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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 09/03/04, 7.45pm
Bradford City
By David Rivers

During the afternoon, my wife rang to say that one of our six hens (a Maran, for the technically minded) had, in the manner of the film "Chicken Run", made a break for it. Using the roof of the hen house as a runway, she had become airborne and gained sufficient altitude to clear the perimeter fence. At halftime, I was able to ring home and report that the errant bird appeared to have made a successful flight from our North Yorkshire bailiwick to Valley Parade, Bradford. Furthermore, she had taken up residence in one of the goals and had entered halftime penalty shoot-out competition. Personally, I think she is better on the wing. Oh dear, but when you have a chicken mascot providing the on-pitch entertainment rather than the players, one has to dig deep to dispel the gloom.

On a freezing night in Bradford with your team two-nil in arrears to some Bantams, one finds oneself scratching around with chicken jokes to warm the heart. Desperate or what?

In a match of almost insufferable ineptitude there was one (almost) delicious moment involving a Watford player. Ardley, on being substituted in the 84th minute, had taken off the Captain's armband and thrown it in the general direction of debutant Paul Mayo. The youngster picked it up and examined it closely for a few moments. You could follow his train of thought. Last week, a Lincoln City player. This week, two divisions up (just) and playing for Watford. Captain by the end of the game. Not bad going. But then, as if he knew it was a step too far, he handed it on to a more senior colleague. Not yet Paul, not yet.

The game? Oh, all right then.

For the first eight minutes I thought we were going to take something away from here...a point at least. Bright, eager, passing it about and an early Helguson chance in the penalty area.

And then Dyche concedes a free kick for handball about twenty-five yards out. The resulting shot from Evans curled away from Pidgeley into the net and we were left wondering what we had done to deserve this.

Ten minutes later, a short corner from Evans was driven home by Windass from an acute angle with the defence all at sea. Moments later, another Bradford corner and it was nearly three-nil but for a good save by Pidgeley.

It was dreadful frantic defending, but then shorn of Cox and Smith and with Ifil looking nervous, perhaps one should not be too harsh on the back four. The one ray of sunshine was the debut of Mayo who grew in stature as the game went on, keeping it simple but effective. His long throws were a revelation and a future new weapon in an admittedly rather sparse armoury. Doyley (pronounced Dooley by the man on the PA) also improved and was looking assured by the second half. Some allowances then given the circumstances. It was somehow much more than particular players not performing. H in particular looked out of sorts while Dyer, who was enthusiastically encouraged throughout by the travelling fans, looked sharp until substituted, which seemed a bit harsh.

It was just that at times, the whole team played in a misshapen lumpen morass of misplaced passes, with seemingly no idea of how to extricate themselves from the situation they found themselves in. At times it was horrible to watch. Then there would be periods of sustained pressure. But it would all peter out again. Bradford defended stoutly, but their forwards never really troubled Pidgeley for the whole of the second half. We, on the other hand, created absolutely zilch apart from an Ardley free kick which hit the bar and Fitzgerald headed over the rebound. There was a lot of huffing and puffing in midfield, the defence eventually settled down a bit and looked less panicky in the second half, but it was all so ineffectual. Vaesen did not have to make a telling save all night.

The final whistle seemed almost an act of kindness.

The escapee hen? Safely back in the henhouse when I returned home, thank you. A severe talking to and extra egg laying duties were meted out as punishment.

I'm sure RL will find a footballing equivalent, after this bird-brained display. He was right about one thing though, when he said of Paul Mayo that "he can really play." The eggception to the rule, thank God.