The somewhat undeserved but highly deserved point

Sometimes a game of football doesn’t make much sense. It wasn’t that Morecambe and Bradford City’s trading of a goal led to an unfair result this afternoon, but there was a strong argument to be made that each side was undeserved in the timing of its reward.

Having possessed a greater measure of assurance in the first half and begun the second placing heavy pressure on the home team, the 57th minute goal the Bantams conceded to Izek Reid of Morecambe was harsh. But after spending the final half hour abandoning everything good about their play and appearing to get worse with each passing minute, super-sub Ross Hannah’s dramatic 93rd equaliser felt like a badly-behaved kid receiving an underserved prize.

Not that any one of us 1,639 supporters – City’s largest League Two away support since Peter Taylor’s first match as manager in February 2010 – were complaining too much, as wild celebrations spilled out onto Morecambe’s pitch, mind.

It had been a frustrating second half, where confidence and belief seemed to be wilting away from City’s players and in the stands. And while no one will get carried away with the exhilarating ending, there was relief that a morale-denting defeat was avoided. Without Hannah’s timely intervention, the Bantams would now appear second bottom of the early league table.

And more importantly, without Hannah’s goal the undoubted positives that were evidenced from Phil Parkinson’s first official game would have been washed away in the dreary September rain that refused to let up over the Globe Arena. Reid’s goal for Morecambe means City have still yet to keep a clean sheet in the league since Macclesfield last April – 14 games ago – but the improvement in the back four during the last eight days alone is commendable. In midfield Ritchie Jones and Michael Flynn are blossoming as a partnership, with the former having his best game so far for the club. In attack James Hanson and Mark Stewart are forging a good understanding and providing opposition teams with a tough time.

For the first hour of this game, it seemed this collective team ethic could lay on the platform for a first away win of the season. During a far-from-thrilling first half not aided by a fussy referee, Hanson, Stewart, Chris Mitchell and Robbie Threlfall came close with efforts that landed over or wide of the post. At the other end debutant Bantams keeper Matt Duke had little to do but watch long-range efforts fly out of the Globe Arena, though Phil Jevons should have scored for Morecambe when he blasted over inside the area.

The transition period from Peter Jackson to Parkinson has seen City start to adopt a deeper backline that is making them far more solid. Following the Sheffield Wednesday win, Guy Branston and Luke Oliver were again outstanding at the back dealing expertly with high balls and looking comfortable in possession on the deck. Oliver’s recent performances in particular are stunning. Everyone expected him to follow Taylor through the same exit door last season, yet – under Jackson in the final few games and since being restored to the team this season at Oxford – he has produced his best form since joining the club.

When City had the ball it was largely passed attractively back and forth. Another new signing, Kyel Reid, caught the eye with some fast-paced runs and Mitchell provided width on the right. Flynn and Jones looked as in control as any midfielders of League Two standard can be, and City began the second half in the ascendency with Branston, Oliver and Reid coming close.

Suddenly Morecambe scored after an almightily scramble in the box, which had begun with Laurence Wilson’s long range shot hitting the bar, two more pokes at goal being blocked and then Reid smashing the ball past Duke. And then it all unravelled very quickly, with the added concern that Parkinson might be adding to the problems rather than solving them. He made a substitution just two minutes later, with Mitchell taken off for third debutant Jamie Devitt and City apparently set up more gung ho.

Fear, panic and desperation sank in far too early. The players stopped doing the things that had led to them shading the match – and that, with patience, could have led to an equaliser and perhaps even a winner.

Instead of passing the ball on the ground, it was launched long to Hanson. Instead of relying on Jones and Flynn’s influence, the pair regularly saw the ball launched over their heads and became spectators. Instead of methodical build up, players resorted to overly ambitious passes down the channels rather than to a team mate.

Hanson battled hard, but the three sections of the team were becoming too isolated from each other and possession was too often weakly surrendered. A lot of throw ins from dangerous areas, a lot of balls into the box looking for City heads; but the quality was declining rapidly.

The highly impressive Devitt forced Barry Roche into a decent save from a direct free kick, Hanson was denied by the Morecambe keeper a minute later with a downwards header from a Threlfall set piece. Another home scramble in the box almost resulted in a second goal. Hannah and Jack Compton came on, but the likelihood of a strong fightback lessened with heads dropping at each poor pass or comfortable home clearance. Duke made a good save late on, which would soon be looked back upon as vital.

Three of the four minutes of stoppage time were up when Hannah unleashing a stunning half-volley into the bottom corner, to equalise. It came just seconds after City had a strong penalty appeal rejected, which they reacted to in a manner they’d failed to achieve during the 33 minutes they’d trailed – quickly. As we screamed abuse at the referee for failing to consider a handball to be a handball, possession was worked to Compton in space out wide to set up Hannah’s goal.

A good moment for Compton, who’d been harshly dropped from the starting eleven. An even better moment for Hannah, who matched City fans in the level of excitement of his celebration. A bad moment for former loanee Kevin Ellison, who lay on the ground dubiously claiming he’d been fouled in the build up. An even worse moment for his team-mate Roche, whose frustrating time-wasting antics during the final 30 minutes of the game contributed to the length of injury time he conceded in.

Parkinson urged the players over to thank City’s supporters at the final whistle, but one hopes he was not too happy with the way his team lost confidence so quickly after conceding and that he will not be implementing such a direct style of play in future. It makes sense to adopt a more desperate game plan in the final 10 minutes when losing, but in the last two games this team has shown a watching Parkinson it has much more to offer. His substitutions proved effective, but to me the switchover in tactics came too soon.

In the end that team got its reward; but it was hard to escape the conclusion that it did so in spite of – rather than because of – the way they played.

If that makes any sense.