The wrap: Oxford United 1 Bradford City 0

Let’s get to it.

It’s 0-0 in a relegation six-pointer, we’ve been the better team, just not good enough to beat them. The board goes up, four minutes of injury time. Some people have left, accepting the point, but our pressure is showing encouraging signs that we could still get something from the game. There are 57 seconds of injury-time to play.

Let’s start with Bradford manager, Gary Bowyer who wound the whole hullabaloo back to a challenge by Curtis Nelson on Eoin Doyle in the build up to their chance. Bowyer described the tackle as ‘wiping out’ Doyle, for which Nelson should have been booked.

Nelson’s challenge is robust, Doyle’s run is checked in the process, but the referee waves play on; Bowyer describes this is as ‘fair enough’. As a result of the challenge, Nelson is out of position and Doyle is able to regain his balance and drive on. He’s the one who squares the ball with Nelson scrambling to recover. He’s clearly got the advantage; wiped out, he isn’t.

The ball is squared to Lewis O’Brien at the back post, he has an open goal; Cameron Brannagan slides in to make a challenge. O’Brien misses. The referee, Andy Davies, who has good sight of it, if a little behind the play, awards a goal kick. On Twitter, a Bradford fan said it was a corner, but the immediate reaction of the Bradford fans is that it was a miss not a block. Bowyer also claims O’Brien said it came off Brannagan, but he doesn’t seem to make a big play for that argument.

Given the velocity and direction of the ball from the shot, it doesn’t look like Brannagan made any contact. That’s not to say it doesn’t take a nick, but there are four Bradford players in the attack, none appear to protest at the decision. Doyle seems to gesture at something, maybe Nelson’s challenge, but he’s not the best sighted Bradford player. O’Brien holds his hand up at something as the play moves on, but spends more time mourning his miss than claiming a corner.

Simon Eastwood retrieves the ball from a quick-thinking ballboy, firmly places it in the six yard box and passes it to Josh Ruffels who is already on his way down the flank. There are three conditions for a legitimate goal kick; the ball must be played from the six yard box; which is fine.

It must leave the penalty box before it is touched. Nathan Cooper claims there’s some question as to whether the ball leaves the box before Josh Ruffels touches it. Gary Bowyer doesn’t make any reference to this, showing that everyone is looking for something different. Curiously, according to the rules, the ball isn’t ‘in-play’ until it leaves the box. So, from the moment Simon Eastwood touches it to the moment it leaves the box, the ball is in an existential crisis, stuck somewhere between being a football and not being a football.

Anyway. The official footage is inconclusive. This video on YouTube shows it from the North Stand; the incident is at about 8 minutes 55 seconds. It shows the ball from Eastwood to Ruffels, someone’s arm gets in the way at the moment he first touches the ball. There’s a still on Twitter which looks like he may have touched it inside the box, but on the video, he seems to be outside and allowing the ball to come across him. He’s predominantly left footed, so it would make sense that he would allow it to come over to his more natural side. It’s not conclusive either way.

There’s nothing in the rules to say why the ball should leave the box. If it’s to protect the defending team, then it’s fairly immaterial. If it’s to protect the attacking team, then it should be retaken because, somehow, they’re disadvantaged. The rules, and that rule particularly, tend to err on the former, not the latter.

There are four Bradford players left behind in the box. Technically, the kick shouldn’t be taken until the box is clear of attacking players; which is the third condition. However, the FA state the reason for this “… is to prevent the attacking player gaining an advantage from being in the penalty area which is not permitted by Law 16.”

With the onus on protecting the defending team’s right to take the kick unimpeded, you have to look at the context. O’Brien is sitting on the floor, two have their back to play and Jack Payne is talking to the ref. None are preventing Eastwood from taking the kick. Bowyer and Karl Robinson didn’t know the rule, nor anyone else, it seems. Nobody protests until the linesman makes a big deal about it.

We are 17 seconds into the incident.

