Issue Soon to be someone else’s day

As told by Jason Mckeown

As he walked off the Millmoor pitch at the final whistle with away fans loudly chanting his name, David Wetherall could be forgiven if it began to hit home.

With a backdrop of appreciative supporters using the day to pay tribute to City’s retiring skipper, this derby draw may have all but ensured there will only be nine games left of his distinguished career. He applauded fans back while trooping off, visibly touched by the fantastic reception, but probably also feeling a tinge of sadness from knowing his days as leader on the pitch are almost over. Soon he’ll be helping shape City’s future in a different way as a member of the coaching team.

That the final furlong of Wetherall’s career is taking place with apparently little to play for is a source of much debate. No one would want to swap places with Rotherham at the moment, but it must be nice to be in a position to have 10 points deducted and still be in with a good shout of promotion. While the points penalty the Millers have suffered from returning into administration may have improved City’s remote play off hopes, there is little evidence to suggest the sort of run that could end in a top seven position is achievable from the current squad. The majority soon to be out of contract, the biggest remaining question is how big the summer rebuilding job will need to be.

On Saturday’s evidence City aren’t as far off as was feared in the wake of the previous week’s Mansfield debacle. Up against a decent outfit determined not to let off the field worries affect their game, the Bantams put in as good a 90-minute away performance as they have managed all season. Omar Daley was recalled to partner Barry Conlon, presumably with the view that two games in three days would be asking too much of the benched Peter Thorne. Tom Penford and Kyle Nix were also brought in and made a huge difference to a midfield which had been badly out fought against Mansfield. With Eddie Johnson enjoying one of his better days, City pressed from kick off and played some decent football.

They should have been in front during the first 45 minutes. From a dangerous free kick, Johnson was left with a free header but could only manage a tame effort which was comfortably saved. Soon after a scramble in the penalty area left Conlon one on one with Andy Warrington, yet incredibly he hit the ball straight at the Millers keeper with the goal gaping. Rotherham also had their chances with Chris O’Grady having a goal disallowed and a decent penalty shout turned away, but on possession and chances City should have gone in leading at the break.

Fortunately they put that right within three minutes of the restart. Joe Colbeck, once again in impressive form, charged at the full back before playing a ball into Penford, who cleverly returned it into the young winger’s path to fire home via the post. There have been calls for Stuart to start putting kids in the team with an eye for next season and seeing two of the more ‘mature’ youngsters combine brilliantly for the goal should act as inspiration to any young Bantams who get their opportunity before the season ends. City continued to attack with purpose and Nix missed a glorious chance to add a second. Daley’s run and low cross left the Australian-born winger with a seemingly empty net to slide the ball into, but somehow he only diverted it into Warrington’s arms.

Rotherham pressed, but City largely looked comfortable and it came as a surprise when O’Grady headed the equaliser from a free kick. It was a bad moment for Mark Bower, making his first start since before Christmas, who hesitated when it appeared he could have headed the ball clear before it reached O’Grady, though he might have expected Scott Loach to come out and catch it. It was the only blot of an otherwise solid return for the club’s longest serving player. Clearly it’s been a disappointing season for Bower, who lost his place due to poor form last November, but his days at Valley Parade are far from numbered and, with his senior partner hanging up the boots, it seems likely he will become a more regular part of next year’s backline.

The goal didn’t appear to upset City’s approach and Nix wasted another glorious chance, shooting over when cleverly put through. Then, with 20 minutes to go, the initiative was handed to Rotherham as City were reduced to ten men. Daley went in for a challenge with Graham Coughlan before appearing to kick out at the home defender. It was difficult to see from the away end, but the Jamaican also seemed to push the referee just before he was shown the red card and left the pitch to a mixture of chanting and boos from City fans. Daley had enjoyed a reasonably effective game back in the striker’s role, often stretching the home defence superbly by drifting out wide, but his actions left his team with little option but to hang on for a point.

It meant the outcome rested on City’s defence who worked hard in withstanding frequent home pressure. Loach was the busier keeper but only had a few comfortable saves and catches to make as the Millers were frustrated. Thorne replaced Conlon but the rest of the team were unable to support him adequately. The final whistle came as a relief.

A draw does little to help either team’s play off chances, even if City’s remain decidedly distant. On their day this team has shown it’s as good as most in this division, but stronger leadership and better consistency is required to get City truly among the front runners in 2008-09. As next season’s squad is built from retained players and new signings, it will need to include a replacement for the one player who has embodied both these qualities more than anyone in recent years.

Something which Wetherall will no doubt be influencing in his new role. Until then, he’ll be one player at least making the most of the nine remaining games. He’s being part of City’s backline for so long and we’ll miss him performing on the field. So to, I’m sure, will he.