|Bradford City 0|
|Doncaster Rovers 0|
By Tim Penfold
A record League Two crowd saw Bradford City take on Doncaster to open the 2022/23 season – but they didn’t see a game of football. One side did try to play, but the visitors turned up for a point and came away with one, aided by a compliant referee and a toothless home attack.
City lined up in a diamond midfield, with Richie Smallwood at the base, Emmanuel Osadebe on the right, Ryan East on the left and Jamie Walker in the hole behind the strikers. This system gave a lot of freedom to Walker, but also meant that they were almost entirely reliant on him for creating chances. However, Osadebe started brightly, committing defenders and causing problems – until Doncaster took him out of the game.
Liam Ravenhill’s tackle took the ball, but the follow-through broke Osadebe’s leg in two places, and should’ve been a red card. It definitely fit the definition of serious foul play – excessive force and endangering an opponent – and in those circumstances it is irrelevant if Ravenhill got the ball or not. However, the referee failed to correctly punish this – something that would become a running theme throughout the afternoon – and Doncaster got away with it, with Ravenhill subbed shortly after to prevent a red card.
The home side dominated possession and territory, with the visitors happy to sit back and absorb pressure, slowing the game down both legally and illegally. However, this didn’t really turn into clear chances. City were too slow to move the ball, and the arrival of Sutton in place of Osadebe meant that the midfield balance was suddenly too defensive. Vadaine Oliver went close with a snap-shot, but otherwise it was a half of frustration until halfway through the nine minutes added on.
Doncaster conceded a free kick, and Lee Tomlin stood in front of the ball to stop it being taken quickly. He then knocked the ball back a few yards, and the referee finally deigned to punish a player for time-wasting, booking Tomlin. Remarkably, Tomlin then kicked the ball away again, and was in the process of being warned by the ref when he took a spectacular dive, attempting to get Walker sent off for standing on his foot. Tomlin was, inevitably, dismissed for his stupidity – he could’ve gone for kicking the ball away a second time, even before his bellyflop.
Against ten men, the second half was much like the first. The passing from City was too slow, too sideways, and then it was a hopeful cross into the box. Doncaster picked up two more bookings for time-wasting, and tried every trick in the book to slow things down further. It was particularly frustrating to see them faking head injuries almost every time a header was contested, and a competent referee could’ve booked visiting keeper Jonathan Mitchell for pretty much every goal kick. Their complete lack of ambition was summed up in stoppage time, when they viewed two corners as an opportunity to time-waste further rather than to sneak an unlikely winner.
It was just too slow from the Bantams though. The game was crying out for the introduction of pace and width, but only Harry Chapman from the bench could provide that. When the ball was wide, the fullbacks never got to the by-line. When it was central, the passing was cautious and the movement lacking. The closest City came was a free kick from Smallwood that struck the post, while Matthew Platt headed narrowly wide from a corner, but in the end the keeper wasn’t tested enough. The game was played in front of Doncaster, and was too simple for them.
The full time whistle saw a bout of handbags – frustration boiling over from Kian Harratt, who picked up a silly red card for slapping the visiting keeper. Naturally, this reflected badly on a referee who had failed to crack down on Doncaster’s antics, but it was also stupid from Harratt.
The loss of Osadebe is a blow both to the club and the player, who would do well to contact Gordon Watson’s lawyers. The squad already looked a wide player short, and while the club will be hoping that Luton decide to loan out Dion Pereira – an unused substitute today – we might need more urgency in bringing someone else in. There were some bright spots – the defence looks solid and we’ve got a platform to build on – but we are going to need to learn to break teams down if we want to be successful.
Categories: Match Reviews