Bradford City 0
Rotherham United 2
Frecklington 80 (pen), Agard 90
Tuesday 16 April, 2013
By Jason McKeown
The margin of error is squeezed even tighter, the tension racked up another notch. If Bradford City are going to hold on to the top seven spot that they have occupied since last week, they need to recover from this set back very quickly.
Beaten by Rotherham, but not bettered. Pride dented, but not deflated. The sight of the Millers manager Steve Evans racing on to the pitch to celebrate his side’s game-sealing goal from Kieran Agard may have being the realisation of every City supporter’s worst fears, but there is no need to feel too despondent over this defeat.
It was unjust, it was unfortunate, it was unnerving. But come 3pm on Saturday, Bradford City will once again take to the Valley Parade field with their fate in their own hands. And if they play as well as they did for an hour this evening, they will surely take a giant step towards sealing an extended end to the season.
For this was a good display from the Bantams, against what must be acknowledged was a good Rotherham side. The visitors packed the midfield and defended with admirable heart; standing up to everything City could throw at them. In the early parts of 2013, an opposition side putting five in midfield was a sure-fire way to outgun City’s counterparts. But with Ricky Ravenhill once again producing a composed display in front of the back four, a simply outstanding Gary Jones stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the park.
It seemed as though City were set for a victory that would have all but secured seventh position, when after just four minutes James Hanson headed home a Jones corner. Celebrations were cut short by a linesman flagging for a push by Hanson on Claude Davis. False hope remerged 30 minutes later, when Garry Thompson finished off another Jones pass but was flagged offside.
Probably the right call that time at least, but a frustratingly inconsistent referee Mark Haywood got more wrong than he did right over the course of the evening. The only benefit for City was his leniency in letting Nahki Wells off with a warning after the Bermudian kicked the ball away when already on a booking. By that stage he had sent City’s assistant manager Steve Parkin to the stand for something said to the fourth official, after complaints were raised about Michael O’Connor’s reaction to a robust tackle.
Haywood’s over-officiating – rather than letting the game flow – played right into Rotherham’s hands, as Evans’ side chased and harassed for every decision whilst falling to the deck following the slightest of contacts. We have being here before, of course, with Evans’ Crawley side of a year ago behaving in the exact same manner. But what impressed me tonight was how little City’s players allowed themselves to be affected by Rotherham’s gamesmanship attempts and over-physicality. They stood up and simply got on with it.
When Rotherham bothered to engage themselves in a game of football, City for the most part looked comfortable dealing with their attacks. This was despite the obvious set back of losing Andrew Davies to injury after 24 minutes. It had been touch and go whether Davies was to be fit enough to play tonight and – in truth – starting him was a call City got wrong. Even during the game’s opening minutes, Davies’ struggle to run was evident. Michael Nelson came on and slotted in where he left off on Saturday, letting no one down.
However, another loss through injury – James Meredith on 50 minutes – tipped the balance back into Rotherham’s favour. Meredith’s replacement, Carl McHugh, has impressed previously in the less familiar left back role, but tonight was not such an occasion. The young defender’s hesitancy coming forward impacted on the previously impressive Kyel Reid, who suddenly found that being double marked was too much of a hindrance without Meredith to back him up. The balance of the team began to suffer.
Rotherham grew stronger, even if Jon McLaughlin’s goal was not tested anywhere near as threateningly than a Alex Revell header in the first half, but it began to look as though City were out of ideas. Wells has enjoyed much better nights than this – he got little change out of Davis – and though Hanson toiled hard, he was not able to dominate the Rotherham backline in the manner he has of other defences this season.
Then came the sting in the tail. Goalkeeper Scott Shearer pumped a long ball forward to Revell just inside City’s box, only for the Millers’ striker to push Nelson backwards, which resulted in the unsighted defender handling the ball. Haywood pointed to the spot, and Lee Frecklington expertly fired the penalty past McLaughlin. A dreadful, dreadful decision from Haywood, which had Phil Parkinson livid.
City pushed hard for an equaliser, with Alan Connell quickly summoned from the bench as part of a switch to 3-4-3. Wells might have done better with a header that he placed wide of the goal. Jones glanced another effort over the bar. Then Connell somehow shot wide with just Shearer to beat following Hanson’s flick on. It was a gilt-edged chance, and Connell was the one player on the pitch you’d have wanted that chance to fall to.
With the five minutes of injury time all but completed, one last City corner saw McLaughlin race forward. The ball was cleared to Agard, who was able to sprint clear of the back-tracking goalkeeper and tap the ball into the empty net. It was at this point a previously restrained Evans raced onto the pitch, with the highly disappointing sight of an object being thrown from the main stand towards him. It seemed some City fan had decided to join the Rotherham boss in the gutter.
For his own safety, Evans was quickly rushed to the dressing room by four stewards at the full time whistle. He paused only to clench his fist at the Rotherham fans who were celebrating wildly in the Bradford End. There is a good chance he will be back at Valley Parade in just over a fortnight, for a play off semi final first leg.
For that to happen, City probably need four points from their final two league matches to complete the job. That we have to play fourth-placed Burton and fifth-placed Cheltenham underlines just how there are no guarantees this will happen. Chesterfield, beaten also tonight, can still catch City, but Exeter remain the biggest threat to that last play off spot. One ear will be on events at St. James Park on Saturday.
City: McLaughlin, Darby (Connell 80), Davies (Nelson 24), McArdle, Meredith (McHugh 50), Thompson, Ravenhill, Jones, Reid, Hanson, Wells
Not used: Duke, Atkinson, Doyle, Hines
Categories: Match Reviews