we needed him to display greater ownership. It didn’t help Kennedy that he was playing alongside Gary Jones – who basically offered every Kennedy can do, only better – but he produced little to merit the retention of his place when Doyle can resume his usual role next week.
But the biggest loss of all was Nahki Wells. This sort of game – with City trying to get on the front foot and a deep-lying defence struggling with anyone running at them with the ball – was crying out for the Bermudian’s pace. That James Hanson was the most forward-positioned player throughout meant he had no one to flick the ball onto. The 4-4-1-1 of Yeates in the hole worked well at Walsall last week and the former Watford man was again excellent, but the trickery both he and Reid consistently provided needed more forward players to make the most of the openings they created.
Stephen Darby wasted City’s best chance when they were dominating the early stages, but Tranmere grew into the game and provided a few warning shots before Lowe’s decisive goal midway through the second half. It was worrying to once again see James Meredith be caught out, as the former Bury striker ran onto a ball over the top and finished low past Jon McLaughlin.
Parkinson – who two minutes earlier had introduced Caleb Folan for a disappointing Garry Thompson – continued to push players forward in search of an equaliser. Alan Connell came on to play in the hole behind Folan and Hanson, but too much of City’s pressure ended with pot shots from distances or poor crosses from promising positions. Hanson could not get the better of the impressive Goodison – making his continued presence on the pitch, rather than in the stand, all the more galling.
There was a lack of quality to City’s play compared to the fluent football of recent weeks. The clock was ticking down far too quickly. Late headed chances for Folan and Jones resulted in excellent saves by Fon Williams, but despite a flurry of corners to defend Tranmere saw it out. I’m so glad that City have never resorted to such tedious tactics and it is no surprise that Moore has so often being sacked due to poor football driving crowds away.
Boos at the final whistle appeared to be aimed at the referee, but as we drove home and listened to the Pulse and took a quick glance at Twitter, perhaps it’s not so clear cut. It seems that a section of our supporters have turned on the players with a worrying quickness, which does not bode well for the battles ahead.
Whilst no one would claim this is the players’ finest hour, they surely deserve to be cut more than a little slack. The first time they have failed to score in the league this season, and still fourth in the division despite this set back. The quality wasn’t there today and there are some things Parkinson needs to address, but the effort and determination was as prevalent as ever. Some of our supporters need to get a grip.
For we have come a long way in an extremely short space of time. And whilst it is good that the bar has been raised so high that we feel bitterly disappointed when the players come up below it, the bigger picture remains hugely encouraging. City were not beaten today because Tranmere are a better side and we are in a false position. We simply need to lick our wounds, prepare for three massive games in a week, starting at Crawley on Saturday, and continue to enjoy what is happening in front of our eyes.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, Oliver (Connell 75), Doyle, Meredith, Thompson (Folan 67), Jones, Kennedy (De Vita 87), Reid, Yeates, Hanson
Not used: Ripley, Gray, McHugh, Bates
- Before the game it was announced that Phil Parkinson has signed former Middlesbrough defender Matthew Bates on a three-month contract. The central defender can also play as right back and in midfield, offering greater cover as City move into winter. Bates emerged through Boro’s youth ranks but was released in 2012, playing for Bristol City last season.