Rovers take the road to redemption against City
IN a results-orientated business the result is often all that matters – but sometimes the final scoreline doesn't always tell the whole story.
A single point is all that Rovers were granted for their efforts at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday, but for Mark McGhee and his players, the outcome of this game was about more than the numbers in the goals for and goals against columns.
It was about redemption; about offering long-suffering Rovers supporters a glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel. "I needed to show the supporters that I could get the players up for the game," said McGhee. He did.
A meek display in defeat at Rochdale followed by a 4-0 thrashing at Port Vale on Tuesday night after which McGhee was publically critical of his players had raised the obvious question: "Had the manager lost the dressing room?"
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The players' display on Saturday offered emphatic evidence to the contrary. Few people, meanwhile, would have blamed McGhee and chairman Nick Higgs had they congregated in the centre-circle at the Memorial Stadium on Friday night to partake in a raindance in the hope that the weather may render this fixture unplayable after a particularly difficult week for all concerned.
A first-half capitualtion at Vale Park on Tuesday night meant the pack were out in force looking for answers on Wednesday morning. They came from the mouth of the chairman on Wednesday afternoon in the shape of unequivocal backing for his beleaguered manager.
We all know how that usually plays out though, don't we? A matter of days after the dreaded vote of confidence being offered and the recipient of that backing is usually on his way off over the hill with the remaider of his salary never to be seen again. Unless there is rapid improvement in results and or performances, that is. Saturday, then, was an encouraging start.
This performance may well have been less than perfect, but the basic ingredients of passion, spirit and desire were on show for the first time in a number of weeks. Those traits coupled with glimpses of quality were enough for the players to avoid a third successive defeat – even if a point in the grand scheme of things did little to improve Rovers' position in the lower reaches of League Two.
McGhee was offered a perfect start with a goal inside two minutes off the head of a player he had signed on Thursday to compensate for a continuing injury crisis. The move to bring in experienced campaigner Guy Branston, however, was met less than enthusiastically by some supporters. No better way to announce yourself than by scoring with your first touch then.
Bradford took the opportunity to dominate possession, while pushing McGhee's side further and further back towards their own goal during that period. While Seanan Clucas and makeshift midfielder Michael Smith offered tireless work-rate, Rovers lacked a player like Bradford's Gary Jones to put a foot on the ball and direct operations from the centre of the park. A successful formula in midfield continues to evade the manager – but at least the returns of Matt Gill, Oliver Norburn and David Clarkson will offer further options to find a partnership in which he will have the confidence to field on a regular basis.
Smith, at least, scored a goal and performed admirably to justify McGhee's surprise decision to field him in the centre of the park. That was lucky. Can you imagine the uproar this selection would have evoked had Rovers lost the game?
It was no surprise when highly-rated Bradford striker Nakhi Wells levelled matters in the 28th minute – it was a surprise, however, that this setback failed to rattle Rovers. They were back in front a few minutes later when the impressive Tom Eaves arrowed a shot from the edge of the penalty area to beat goalkeeper Matt Duke at his near post.
The second-half served to highlight another problem area McGhee needs to address – defending at crosses. Bradford levelled matters again after defender Carl McHugh was offered the freedom of the six-yard box to supply a routine headed finish.
The final goal of the day also came from a cross that was expertly finished off the head of striker James Hanson to put the icing on the cake for what was the most eye-pleasing passage of play on the day.
The sending off of Wayne Brown and Bradford midfielder Nathan Doyle following a melee between a whole host of players was unfortunate, yet a somehow fitting way to end a pulsating afternoon of football.
That episode would have served only as a minor irritant in the thoughts of McGhee after a perfomance that would have gone some way to repairing the relationship between manager and supporters.
The situation with McGhee, however, is a peculiar one. A likeable fellow, most people want to see him turn things around. The outpouring of frustration last week appeared to be merely a result of poor results in this results-orientated business – a sort of lovers' tiff if you will.
Improved performances and better results will always get that relationship back on track. That is, unless your name is Paul Buckle, of course.