DO not blame the referees for Bradford City’s predicament in the drop zone.
That is the view of the free agent brought in to add bite and experience to the Bantams midfield, Jim O’Brien.
For a third successive match, City had a legitimate penalty appeal rejected at a crucial time in the game.
Whereas the previous two had been with City 1-0 down to Charlton and at Doncaster, this time their pleas fell on deaf ears with the game goalless.
It came in the 65th minute with City building a head of steam. The outstanding Sean Scannell ran onto an expertly placed diagonal ball into the area from O’Brien and stabbed it against the post under pressure. The ball rebounded across to Eoin Doyle, whose curled follow-up from a tight angle was cleared off the line by the outstretched left arm of central defender Tony Craig but play was allowed to continue.
George Miller was also flagged offside to City’s disgust as he found the net but O’Brien remarked: “I’m not going to talk about referees. They have a tough job. I felt sorry for the ref as he was turning, looking past me (for the handball incident).
“We have just got to put the ball in the net. On another day it could have been maybe three or four for us so it’s a little bit of luck we need. It’s not the referee.”
Three points would have helped the former Barnsley play-maker and Coventry captain celebrate his 31st birthday the previous day with three points.
Instead, City had to be content with their first point and clean sheet under head coach David Hopkin in his fourth league game in charge.
“We stopped that losing run but we just need that one to drop for us and get an easy tap-in. Hopefully, that will then open up the floodgates but it was definitely a positive result for us,” continued O’Brien, who had spent the previous 18 months at Ross County.
I’ve seen it again – it’s a blatant penalty. I don’t know what we have to do to get one. The ball is going in the net but the boy’s hand punches the ball away. Surely somebody’s got to see it, whether it’s the referee or linesman.David Hopkin
“There are a lot of games coming up but it’s a good month for us to pick up some points and find ourselves up the table.”
City head to AFC Wimbledon tomorrow and Hopkin, who switched formation to 4-4-2, remarked: “Of course it is a building block for us. Bristol Rovers have had some good results in the last couple of weeks and changed their shape a wee bit. But I thought the application of our players was fantastic.
“I asked for a clean sheet and got it and I think there was only one team in the second half who was going to win the game.”
Of having another spot-kick turned down, Hopkin said: “I’ve seen it again – it’s a blatant penalty. I don’t know what we have to do to get one. The ball is going in the net but the boy’s hand punches the ball away. Surely somebody’s got to see it, whether it’s the referee or linesman.
“They are massive calls and that’s three that’s gone against us now. You can’t get more blatant than a handball on the line.”
Playing Scannell and young Jordan Gibson on the flanks meant there was no place for Huddersfield loanee Jack Payne, but City looked a bigger threat when he came on for the latter after the break.
At least the change in formation gave Hopkin more attacking nous from off the bench, David Ball also being there to add experience.
“It’s the first time we’ve had players on the bench that can make us stronger. That’s no disrespect but over the last few weeks we’ve been taking players off and putting young boys on. It’s not their fault but this was the first time when we’ve had options,” continued Hopkin, without illness victim and central defender Nat Knight-Percival, though right-back Kelvin Mellor returned from hamstring trouble.
“Hopefully, over the next three or four weeks we’ll have more players back and that will make us stronger again.”
His side’s run of misfortune had continued after Ed Upson had fired the ball into the ground and against the post from the edge of the area and Tom Nichols had sent a free header wide in the early stages for the visitors.
Then, in the 25th-minute, Rovers captain Tom Lockyer misjudged a long ball near halfway, allowing Doyle to race towards the Kop only to see his shot strike Jack Bonham’s right-hand post and rebound into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Lockyer was laid out in a self-inflicted clash of heads with Miller on halfway and soon had to be replaced by Tom Broadbent in a straight swap.
Jim O’Brien also forced Bonham to paw the ball from under his bar with a cross-shot ahead of five minutes of goalless stoppage time and though City pressed for much of ther second period, Richard O’Donnell made late saves from substitutes Liam Sercombe and Alex Jakubiak and Bonham matched him with a right-handed block from Scannell.
Bradford City: O’Donnell, Mellor, McGowan, O’Connor, Wood; Scannell, J O’Brien, L O’Brien, Gibson (Payne 51); Doyle (Ball 76), Miller (Bruenker 90). Unused substitutes: Sykes-Kenworthy, Seedorf, Isherwood, Goldthorp.
Bristol Rovers: Bonham, J Clarke, Lockyer (Broadbent 37), Craig, Kelly; Partington (Sercombe 80), Sinclair, Upson, O Clarke; Nichols (Jakubiak 90), Reilly. Unused substitutes: Smith, Payne, Lines, Bennett.
Referee: O Yates (Staffs).