Ruffels sets off, the linesman appears to stop, but the camera pans past him. He doesn’t seem to flag, the fan video doesn’t make any reference to him doing it, the referee doesn’t stop or signal anything, he’s watching Ruffels and would probably be able to see the linesman in his peripheral vision. There doesn’t seem to be a flag, I don’t remember there being one. The incident is over and the play has continued. Any errors made in the previous phase are no longer relevant.

Ruffels launches a glorious cross-field ball to Gavin Whyte. It reminds me of Bobby Moore’s ball to Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup for the fourth goal; massively over-looked in the wider context.

Whyte darts inside, but his shot balloons up, possibly off Jerome Sinclair. When Ruffels makes his pass from inside our half, Jamie Mackie is the closest player to him. When the ball drops from Sinclair’s ricochet, seven seconds later, it’s Mackie arriving to pick it up in the box.

In those seven seconds, Mackie has covered nearly 35 metres at an average speed of 11 miles an hour. His anticipation and desire to get in the box is remarkable. He controls the ball at hip height, and in a single movement, takes a couple of steps to balance himself, then slams the ball home on the volley. It’s a brilliant counter-attacking goal and a sensational finish; in the context of the season, and everything that’s happened in the previous 30 seconds, it’s a goal for the ages.

Pandemonium. The Oxford bench clears, last time we saw that was against Wycombe when we were promoted. There’s some suggestion that Mackie, who had already been booked, might get another card for his celebration. It’s difficult to know what he’s supposed to have done; he’s grandstanding, but it’s everyone else going bananas.

With the dejected Bradford players preparing to kick-off, the referee consults his linesman and appears to disallow the goal. Mackie falls to his knees. Quite why the goal has been chalked off is hard to fathom. A Bradford player picks the ball up and heads for the penalty spot. That’s wishful thinking, there’s no suggestion it’s a penalty, but it creates more consternation. On the advice of the linesman, the referee appears to be pulling the play back to re-take the goal-kick, presumably because of the players in the box.

Players and officials start pushing and shoving on the touchline; Curtis Nelson calls for non-existent VAR, Karl Robinson suggests afterwards he watches too much Premier League football (which doesn’t have VAR). He ignores that he also gestured to the video team at the back of the stand to see if they can help. We can see you Karl. Hmm.

Afterwards Jamie Mackie claims he asked the referee to take some time to reconsider. If he did, it’s good advice because if he disallows the goal, he’s got a major crisis on his hands. The ref consults his other linesman. Presumably that’s not because he’s seen something different, perhaps to get a second opinion. If he’s done that because of Jamie Mackie, then Mackie is a god twice over.

The goal is given, it’s a horrible way to lose a game and a great way to win one, but it’s the right decision. Law 5 states: “Decisions will be made to the best of the referee`s ability according to the Laws of the Game and the spirit of the game”. In the spirit of the game, the goal-kick issue is trivial and the goal should stand.

There are only 17 laws in football; the rest is process and interpretation. There were Bradford players in the box when the free-kick is taken, which is the only bone of contention, but the law says that a re-take ‘may’ be taken (not ‘must’) if the process isn’t followed. It’s not considered a foul, it’s a process issue. Nobody should be punished.

The interpretations of that law puts the onus on protecting the defending team (us). There was no reason for the referee to get the kick re-taken. If the Bradford players were protesting at anything, it was that the referee hadn’t punished them for getting out of the box for the kick. It’s a funny world.

The referee’s error in handling the situation was probably two-fold. The game had long moved on by the time the issue was highlighted. He should have decided that the incident was in the past – the game had restarted, in which case the incident is no longer up for discussion (Law 5) – and trivial in context.

The second thing is that he should have taken both his linesmen to the side and decided in a single decision. Moving from one side of the pitch to the other meant players followed him around creating more mayhem. If anything, the linesman’s pedantry was at fault as it put doubt in the referee’s mind. In a world where VAR is considered the answer to everything, maybe the ref needs to be praised for taking the time to figure it out, or for listening to Jamie Mackie.

