BILLY KNOTT believes his Bradford City team-mates will use the perceived injustice of the end to their unbeaten run as a spur in chasing the big prize this week.
If they can play as well with 11 men as they did with 10 on Saturday then a fourth-round FA Cup trip to Chelsea will surely be theirs for the taking.
Millwall stand in their way in the third-round replay at Valley Parade on Wednesday and City will approach it in confident and determined manner despite seeing their 10-game unbeaten run cruelly come to an end.
Manager Phil Parkinson, generally so measured in comments on referees’ performances, let rip at Surrey official Gavin Ward after Calvin Andrew’s stoppage-time header had given fellow play-off chasers Rochdale a seventh away league win.
It was rough justice on City who had been down to 10 men since the 11th minute when Ward brandished the red card to Jordan Pickford for tripping Matt Done, who had knocked the ball wide of the goalkeeper but who would have been hard pressed to convert as home defenders rushed back to protect the goal.
Ian Henderson, for a second successive time, clipped the penalty against the bar, but had the nous to duck under the rebound to allow Peter Vincenti to smash the ball past Ben Williams, who had been brought on for Andy Halliday.
To compound matters at the end, Parkinson labelled as “disgusting” the decision to award a free-kick for Alan Sheehan’s challenge on Andrew.
From it, the substitute striker headed back across Williams and over the line before central defender Oliver Lancashire could add the finishing touch in front of the 728 Dale fans.
The City chief, who had seen Jon Stead head home a 33rd-minute equaliser from close range after James Hanson and then Sheehan had won headers following a cross from Filipe Morais, was left fuming.
Of the penalty incident, he said: “The lad knocked it wide and the ball was probably running out of play.
“There were recovering defenders, but they got a penalty and there was a sending-off. It’s never ever a sending-off.
“It was an absolutely atrocious decision. We knew at the time it was harsh and when you see it again it looks worse.
“It kind of summed up the ref’s performance really. He was terrible on the day.
“I was at the pitch inspection with him at 11 o’clock (Saturday morning) and he was telling me how he had come up from Surrey and the referees’ association had had to pay for his petrol money and his hotel.
“If that’s the best ref we can get and have to bring him all the way up from Surrey to referee the game then heaven help us because that performance was shocking. When you speak to the referees they are always saying that they need more money to train the refs; well, today, they have probably paid £250 in expenses to the worst referee we have had this season.”
City could well appeal the sending-off, Parkinson adding: “It was harsh on Jordan because he has been magnificent this season. I think we will appeal because the FA have to look at that one and, not only that, but they have got to get a DVD of the overall performance from the referee. There are only so many ‘professional’ referees and you can tell the ones who are professional, they get the big decisions right.”
Parkinson had nothing but praise for his team’s display on a pitch which cut up badly after heavy overnight and early morning downpours, continually putting Rochdale under pressure despite being a man short.
“We kept as positive as we could in terms of shape, staying at 4-3-2. The fitness of the players was outstanding The performance was great, but it’s just a crushing blow losing in the manner we did.
“We have to ensure this defeat does not knock us because we have played so well. It won’t knock us and we will come out fighting on Wednesday night. That was as probably as well as we have played with 10 men as in games that we have won.”
Former Chelsea youth player Knott, the predator behind the twin towers of Hanson and Stead, said: “I think we deserved a lot more than that, but we have done well with that run and will have another one if we keep playing like that.
“We have to put it behind us as fast as we can and move on to a big cup game. It was frustrating and we deserved a lot more – you wouldn’t have known we were down to 10 men because it was a great performance and a great shift from everyone.
“The result will not knock our confidence, having gone 10 unbeaten. The team are buzzing at the moment and, hopefully, we can have a big result on Wednesday.
“Regarding the penalty, I shouldn’t have given the ball away in midfield, but the lad tried to buy it (the penalty) a little and was going away from goal and he said after that he wasn’t getting onto the ball – but he’s not going to tell the ref it wasn’t a red card.”