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Ronnie Moore the merrier as his Rovers rattle Bradford City
City 0, Tranmere 1
Ronnie Moore may no longer be public enemy number one at Valley Parade – that dubious honour belongs to Steve Evans these days. But he will always be a Dick Dastardly character among the home fans.
It may be 11 years ago but none have forgotten Moore’s outburst that City should have been kicked out of the league when they first fell into administration.
He has not been back here for a while, since Tom Adeyemi’s ‘was it, wasn’t it’ winner for Peter Jackson two-and-a-half years ago.
But Moore returned with a vengeance yesterday as his lowly Tranmere did a job on the Bantams, inflicting a first home defeat in League One with the first second-half goal conceded for eight games.
The feelgood factor had been punctured by a wily old hand.
Phil Parkinson had pulled a rabbit out of the hat with the unannounced appearance of former Middlesbrough defender Matthew Bates on the bench.
The 26-year-old, who can play centre half, right back or midfield, had been training with City but Parkinson had kept the free agent’s arrival under a veil of secrecy.
And a week of defensive pass the parcel ended with another centre half in the ranks as Carl McHugh was flown back by the club from Romania. He had been an unused substitute for Republic of Ireland’s under-21s in their 0-0 draw in Piatra Neamt on Friday.
But McHugh, like Bates, was not in the starting line-up as Parkinson went with the Luke Oliver and Nathan Doyle pairing that had practised in training this week. Doyle’s move backwards also meant a first outing at home for Jason Kennedy alongside his old Rochdale sparring partner Gary Jones.
City’s first effort of the afternoon came from the back four. James Hanson was unable to get enough on James Meredith’s cross but the ball was kept alive for right back Stephen Darby to flash a volley over from close range.
Kyel Reid tried to re-enact his Walsall wonder goal from a short free-kick but his wild drive flew nearer the corner flag than Rovers keeper Owain Fon Williams.
Tranmere were giving as good as they got in the opening exchanges but were perhaps fortunate not to give away a penalty when Garry Thompson appeared to be wrestled to the ground from Reid’s cross. An animated Parkinson thought so and made his point clear to the assistant referee.
But that was nothing to the manager’s furious reaction when Ian Goodison caught Reid flush in the face with a forearm smash right in front of the City bench.
The Tranmere captain, making his 400th appearance, was immediately confronted by an irate Parkinson and a melee ensued involving both sides.
When the dust settled, referee Darren Drysdale showed a yellow rather than red card to Goodison – a decision greeted with dismay from the home crowd.
But the incident had livened up a pretty flat game and certainly got the fans involved. Moore, a low-key figure up to that point, became the target for their derision.
Hanson took retribution into his own hands with a late lunge on Goodison, which also saw his name taken.
Drysdale, who once famously sent off Dean Windass in the Valley Parade car park, was the villain of the piece once again when he ignored another penalty shout after Mark Yeates was pulled backwards.
Then more argy-bargy on the touchline followed as Ryan Lowe shoved Doyle into the City dugout and flattened Parkinson, who leapt up before going eyeball-to-eyeball with the Rovers frontman.
Tranmere were happy to frustrate City by getting men behind the ball but there was the occasional threat on the counter and Jon McLaughlin needed to be alert to turn away Chris Atkinson’s header.
As half-time approached, the City keeper was called into action again to claw Jim McNulty’s free-kick away from a crowd of players in the six-yard box.
Tranmere began the second period in a positive vein with efforts from Max Power and Jake Kirby.
But they were still happy to kill the clock and Drysdale ran 50 yards to have a word with Fon Williams for dawdling over a goal kick.
It was becoming a frustrating afternoon for the Bantams and, after McNulty thwarted Hanson at the near post, Reid fired another wayward right-footer high into the upper reaches of the Bradford end.
The winger did far better after 65 minutes when Thompson’s quick throw-in on halfway gave him the room to open his legs. His low shot was saved by Fon Williams but at least the hosts had mustered an effort on target.
Yeates drove wide before Parkinson summoned Caleb Folan from the bench as the half reached the midway point.
City were finally finding their shooting boots and Reid was not too far away with another shot from distance.
But they were suddenly stunned on the break as Tranmere broke the deadlock. A ball over the top was flicked over Meredith by Kirby to get Lowe in the clear and his finish was clinical through McLaughlin’s legs.
Reid was taking the fight single-handed to the visitors and tried to respond straight away. Then Kennedy lobbed over the bar as the Kop cranked up the noise once more.
Alan Connell’s arrival for Oliver saw City switch to 3-4-1-2 for the closing stages as they frantically searched for an equaliser. Yeates stood up a cross to the back post which bounced off the top of the woodwork but that was as close as it got.
Fon Williams belatedly got his booking for time-wasting and City sub Folan’s lunge on Ridehalgh levelled it up at three yellow cards apiece.
Folan nearly atoned with a header that Fon Williams stretched to turn away in a late spell of pressure. Jones then tried to bundle in from a close-range scramble but there was no way through.
The boos that greeted the final whistle were for the referee and the visiting manager – and there was an animated discussion between Moore and Parkinson as the teams left the field.
The Tranmere chief then directed a sarcastic wave in the direction of the home crowd. His work was done.
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