The TV footage is utterly shameful. There is no getting away from how badly Jon McLaughlin and Luke Oliver have let the club down in throwing punches towards Crawley Town players at the final whistle – or how potentially devastating it could prove to the very future of Bradford City Football Club.
Both will miss the next three games – Andrew Davies, who appears to be the victim of a Crawley elbow rather than throwing punches – a further two unless the club appeal. They will be huge misses for City at a crucial stage of the season, and there must also be a fear that the FA might inflict more punishment on the club in the shape of a point deduction. How much worse could Tuesday night have gone?
We all – that is everyone present at Valley Parade for the defeat with a connection to City – understood the players’ frustrations. Crawley Town were an utter disgrace in the way they approached the game, taking brinksmanship to a new level and producing some truly ugly football.
Watching their coaching staff – particularly the loathsome Steve Evans – over step the mark in contesting every little decision against them was nearly as bad as the snide way the visiting players applauded the referee and linesman for every free kick awarded to Crawley. Whenever City had possession in the final third, they were manhandled, pushed over or tripped. Whenever Crawley came forward, their players would fall over at the slightest contact.
They are truly wretched and deplorable side; and watching them win the game by such underhand tactics was genuinely upsetting.
But still, it does not excuse what happened at the final whistle. Passions were high, but the damage was done and for these two City players to behave so recklessly takes away any moral high ground we can feel from the way we had been beaten. And with McLaughlin and Oliver out for three games and Davies five, the club goes into the run in minus three very key players.
It feels like this could pivotal; a night we could be left replaying over and over again in our minds in tortuous fashion.
Yet still, we must remember that – with seven games to go – we are four points clear of the bottom two. What’s more three of the final seven games are against teams in and around us in the league. It is in our hands, and we have to make sure that we keep it that way. It could get very bumpy, but survival is not suddenly impossible.
Perhaps now, more than ever, the benefits of Phil Parkinson choosing to retain a huge squad will be validated. Matt Duke will surely be recalled from his loan spell at Northampton. And though he was failing to convince at Valley Parade earlier in the season, his arrival at Sixfields has coincided with a revival in Cobblers’ form. Duke must have greater confidence and sharpness than he was showing last autumn, and has the pedigree of playing at a higher level. We should certainly not fear his return.
At centre back, Lee Bullock can fill in ably, as can Marcel Seip and Simon Ramsden. Steve Williams cannot be recalled from his loan spell at Inverness, but on the fringes and frozen out right now is Guy Branston. Width of a Post spoke to Guy a month ago, where the club captain made clear his determination and confidence that he could get back into the team. It is obvious to anyone that Parkinson is not a fan of Guy, but now he must consider him.
And, when you think about how well Guy was performing last season at Torquay – member of the League Two team of the season and all – what a strong option to have available to potentially come in. And what a twist of circumstances that Branston might yet be the hero. A truly incredible script waiting to be written.
There is no doubt that the three players out will be huge losses to the club. Oliver and Davies are probably player of the season 1st and 2nd, and their experience was expected to be heavily relied upon over the next few weeks. But Parkinson has to move on quickly, and make sure that the team which goes to Plymouth on Saturday and into the Easter weekend is strong and confident. We can’t afford to lose the three games McLaughlin and Oliver are out for, and we certainly can’t afford to wait for Davies to come back to start picking up points.
City have spent all season making things harder for themselves than they need to be. And after Tuesday night’s awful scenes, we have some huge obstacles – which we have no option but to approach positively and make sure they are overcome.
The alternative is unthinkable.