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Steve Evans is the Grinch who stole Christmas at Bradford City
City 0, Rotherham 1
In this season of goodwill to all men, Valley Parade will always make one notable exception.
Steve Evans will forever be the Grinch in City’s eyes. And he stole Christmas with three more points in West Yorkshire yesterday – Rotherham’s sixth successive win over the Bantams.
Now the fear is that this latest setback may also have stolen their season. Defeat leaves them eight points adrift of the play-offs and continuing to lose ground. With only one win from their last 13 league games, the momentum is heading in the wrong direction.
Once again, City can point to an exceptional goal as their undoing. Nobody seems to score tap-ins against them these days. But there was never any serious evidence of a fightback in front of the biggest home crowd of the season.
There was little cutting edge with the possession and Rotherham’s lead, established a quarter of the way into the game, always looked comfortable. No wonder Evans rarely appeared from the sanctuary of his dugout. He didn’t need to.
Phil Parkinson’s team selection took everyone by surprise. With no James Hanson or Andy Gray, who failed to recover from his weekend dead leg, Parkinson threw Oliver McBurnie in the deep end for his first start.
The 17-year-old Leeds lad, a 21-goal sensation for the youth team, made his debut against the Millers as a late substitute in the FA Cup defeat but this was another level.
The Irish youngster’s only two appearances this season had been in cup ties but perhaps his inclusion ahead of Matt Taylor and Luke Oliver was a vote for heart over height from the City boss.
And the bench included Ricky Ravenhill, suddenly recalled a week early from his Northampton loan after Aidy Boothroyd’s sacking. The midfielder had not kicked a ball for City since September.
McBurnie got a traditional welcome to the big stage inside two minutes, Claude Davis stepping in his way to level the youngster.
The start was predictably fast and furious, with nobody given too long to settle in possession. James Meredith was tripped by Mark Bradley level with the Rotherham box but Gary Jones’ inswinging free-kick into the goalmouth eluded the claret and amber heads.
Davis, one of the central figures of that infamous brawl with Crawley, did not last long as he was subbed for Rob Milsom.
But the wind was knocked out of City’s sails after 20 minutes. Lee Frecklington rode a couple of tackles on the edge of the box, Kieron Agard helped the ball on to Haris Vuckic and the Slovenian produced a fine lob which left Jon McLaughlin rooted to the spot.
City had chances to whack the ball away during the build-up but it was a quality strike which the keeper could not stop.
The irony that it was Vuckic, a player that City had considered bringing in on loan, just added to the sense of frustration around the ground.
“That man Steve Evans, he’s laughing at you,” taunted the sold-out away end as the rest of Valley Parade fell silent.
It was depressingly familiar territory for the Bantams; losing to the Millers once again – and conceding first for the fourth successive home game.
For a short spell, Rotherham were in the ascendancy as City struggled to clear their heads.
Garry Thompson had a shot blocked and McBurnie a soft header comfortably caught before the pair combined for City’s best attack of the game. The youngster shielded the ball well to find Thompson, whose well-struck cross-shot was palmed behind by Collin.
That stirred up the atmosphere – but not as much as Vuckic’s clumsy lunge on halfway which left Kyel Reid in a heap. Out came the referee’s book for a second time.
Rotherham wanted similar retribution when Ben Pringle was fouled by Stephen Darby and Evans appeared on the edge of the pitch to gesticulate furiously. As the jeers got louder, referee Darren Bond ignored the visiting pleas and kept his card holstered.
There was nothing between the teams, although City had finished the first half in better fashion. But there was a lot of work ahead to claw their way back from a potentially damaging defeat.
With the booking hanging over him, Vuckic did not appear after the break. But Rotherham quickly threatened a second goal through their other Newcastle loanee.
Bradford-born James Tavernier whipped a fierce free-kick over the wall but McLaughlin threw himself to the left to turn it behind. From the corner, Kari Arnason nodded against the post but he had already been penalised for a push.
Parkinson made his first change just after the hour mark with Mark Yeates, back on sub duty after a flat display at Peterborough, getting another opportunity in Thompson’s place.
Tavernier, pushed forward in the reshuffle after Vuckic went off, had another chance to bury his home-town club but blazed loosely over the bar into the travelling support.
Then he had a third try after slack play from Matthew Bates with a low shot which McLaughlin pushed round the post.
Rotherham carried all the threat as Frecklington’s low cross-shot flew across the goalmouth and Agard’s dangerous burst was cut out in the nick of time by Bates.
Joe Skarz took the Millers’ bookings to four but their grip on proceedings remained unruffled.
Reid was a shadow of the second-half menace at Peterborough, with Wells another passenger. McBurnie looks a prospect but this was a difficult test for him and he made way for Alan Connell late on.
Parkinson even resorted to the Peter Taylor tactic of throwing on Luke Oliver as an emergency centre forward for the final stages.
Five minutes of stoppage time offered hope of another dramatic climax to rival Coventry and Leyton Orient but, like the previous 90, Rotherham negotiated the extra minutes without a hint of trouble.
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