Burton Albion grab win in the end but it's not football that's talked about
BURTON Albion thoroughly deserved their first home win in four attempts but it came in a game in which the main talking points were not about the football itself.
Bradford City will point to the controversial sending-off of captain Ricky Ravenhill after half-an-hour as a turning point but, in truth, they were second best before it.
After it, the Bantams packed their defence and the game became gruelling to watch, the Brewers finally finding a way through with nine minutes left.
While Burton poured forward for most of the match, Nathan Stanton, back in the side for Rob Kiernan, combined a commanding display at the back with one of his occasional verbal running battles with the visiting supporters.
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As a result, he was roundly booed every time he touched the ball and faced the wrath of the Bradford management at the end.
Stanton dismisses it all as a bit of fun and part of the game and, to a certain extent, has a point but a player as good as he is simply does not need to do it.
The sending-off, meanwhile, was correct in that former Premier League referee Andy D'Urso applied the letter of the law when Ravenhill made as if to head-butt Lee Bell.
But Bell should not look back on the incident with any satisfaction.
Fouled by Ravenhill, he leapt to his feet angrily (there was a yellow card for him, too), then threw himself to the ground when the Bradford player got in his face.
Even with replays, it is hard to see whether there was much – if any – contact but whatever there was, it cannot have warranted a grown man being pole-axed and Bell's subsequent tweets – "went down like a girl, poor from me" – do him no credit either.
Before the sending-off, Burton were pushing Bradford back without the ball quite falling for them in the box, with Billy Kee, restored to the starting line-up, looking especially unfortunate on a couple of occasions.
Bradford's only on-target shot of the match, a volley from former Derby County midfielder Nathan Doyle, floated comfortably straight at new goalkeeper Mark Oxley, who went on to collect one of the easiest clean sheets his career will include.
All that could be judged about Oxley, apart from the fact that he is, as manager Gary Rowett suggested, similar to Adam Legzdins in size and presence, is that he kicks the ball well.
After the sending-off, Bradford manager Phil Parkinson switched to one up front but also had to replace injured centre-half Luke Oliver, a big blow for the Bantams.
Kee had two more chances before half-time, keeper Joe McLaughlin saving a 15-yard shot to his left, before the striker sidefooted Damien McCrory's pull back from the left narrowly wide.
At half-time, an injury to another centre-half, Andrew Davies, forced Parkinson into his third switch earlier than he would have hoped and there was no realistic option for Bradford but to try to hang on from there.
In trying to find a way to break through, Burton frustrated themselves and their supporters by launching too many hopeful long balls into the box.
They looked more likely to score when they opted to pass their way through and came close after 55 minutes when Calvin Zola and Jacques Maghoma swapped intricate passes on the left before Maghoma swept a shot against the bar, with Kee having a follow-up effort blocked.
Maghoma, always determined to try to play his way into the danger areas, sent a chip a yard wide after 64 minutes but a series of corners brought nothing for Burton either.
Cleveland Taylor, who may be running out of chances to shine, had a frustrating time on the right wing and when Sheffield United loanee Jordan Chapell replaced him, he soon provided a cross which Kee headed wide.
When the breakthrough finally came, it owed much to the enterprise and determination of McCrory.
He suddenly spotted an opportunity to dart forward and it was Stanton, hardly noted for his attacking play, who sent a clever chip into the space.
Gary Thompson should have been favourite to clear the ball but McCrory nicked it off him and, with McLaughlin also having started to come for the ball, he was able to cross to the far post, where Zola flopped forward to score with a header.
It had not been the big striker's most effective afternoon but he can still point to a match-winning goal and he remains Burton's best forward this season by a distance.
Doyle and Rory McArdle, with clumsy fouls on Bell and Maghoma, picked up late bookings to emphasise Bradford's frustration.
It was a match to forget but Burton's effort was not in question and, in the end, they got the job done.