|Branston scored on debut with his first touch!|
It was important on the back of the defeat to Port Vale on Tuesday evening that we responded well against Bradford, even though they would have been confident going in to the game. Positioned in a play-off spot the Bantams arrived at a rainy Memorial stadium thinking they could record a victory over a team who have an injury list worse than their own. They didn't expect to fall behind after just 79 seconds though - especially with one of their former players grabbing the goal with his first ever touch for the Gas! An early corner was won and delivered in to the penalty area where Guy Branston was on hand to guide home past keeper Matt Duke. 1-0 and the perfect start. However, we've gone in front in almost every game recently so we had to be on our guard to ensure we didn't gift the visitors a route back in to the match. They had a lot of the ball but didn't really trouble Sam Walker, who returned to the starting line-up following Neil Etheridge's recall. Branston was winning plenty of headers although striker Nakhi Wells was causing a few problems with his pace.
Unfortunately it was the Bermudan who put Bradford back on terms. Despite appeals from the Rovers team that he was offside, Wells collected a pass in the penalty area before firing a decent strike beyond Walker and in to the far corner of the net. Instead of losing confidence like we usually do in this situation, we fought back to regain the lead just minutes later. Joe Anyinsah managed to feed Tom Eaves who broke through down the left and the loanee cut on to his right foot before shooting low at the near post. That was the way it remained until half-time although Bradford's Garry Thompson should have done better when a ball fell to him on the half-volley 10 yards out. We were encouraged by what we'd seen though. It wasn't exactly free-flowing football but there was plenty of resolve about the team and they were putting their bodies on the line.
The second half got going with Rovers firmly on the back foot. We didn't push Bradford enough when they had the ball and we invited pressure by sitting back too much - a habit that's becoming all too prevalent. Just 10 minutes after the restart Carl McHugh nodded home an equaliser after more poor defending from a set-piece. It's incredibly frustrating that we continue to concede goals in this fashion because it must be something that we work on every day in training. Again though heads didn't drop with the setback and we began to get back in to the game. We had a few attacks before taking the lead for a third time. Derek Riordan fired a strike towards goal that was blocked but the ball found its way towards makeshift central midfielder Michael Smith who lashed home with his weaker left foot. Gasheads were in full voice again but there was just this nagging feeling that we were setting ourselves up for another fall with our haphazard defending. Bradford began to search for an equaliser and played numerous long balls forward towards target man James Hanson in a bid to create problems. He won his fair share of headers but we were coping. Just. But it was delaying the inevitable as the tall forward managed to find the net from a right wing cross minutes later to make it all square yet again. It was becoming increasingly clear that both teams were tiring but neither side gave up hope of nicking all 3 points. Riordan struck a free-kick harmlessly over the bar whilst Gary Jones whipped in a number of dangerous balls for the visitors. It was all a little tense.
Seanan Clucas, who had performed well in midfield, then brought the game in to 6 minutes of chaos right on 90 minutes. The young Northern Irishman slid in late on a Bradford player right in front of their dugout and this sparked a melee involving almost every player and substitute. Nobody can claim that Bradford were innocent in it all as their reaction was clearly designed to get Clucas sent off. Strangely though that didn't happen. Once the collision had died down a little the referee, who had a long discussion with his linesman, sent off Bradford's Nathan Doyle who must have played a significant part in the unsavoury incident. The question on everybody's lips then was why was Clucas not sent off first? Well the answer to that is anyone's guess. Wayne Brown though, who didn't appear to do anything, got shown a second yellow and then a red. Everybody watched on somewhat confused by what they had just witnessed. Was it a case of mistaken identity between Brown and Clucas? I'm not sure, only the ref can answer that. Even so, it was a bizarre sequence of events. Stoppage time lasted a full 12 minutes before the game was brought to an end and neither side troubled the goalkeepers in the final seconds.
A draw was probably a fair reflection of the game but Rovers have to be mightily disappointed at the alarming rate in which they are conceding goals. They'd have won this game if they could defend crosses and set-pieces competently and there's no excuse for them not to be able to in the professional game, especially with Garry Kenneth leading the unit. It was much improved but there is still a lot of work to do. Thankfully it was an understrength side that took a share of the spoils against a promotion-chasing team and that must be a good sign with the likes of David Clarkson, Fabian Broghammer and Cian Bolger pushing for returns over the next couple of weeks.
This result needs to be built upon if it is to be seen as a success, but it certainly has the potential to be a positive point as we head in to a critical game with Wycombe Wanderers next weekend.