FOOTBALL: Frustration for Ferguson

Bradford City 2 Newcastle United 0
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The Independent Online
PERHAPS IT was watching the match through the festive foliage in the restaurant which doubles as Bradford's packed press box that made it seem as if Newcastle were using a variant on that cheeriest of formations - the Christmas tree.

Bobby Robson, the most experienced manager currently working in the Premiership, facing the least, used all three of his front-line strikers for an away fixture, with Kevin Gallacher tucked behind Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson. For half the match that sense of adventure seemed certain to pay off eventually.

The movement of Shearer and Gallacher and Ferguson's power in the air were too much for City. But Newcastle wasted all their chances and saw the complexion of the game change radically at half time.

David Wetherall and Andy O'Brien, striving with little success to cope with Shearer and Ferguson in the first half, took a firm grip in the second. Better still, Bradford recovered to score two goals and send themselves into their next test, on Boxing Day against Manchester United, full of seasonal cheer if not blind optimism.

Wetherall headed the second goal after Dean Saunders had poached the first, from Lee Mills' breakaway and cross, on the edge of the six-yard box. Quite a transformation, made particularly apparent by the demeanour of Ferguson.

In the first half, he had been at his rarely sighted, terrifying best, rampaging through the Bradford defence at will. But as City wrestled back control, his body language changed completely. By the last 15 minutes, during which he missed three good chances, all to his feet, he wore the air of a defeated and disillusioned man, resigned to the fact that, in the words of his manager, he and his team- mates would not score if they played until Easter.

Unkind critics, trumpeting the inevitability of Bradford's return to their true station in life, have said much the same about their scoring potential. Saturday's victory was a triumph for the useful knack of making quite a lot out of very little, because their goals came from two of the very few chances they created.

Paul Jewell, hardly out of his pram when Robson was already managing successfully, does not put it down to good fortune. "I'm not a great believer in you being lucky or unlucky and that deciding whether you get relegated," he said. " You get good luck and you get bad luck but it evens itself out." Duncan Ferguson would quite possibly agree.

Goals: Saunders (56) 1-0; Wetherall (71) 2-0.

Bradford City (4-4-2): Clarke; Halle, O'Brien, Wetherall, Myers; Sharpe (Beagrie, 78), McCall, Windass, Lawrence; Saunders, Mills. Substitutes not used: Davison (gk), Westwood, Blake, Whalley.

Newcastle United (4-3-1-2): Harper; Barton, Helder, Hughes, Pistone; Solano (Dyer, 70), Lee (Fumaca, 84), Speed; Gallacher (Glass, 73); Shearer, Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Ketsbaia.

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Bradford City: Saunders. Newcastle: Helder.

Man of the match: Wetherall.

Attendance: 18,276.