Bradford City v Rotherham Utd, 7.45pm
16 April ~ Despite being just 40 miles apart from each other and having shared the same division for 11 of the last 12 seasons, there is traditionally little rivalry between Bradford City and Rotherham United. Tonight's Valley Parade League Two derby is different, however, and not just because both teams are battling for promotion. For City supporters, there is a victory to be gained over one man. You don't have to go far in the lower leagues to find a dislike for Rotherham manager Steve Evans regarding his colourful past.
Yet at Bradford, he is despised for different reasons. Our first proper encounter with Evans came a year ago when he was manager of Crawley Town and a bad-tempered game boiled over. Footage of an ugly brawl between the players was shown worldwide and the punishment was heavy. City had three players sent off on the night and Crawley two (and a third retrospectively). A month later the clubs were fined £9,000 and £18,000 respectively.
That Crawley's penalty was twice that of the Bantams appeared to reflect who was more to blame for the incident. The tactics and gamesmanship Evans encouraged from his players that night left a sour taste and we headed home angry about how the visiting team – and manager – got away with hounding the referee for every decision (however minor) and their over-physicality. The brawl was said to have been triggered by Crawley's Claude Davis taunting former team-mate Andrew Davies about his family and the City defender eventually biting.
Two days before the FA brawl hearing, Evans quit Crawley for Rotherham – but he still wasn't able to escape the consequences of his own behaviour. An allegation of using “abusive and insulting words and behaviour” towards a female Bradford steward was upheld and Evans was given a six-match stadium ban. Regular digs at Bradford in the press suggest the dislike is mutual.
So Evans – and Davis, who followed him to Rotherham though has not played of late – return to West Yorkshire tonight bracing themselves for a terrible reception. There have been anecdotal reports that some Bradford season ticket holders have even switched from their usual seat to be nearer the dugouts. With Rotherham expected to bring a large following, the scene is set for a highly charged evening.
The danger for both teams is that the circus surrounding Evans will prove a distraction from a vital match. This is a game in hand both clubs have on promotion rivals and a win would not just all but cement a play-off spot, it would open up automatic promotion hopes. Evans has vowed to be on his best behaviour but the only guarantee is that whoever emerges victorious – Evans or the Bradford fans – there will be plenty of crowing about it. Jason McKeown