Rampaging Bullock breaks the mould

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The Independent Online
PHIL SHAW

Barnsley 2 Leicester City 2

Coal may no longer be king in Barnsley, but some traditions die hard. After a week spent devising ways to muzzle a great Dane, Leicester's blackboard strategists found their plans undermined by a midfield whippet.

Scouting reports had convinced Mark McGhee, the Leicester manager, that the key to beating Barnsley lay in stifling the 6ft 1in, 14st 7lb Jan Molby, who is on loan from Liverpool. It was therefore disconcerting when Martin Bullock, a wiry 20-year-old who stands 5ft 4in and 10st 9lb, appeared as a substitute and all but knocked the First Division leaders off their perch.

This Juninho of the South Riding (the fanzine which sponsors his kit) came to Barnsley two years ago from a club in another moribund mining community, Eastwood Town. A shop near Oakwell advertises the new away strip in "all sizes from Bullock to Molby", and although locals reckon he has filled out, it might just as well read "from mascot to darts player".

But shirt size isn't everything. In 45 minutes spent rampaging in "the hole" between midfield and the strikers, Bullock scored a breathtaking goal, set up several opportunities, and tested Leicester's composure with his dribbling ability. The grapevine suggests Blackburn dangled pounds 2m in the summer, only for Barnsley to sell Gerry Taggart for pounds 1.5m instead. Perhaps the champions should have pursued their interest.

Three questions arise from Bullock's cameo role. Are the big clubs really interested? Why on earth was he stuck on the bench as Leicester, with Garry Parker outpassing Molby, established first-half ascendancy? And, more pertinently, how come the 20-yard drive at the end of a jinking run was his first goal in 42 first-team games, 20 of which he has not even started?

Danny Wilson, the Barnsley player-manager, claimed there had been "no contact" from prospective purchasers. On the second point, he argued that Bullock is a "bigger weapon" when opponents are tiring, thus echoing Howard Wilkinson's dubious rationale for keeping Eric Cantona under wraps. As for the third, on this evidence it is a mystery of X-Files proportions.

Prior to Wilson's tactical switch, McGhee had shaded the battle of wits between two young managers who will surely be in the Premiership before much longer (possibly before their present clubs). Leicester's passing game was as attractive as it was effective, making it ironic that Mark Robins' opening goal stemmed from the relatively direct source of a lob out of defence.

Andy Payton nodded Barnsley level, which flattered them, after which Bullock entered the china shop. He promptly left three defenders in his wake before cutting the ball back to Neil Redfearn to fire wide. The attention he commanded also allowed Molby to become more involved, yet the roly- poly playmaker was just another spectator when his antithesis surged through to break his duck.

New Leicester, as Tony Blair might call them, are more resilient than of old, and left Scargill Country still on top by virtue of an equaliser to which three players laid claim. "They're all on a bonus for scoring," the chairman, Martin George, explained, "so call it a team goal." The identity of the contest's outstanding individual was in no such doubt.

Goals: Robins (11) 0-1; Payton (41) 1-1; Bullock (69) 2-1; Carey (83) 2-2.

Barnsley (3-1-3-3): Watson; Davis, Bishop, Moses (Bullock, h-t); Molby; Eaden, Redfearn, Archdeacon; Jackson, Payton (Sheridan, 70), Rammell. Substitute not used: Butler (gk).

Leicester City (4-4-2): Poole; Grayson, Hill, Walsh, Whitlow; Joachim (Heskey, 76), Blake, Parker, Lawrence (Carey, 76); Lowe, Robins. Substitute not used: Lewis.

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster).

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