10/3/09; Rochdale v Bradford City, Spotland Stadium, Rochdale :: Lg 2
As you might have guessed, I have little time for Bradford City now. They are an anachronism; far too ‘important’ to be playing at this level but at the same time hamstrung by the high expectations of their five-figure crowds. Where they need realism, they have got big-club mentality in its stead; too good to be in Division Four but too proud to fight hard when they need to. It would stupid and misleading to suggest Bradford fans expect to win every match (they are after all in their second season at this level); but there is a kind of mentality which dictates that every game City play in the bottom tier is somehow beneath their natural level. Which it kind of is, to be honest. Catch 22.
It was with some pleasure then that I watched the Bantams implode last night. When a debatable penalty went against them, the Bradford players lost all discipline and their management behaved badly. When Bradford needed it most, they suffered a collective lack of solidity, and instead kicked and fouled our left side into oblivion.
The Rochdale team which performed so well was made up of Frank Fielding in net; Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton and Kennedy just in front; Thompson, Keltie, the long-lost Mark Jones and Buckley in midfield with a forward line of Thorpe and le Fondre. Russell, Ramsden, McEvilly, Adams and Dave Flitcroft sat on the bench, the latter an emergency pick due to Ciáran Toner’s injury and Adam Rundle’s recent fatherhood.
Fifteen minutes gone and a million corners; Mark Jones took them all with varying degrees of height and pace – keeping them guessing. Thorpe headed one into the arms of Rhys Evans in the City net and McArdle skiffered one wide from a clever low cross. Corner, corner, corner. Thorpe headed one wide with the goal open. Corner, corner, corner – more corners than Brands Hatch.
Bradford now. A long kick. McArdle waited to head it, Stanton inexplicably ran into him and the ball popped up for Thorne to dribble into the area – fortunately not the fastest of forwards, and at the last minute McArdle recovered and thumped the ball out for a throw-in. A little bit oo-errr.
Half an hour gone and Bradford fans were still popping their heads through the turnstiles, these held-up supporters turning up just as the Bradford players did. Thorne had one, two saved by Frankie Fingers when clean through before Rory McArdle lunged in on loanee winger Steve Jones and sent him into the Rochdale night; booked… but he could have gone.
Half-time and a text was received from an exiled Dale supporter; “Hows the game? Giv us a match report plz! cheers”. I replied; “End to end stuff, an even half, mark jones playin good, defence v shaky, buckley torn them apart twice”. As accurate as I could get for 10p’s worth. No-one did the Crossbar Challenge and Bradford laughed at our ‘fantastic’ prize draw of £370. Water off a duck’s back.
Then, the second half. Bradford had a corner and Graeme Lee powered his header goalwards, but Fielding contorted and palmed it away, unblinkingly. “I swear that was in that.” my Mam said. Soon, Will Buckley skipped elegantly down the left and was chopped down by Joe Colbeck, a sign of things to come for Will. Mark Jones swung in the resultant free-kick and Rory McArdle rose freely to nod in it. 1-0 Dale.
Visibly perking up now, Dale exerted more and more pressure on the uneasy Bradford defence and won a penalty, dubiously, when big bald Barry Conlon was judged to have handled. Verdict: not proven. Result: le Fondre‘s bullet penalty was gloved by Rhys Evans but not gloved enough, and hit the roof of the Sandy Lane netting. 2-0 Dale. It was about then that Bradford lost it.
Colbeck and Conlon came off, angrily, punching perspex, replaced by Bullock and Boulding whilst Bradford’s assistant manager, Wayne Jacobs, was sent off for mouthing. Then Buckley became Bradford’s target of choice, scythed down four times at least by a Bantam right-side which offered nothing but neanderthalism in the face of Buckley’s brilliance. “He’s been beaten black and blue”, said my Mam, and she assures me the pun was unintended. McCall, instead of firing up his team to play proper football in the wake of righteous injustice, allowed his team to behave like thugs.
The third goal then was sweet, even if it was flattering to Rochdale. Matt Clarke tackled le Fondre, probably fairly, in the area and Scott Mathieson awarded a penalty. The man beside me shrugged and said “What a brilliant ref we have here”. No such gloves this time; le Fondre‘s penalty went right and Evans went left. 3-0 Rochdale. Bradford beaten.
Yet more Buckley battering followed, Paul Arnison mercifully substituted in favour of Zesh Rehman, who immediately got himself booked for the same cynicism. Of Bradford’s five bookings, three were for fouls on Buckley and two were for fouls on the man behind him at left-back, Tom Kennedy. Buckley then got cramp, as if the constant kickings weren’t enough, and got replaced by Nicky Adams with negligable time remaining. Mathieson blew just a couple of minutes later and we all went home with big smiles.
The scoreline may have a Hollywood sheen, but Rochdale were up for it last night, and the result was a fair one, no matter how controversial the penalties were. Bradford crumbled when challenged, but will beat the large majority of weaker sides in this league with their undoubtedly skilled squad. The league table, as always, seems to be about right.
Written by Matt Boothman on 11/3/09