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8 thoughts on “The wrap: Oxford United 1 Bradford City 0

  1. My only observation would be that if you review the footage no Bradford player is time wasting , it was a swift attack and as you point out Eastwood retrieved the ball quickly with the help of a ball boy . Numerous Bradford players were out of position and rule 16 makes no reference to defending the defending teams area in relation to taking a goal kick . The harsh realities are that the referee in reversing the goal in the first instance made that right decision in accordance with rule 16 , he explanation for reversing that, is based on him believing the other official that the rule was subjective as you describe . It is not and I would not be surprised to see the EFL have the last two minutes replayed , a rule error was made not an interpretation . However you look at it it ranks as gross incompetence from the referee , I imagine had the decision been reversed Mr Robinson would not have allowed the game to restart, in truth Bradford’s greatest error.

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    1. There’s no chance of the last two minutes of the game being replayed. The rule exists to protect the defending team, and the referee is there to run the game in the spirit of the game as well as the rule of the law. Objectively, it would be better not to discriminate between the rights of the defending and attacking teams, but that’s not how it works. It’s the same as a quick free kick, the defending team should be 10 yards away, but if the attacking team decide to take the kick, before they are, the game continues.

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  2. In many ways what you note has a lot of merit, though your comparison to a free kick is within rules of football not a comparison as the attacking team following a free kick can take the kick quickly even if a player is within ten yards. A goal kick is completely different , there are clear clarifications of what must happen , the ball must leave the 18yard area and no player except the goal kick kicker and goalkeeper if an outfield player takes the kick can be inside the 18 yard area until a player touches the ball outside the 18 yard area. However the referee failed in his responsibility to start the game within Rule 16 , that clarifies “goal kicks” The referee himself was out of position , he was actually in the penalty area when the kick was taken. He should have stopped the game immediately. He failed to do so , but after the goal was scored the Rule 16 was bought to his attention . He at one point acknowledged the rule and made the correct decision to restart the game with a correctly taken goal kick . ( the Oxford goal was scored in one phase of play ) His reason for changing his mind was the Asst Ref on the Oxford attacking side disputed that rule 16 existed in the way the other Asst ref had described it. The referee then reversed the right decision based on his lack of knowledge of rule 16.
    In your dismissal of the replaying of the last two minutes please refer to England v Norway 9th April 2015 in an international match (Ladies but playing under the same regulations ) this match was re-started five days later because the referee despite being informed of the correct rule disagreed and re-started the match incorrectly after an incrotchment in the penalty area after a penalty kick . Eufa decided that the referee had grossly affected the outcome of a match by not taking the opportunity when challenged to correct a rule error when re-starting the match . In truth Bradford will most likely get relegated whether they gain a point or not , but Oxford’s additional two points will most likely affect the last relegation place . If the same set of circumstances had happened to your team you would be applying the same logic . Be careful what you wish for , karma and justice are usually served in one form or another. However you present it Oxford gained two points due to two of the officials not knowing a very basic rule of football , not an interpretation but a black and white rule , for the record 4 Bradford players were in the 18 yard box when the kick was taken , that’s 40% of their outfield players , Eastwood takes the kick very quickly , there is no case that Bradford players were wasting time – the truth is the officials messed up on a huge scale. The truth is a club may get relegated because the referee reversed his mind based on false information and lack of knowledge , the Eufa decision in 2015 may still come back to haunt you –

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  3. Under Offences and Sanctions we have “If an opponent who is in the penalty area when the goal kick is taken, or enters the penalty area before the ball is in play, touches or challenges for the ball before it has touched another player, the goal kick is retaken.”. Clearly not a problem to have opposing players in the area when kick is taken I’d say. http://www.thefa.com/football-rules-governance/lawsandrules/laws/football-11-11/law-16—the-goal-kick

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