‘IF YOU’RE watching on the telly, turn it off,” sang the Bradford City fans midway through the second half.
They had a point. At the time this derby was goalless and largely lifeless, a contest seemingly meandering towards a stalemate that would have done neither side any favours.
If, however, those sitting at home in front of their sets heeded those urgings from the visitors’ seats and went for the ‘off’ switch then they missed a final quarter that saw a previously turgid contest spring finally into life.
Both sides had chances, but it was Doncaster Rovers who prevailed courtesy of a late double from John Marquis.
The celebrations at the final whistle, tinged with more than a sense of relief, betrayed the importance of the three points to a club where memories of their 2016 slide towards relegation remain vividly fresh.
As for the Bantams, a season that promised so much as the new year dawned continues to implode. Seven points separate City from the play-off places as manager Simon Grayson continues to search for his first win since succeeding Stuart McCall a little over five weeks ago.
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It was not through the want of trying on the part of the Bantams that last night did not provide those elusive three points. For much of the proceedings City’s approach play was decent. This was particularly the case during an opening quarter that saw Nicky Law see plenty of the ball.
Bradford’s problem, however, came once deep into home territory. Without Charlie Wyke, serving the second-game of a three-game ban following his red card at Plymouth Argyle, the ball just would not stick.
Alex Gilliead, normally a winger, tried his best, as did Shay McCartan. But the duo were unable to provide either the physical presence or the incisive touch required to turn good approach play into a goal.
In the end Grayson had to turn to rookie German striker Joel Growdowski. It proved to no avail, the debutant, signed last summer for the development squad, providing plenty of willing running, but precious little quality.
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Growdowski did attempt one audacious shot with the outside of his left foot soon after coming off the bench, but the ball looped harmlessly over the crossbar.
City’s best moments had come early on. Only the alertness of Joe Wright prevented Timothee Dieng giving the visitors the lead on ten minutes with a close-range header that was blocked on the line.
The celebrations at the final whistle, tinged with more than a sense of relief, betrayed the importance of the three points to a club where memories of their 2016 slide towards relegation remain vividly fresh.Richard Sutcliffe
Romain Vincelot also brought a smart save from Marko Marosi, who had earlier bravely thrown himself at the feet of Tony McMahon to claim the ball after initially failing to hold McCartan’s cross.
Later in the first half Law was agonisingly close to converting a Gilliead cross in stoppage-time.
The best Doncaster could muster in terms of an attacking threat during those opening 45 minutes was a shot from Marquis that flew wide of Colin Doyle’s goal.
Things did not markedly improve for the hosts after the break, at least not at first as proceedings did little to warm up the 7,369 crowd on a bitterly cold night.
As the game moved past the hour mark the pre-match suspicion that the rotten form of these two teams going into the derby meant the game could turn into something of a turn-off for the viewers at home seemed to have been borne out.
Certainly there was never going to be a repeat of a previous meeting between these two managers that had brought ten goals and more twists and turns than a rollercoaster at Blackpool, coincidentally Doncaster’s next opponents on Good Friday.
Preston North End, under Darren Ferguson, triumphed 6-4 on that occasion at Elland Road in 2010 and, come last night’s final whistle, Rovers’ manager was again celebrating a precious win.
The breakthrough came 15 minutes from time courtesy of a sublime cross from Niall Mason that immediately had the City defence in trouble.
Marquis, instantly alert to the opportunity, threw himself at the ball and his thumping header gave Colin Doyle no chance.
City tried to respond, but their weakness up front was all too obvious as Rovers’ backline stood firm before Marquis sealed the points in stoppage-time.
Another decent passing move from the hosts created the opportunity that Marquis gleefully converted with a drilled shot through Doyle’s legs to justify those at home who had stuck with it to watch what proved to be an eventful denouement.
Doncaster Rovers: Marosi; Blair, Wright, Baudry, Mason; Houghton, McCullough (Whiteman 72), Coppinger, Rowe; Kiwomya (Beestin 61), Marquis. Unused substitutes: Lawlor, Alock, Kongolo, May, Williams.
Bradford City: Doyle; Knight-Percival, Vincelot, Kilgallon; McMahon, Guy, Dieng (Devine 57), Law, Robinson; Gilliead (Growdowski. 57), McCartan (Gibson 73). Unused substitutes: Poleon, Warnock, Breunker, Raeder, Devine.
Referee: D Handley (Lancashire).