Bradford City 1
Vincent 12, Andrews 90
Saturday 10 January, 2015
By Jason McKeown (images kindly provided by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
Despondency might be unavoidable, but it is also unjustified. One late lapse in concentration might have proven costly, but it cannot overshadow a monumental effort.
Bradford City were outstanding here; producing a performance of skill, courage and heart in the face of adversity. They lost a man early doors, and ultimately lost the points, yet along the way they gained character. Rarely does a defeat leave their outstanding supporters still feeling so proud.
Rochdale smashed and grabbed the victory. They were second best throughout, despite playing against 10 men for almost 80 minutes. City made a mockery of their numerical disadvantage, and for long periods pinned their opponents back in their own half. Yet there was a sucker punch lying in wait in the shape of Calvin Andrew’s scrambled winning goal for Rochdale, three minutes into injury time.
The ninety-third minute yet again. That’s now three out of five home league games where points have been lost at the death. A concern, but nothing to panic over just yet.
For the positives outweighed the negatives by a long distance. As City attacked the Kop end in the closing stages, a late home winner would have sparked scenes of celebration akin to the Leeds cup tie back in August. This was so close to becoming the crowning moment of the season so far. The fact it wasn’t stings, but it shouldn’t leave a scar.
The story of the game was that of the reaction to Jordan Pickford’s early dismissal. After Andy Halliday carelessly lost possession in the Rochdale half, the visitors broke with purpose and Matt Done was played through on goal. Pickford rushed out in desperation and halted Done’s run with a trailing leg. A definite penalty, but referee Gavin Ward’s decision to compound the matter by sending off the City goalkeeper was controversial.
By the letter of the law Pickford was the last man, but as the saying goes: the law is an ass. Done privately admitted to Billy Knott that he would not have scored even without Pickford’s illegal trip, as the ball was running out of play. Two City defenders were rushing back to cover Pickford’s unguarded goal. It is such a grey area; and in a very similar situation at Valley Parade earlier this season, Swindon’s Wes Fotheringham was only yellow-carded when the last man, meaning he stayed on the field to save the resulting spot kick.
Ben Williams was summoned from the bench for a belated Bantams league debut – Halliday the sacrificial lamb, meaning he would have no opportunity to rectify his mistake – and under intense pressure from the Kop, Ian Henderson chipped his penalty onto the crossbar. As the ball came back into his path, the former Norwich striker was mindful to get out of the way, given the rules state he couldn’t be the next person to touch the ball. Unfortunately for City, Rory McArdle was fooled into leaving the ball too, and the impressive Peter Vincenti was left free to smash it into the net.
Yet rather than these events leading to a home implosion, the Bantams stood tall and displayed their mettle. Rochdale were a much improved side from the Spotland meeting earlier in the season, but struggled to make the most of their extra man, with possession readily squandered. City chased and harassed whilst gambling on leaving big gaps, as they purposefully chased parity.
And with the erratic Ward producing several bewildering decisions, the noise and the intensity of the home support never waived either. As Ward seemed determined to prove he could not be swayed by a large crowd, fans hooted and howled every perceived injustice. As much as everyone hates a bad referee – and Ward was amongst the worst you could see – they certainly help the atmosphere. And in City’s situation of trailing and a man light, it suited everyone of claret and amber leaning to adopt an us-against-the-world mentality.
Ward’s failure to address the rising tensions between Done and Alan Sheehan threatened to result in another player walking. The competitive style of the two players spilled over several times in the first half, with Done especially fortunate to get away without a booking. Gary Liddle was then yellow-carded for little of note. Stronger challenges from both sides went unpunished, whilst in other instances slight contact needlessly resulted in a free kick.
After the game Parkinson complained that Ward, who is from Surrey, should not be sent to officiate Northern-based matches; and it is striking to note that until today he had not refereed a single game North of Burton. City even have to pick up the tab for Ward’s hotel accommodation.
On the occasions that Ward allowed the game to flow, it was action-packed. To make up for the numerical disadvantage, the remaining 10 City players needed to put in a monumental shift and they did just that. James Hanson led from the front with a remarkable level of effort that on several occasions included racing back to defend. He and Jon Stead were exactly the type of strikers needed for such circumstances, and both were terrific.
Whilst Knott gave the ball away at times, during other moments his creativity and energy were effective in shaping attacks. Filipe Morais ran up and down with purpose. Gary Liddle protected the back four with discipline. Having at 0-0 carved out promising openings for Hanson and Stead, other chances were subsequently created after Pickford’s early bath. The knocking on the door was loud and unrelenting.
Eventually, Stead was on hand to finish off a bout of pinball in the box, as Hanson and Sheehan got touches to Morais’ cross, in order to keep the opportunity alive. It was the perfect way for the Huddersfield forward to mark the extension of his Valley Parade loan until the end of the season. A fifth goal of the campaign, in a Bantams shirt, leaves Stead just one behind joint top scorers Hanson and Knott.
Hanson had three reasonable opportunities in the second half; the best a powerful effort from Stephen Darby’s cross, with 20 minutes to go. At that stage the constant home pressure was beginning to wane as tiredness become evident. Parkinson took off Knott and Morais, but substitutes Mark Yeates and Jason Kennedy were unable to make any real impression.
Still, a very credible point and extension of the unbeaten record was on the cards. That was until Andrews – only on the field for 10 minutes – struck late on. A debatable Rochdale free kick wasn’t cleared, and the journeyman striker’s header looped into the net.
It was an avoidable goal, it was heart-breaking, and it brought an end to the two-month undefeated run. A moment later, a couple of fans near me were having a stand-up row over Jason Kennedy. As we filed home at the final whistle, others muttered darkly about defensive frailties and a failure to kill teams off.
Familiar themes, and the weaknesses of this squad are obvious to everyone. But while they must be addressed, they should not be allowed to obscure the bigger picture.
This was a good performance, and right now City are playing some of their best football since the Premier League promotion season of 1998/99. They have attempted to adhere to an attractive style of play since the start of the season, but have recently married this ethos with the grit, determination and character that was the hallmark of the 2012/13 ‘We Made History’ side.
What a job Phil Parkinson is performing. This time a year ago, the History Makers looked past their sell-by date, the club had won only once since October and Parkinson was looking short of solutions to the growing problems.
The past 12 months have not been a smooth ride; but ultimately the manager has dismantled and rebuilt, delivered a more pleasing style of football on a cheaper budget, and retained the spirit of two years ago. They are not the best team in this division and they may not even prove to be amongst the best six, but the trajectory of Bradford City continues to be upwards. This looks set to be another year of progress. Parkinson continues to perform miracles, and the club must never lose sight of his value.
The City boss will undoubtedly tell his players not to be overly concerned by this set back; to not allow it to derail the progress of the last few weeks. Whilst a midweek FA Cup exit to Millwall would threaten to cast another spell of gloom upon Valley Parade, Parkinson will make sure that his team go into this vital fixture in a positive and confident frame of mind.
It is what we have come to expect.
City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith, Halliday (Williams 12), Liddle, Knott (Yeates 70), Morais (Kennedy 86), Hanson, Stead
Not used: Routis, Mottley-Henry, Zoko, McBurnie
With special thanks to Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his brilliant photos. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details.
Categories: Match Reviews