Watford v Bradford City
@Vicarage Road on Saturday 7 January, 2011
The magic of the FA Cup. Entrusted with the ever-patronising ITV over the past few years, the credibility of that famous cliché has begun to look increasingly dubious as the FA Cup struggles to keep up with the times. Nevertheless if Third Round day is still to be considered something of a party, it is better for Bradford City to appear on its guest list than be watching from afar, as per usual.
This is the first time the Bantams have appeared at this stage of the competition since 2004, where their place in England’s top two divisions guaranteed a First and Second Round bye. For the past seven seasons, City have failed to climb beyond Round Two and thus retain FA Cup interest beyond Christmas. Against such a backdrop, this season’s victories over Rochdale and AFC Wimbledon class as a fantastic achievement.
It is fair to say that Watford, tomorrow’s opponents, are happier to be party hosts than City at being Vicarage Road guests. The FA Cup draw – made the day after the Wimbledon win – was a tense and exciting occasion, with those of us watching on TV desperate for a glamorous and financially rewarding tie. The big guns came out of the hat to play at home, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Arsenal, Liverpool…but City’s name didn’t immediately follow any of them. In the end we were one of the last balls remaining in the machine, without any other Premier League names left. At that stage a home draw and decent chance to get to Round Four would have been a consolation. A trip to Watford appeared on no-one’s glamour list.
Nevertheless we set off to Watford tomorrow with a sense of excitement and realistic hope of causing an upset. The outstanding cup exploits that provided the main highlights of the first half of the season – which, aside from the FA Cup, included pushing Leeds hard in the League Cup and reaching the quarter finals of the JPT – offer reasons to believe another scalp is possible. In all likelihood we will lose, but at the very least we can dream of forcing a replay and thus having our name in the hat for Sunday’s Fourth Round draw.
And if that is achieved, we can watch the Football Association host the draw and remove some of the bitterness that is currently felt towards the governing body. Wednesday’s decision by the FA commission to uphold David Syers’ red card against Shrewsbury has prompted dismay and anger. Over recent years we’ve seen City players the victim of unjust red cards and felt frustrated when the club elected not to appeal them, but the notorious difficulty getting the FA to go against a referee’s judgement has once again been proven by the treatment of Syers. TV pictures show that he clearly won the ball, and so one is left wishing to hear and understand the reasoning behind the FA rejecting City’s appeal.
Meanwhile the always quotable QPR boss Neil Warnock has made headlines after his own player – Joey Barton – also had an appeal for a red card rejected. Barton was dismissed for allegedly head-butting a Norwich player, despite TV replays showing he made no contact. Warnock told the BBC: “At the moment I just don’t see where the disciplinary commission are going.” A string of examples were highlighted demonstrating the inconsistency in a number of high profile refereeing decisions and how they have been dealt with – inconsistent that is, apart from the fact the commission always seems to back the referee.
The anger of how the FA is handling the dilemma of supporting officials or righting their wrongs is intensified by the governing body itself appealing Wayne Rooney’s three-match ban for getting sent off in England’s final Euro 2012 qualifying match, successfully getting that suspension reduced by one game. There is no disputing that Rooney – who kicked out at an opponent – deserved his red card, and it is impossible to imagine the FA would ever accept a similar appeal from a club player. That they can consider Rooney kicking an opponent doesn’t merit a three match ban, but that Syers cleanly winning a tackle does, stinks of double standards. Why, should we respect theFA and respect its referees if the latter group are not going to be held accountable for their mistakes?
So City travel to Watford without Syers and with a right back hole to fill too. Simon Ramsden broke his toe in the Shrewsbury game after an awful challenge on him was deemed only a yellow card, and it is desperately unfortunate that the 30-year-old is left having to recover from yet another set back. In two-and-a-half years at the club, reoccurring injuries have limited Ramsden to just 43 starts.
Marcel Seip filled in for Ramsden at right back against Rotherham on Monday – and though reports suggest the right-footed Dutchman struggled, he had performed admirably in that position at Swindon back in October. At the time of writing Phil Parkinson has resisted signing a natural right back, suggesting Seip will continue on the right in what could be his last game for the club with Robbie Threlfall on the left. Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver remain in the centre.
Jon McLaughlin clearly had a difficult afternoon at the Don Valley Stadium, but it was good to see Parkinson back him strongly afterwards while making it clear he would remain in goal for Watford. McLaughlin’s City career has so far been defined by short-term bursts of strong form when brought into the team, but a struggle to maintain high standards over a lengthier run of games. Still a young keeper, McLaughlin needs to develop the mental strength of not allowing errors to affect his confidence. Tomorrow will be an interesting test of how he reacts to his first mistakes since being recalled last November.
In midfield, Syers’ absence will leave Ritchie Jones partnering Ricky Ravenhill. Craig Fagan is proving to be quietly effective on the right, while Charlie Taylor will hope to improve on a quiet start at Rotherham on the left. James Hanson and Nahki Wells continue up front.
Watford come into this game in the same 18th place league position as the Bantams, only two divisions above. Manager Sean Dyche will also have much in common with Parkinson in terms of his feelings towards the FA this week.
On Monday, Watford were beaten 2-0 by Portsmouth and had former Bantams loanee Scott Loach sent off for a red card. It looked a ridiculous decision, but after the game Dyche suggested it wasn’t worth launching an appeal, telling the BBC: “But how many of those appeals work? I’d like to think people look back and realise [it was the wrong decision]. But it doesn’t always happen. You’re looking for people to be honest about what happened.”
As Parkinson rocks up at Vicarage Road without Syers, he will be able to congratulate his opposite number for not wasting his time in believing the FA would show common sense.