Torquay United's valiant rearguard effort after red card is foiled by late strike
Torquay United may well think that they have a case to make if, after a weekend reviewing video evidence, they decide to appeal against Brian Saah's costly dismissal at Valley Parade.
They will no doubt argue that, yes, Saah raised his arm, but he was trying to take a free-kick awarded his way and he was not even looking at James Meredith when he made contact with the Bradford City defender.
United manager Martin Ling said afterwards that the Gulls may take referee Darren Bond's decision further, for they certainly felt aggrieved at the way this npower League Two match was affected by the 35th minute sending-off of their consistent centre-back and stand-in captain.
With loan signing Angus MacDonald taking over from Saah in the heart of their defence and Michael Poke in top form in goal, United's ten men held out until five minutes from time.
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So it was almost like rubbing salt into the wounds that it should be former Torquay striker Alan Connell who scored the winner, five minutes after rising off the substitutes' bench.
Refereeing his 13th match as a League referee, Mr Bond had kept his red card in his pocket until Saturday, and nothing in the rest of a decent performance from him suggested any knee-jerk reactions.
Nothing much untoward happened in a first half-hour dominated by the Bantams, who are embroiled in a registration row which could see them thrown out of the FA Cup and whose manager Phil Parkinson was able to make eight changes from a midweek Johnstone's Paint Trophy win at Port Vale.
Poke was busy from the start, City's Garry Thompson hooked a chance onto the top of the bar and 14-goal striker Nahki Wells also went close.
Aaron Downes headed a Nathan Craig corner over from close-range but United's main concern was the loss of Billy Bodin, who went down with an ankle knock and was replaced by Niall Thompson in the 27th minute.
Then, eight minutes later, came the big flashpoint. Mr Bond awarded United a free-kick and Saah grabbed the ball to try and get on with the game. Meredith, who was behind Saah, was not the only home player who appeared to attempt to hold things up, and Saah threw out his arm, as much to keep Meredith away as anything else. There did not seem to be any intent to harm.
Linesman Neil Sharp did not flag, but Mr Bond went over to discuss the incident with him. United were getting ready to take the kick when the referee walked back and suddenly produced his red card.
Saah and several team-mates protested, before their stand-in skipper walked away, shaking his head and handing the captain's armband to left-back Kevin Nicholson.
As things stand, Saah will now miss three important matches – Northampton Town at Plainmoor on Saturday and then the two Devon derbies at home to Exeter City on December 22 and away to Plymouth Argyle on Boxing Day.
Ling sacrificed winger Danny Stevens to send on recent loan signing MacDonald at Reading at centre-back.
Almost immediately United nearly snatched the lead. Rene Howe held the ball up in midfield, slipped Thompson through and his right-foot shot on the turn beat home goalkeeper Matt Duke and rebounded off the right-hand post.
It was the nearest that United came to scoring.
City hit the bar through a James Hanson header and Poke saved well from Thompson before half-time. After the interval it was one-way traffic. Ling had reshuffled the formation to 4-3-2, leaving the pacy Thompson up front with Howe to threaten City on the break. But that never happened.
United's defence and midfield had their work cut out just coping with wave after wave of Bradford attacks.
Although Poke had a couple of failures off his line, it did not stop him making several good catches and interceptions under pressure, and his shot-stopping was top-class – Wells would have scored at least a hat-trick without the United goalkeeper's acrobatics.
His best save was a brilliant tip onto his left-hand post and away in the 70th minute.
United resisted with grit, discipline and bravery, eventually forcing Parkinson to go to three at the back and send on Connell ten minutes from time.
The Gulls were just starting to believe that they would hold out when the home pressure told in the 85th minute.
Even more frustratingly, it came from a poor cross by Wells which Craig had a chance to hook clear on the edge of United's area.
A tired swipe at the ball failed to make contact and Connell pounced with a right-foot half-volley which arrowed into the top left-hand corner from 20 yards.
It was certainly a big goal and a big result for Bradford, who moved up to fourth place ahead of tomorrow night's Capital One Cup tie at home to Arsenal.
How costly it proves to be for United, in terms of personnel as well as points, remains to be seen.