Ten-man Chesterfield lost out to a Billy Clarke wonder goal shortly after the game’s most influential player, Sam Morsy, had been dismissed.
Ex Blades’ birthday boy Clarke, 27 on Saturday, back to goal and outside the box, received a long ball from Rory McArdle.
The ball bounced up, the striker took one touch to control before swivelling round to hammer a rising shot into the top corner to Tommy Lee’s right; a terrifically clean strike, but one that shouldn’t have counted according to Spireites boss Paul Cook.
The manager said: “My view is that it was a handball right before Clarke scored the goal,” a view shared by fellow birthday boy Tendayi Darikwa, 23, who added: “It looked like it hit his hand when he controlled it, it was handball.”
That key moment of the game came shortly after the main turning point, Morsy’s red card. The armband wearing Spireites central midfielder had been at the very top of his game in the first half and he’d started the second in similar vein.
City had clearly been well briefed; throughout is time on the park, he’d been targeted by Bantams players, seeking to wind him up and as he burst through their soft centre yet again, he foolishly and needlessly lifted his arm which clearly clipped Andy Halliday in the neck area.
The City man immediately fell to ground clutching his face. Job done.
Cook’s view? “The red card happened very quickly, but my thought was that it was a genuine foul for us right before it.
“I’ll look at it and if needed, we’ll punish Sammy, he needs to learn. But my view is that there were continual decisions that were baffling today from the referee.
“I always say I never moan about officials, but I’ve not done a bad job today! But as the dust settles, I do accept that these officials will make mistakes and I’ve got no problem with that.
“It just annoys me sometimes when you’re playing against teams that are a little bit more streetwise than us, that’s when we need a little help from the referees and that’s what disappoints me.
“He booked their keeper in the 93rd minute and he’d been wasting time since half-time.”
In the wake of the sending off and the goal, City had a short dominant spell and should have all but wrapped up the game when Clarke broke clear down the right and served the ball on a plate for fellow striker Jon Stead but the experienced front man, five yards out and the goal gaping, only managed to hit the post.
For the rest of the game, Chesterfield were the better side, not by huge swathes, but by enough of a margin to suggest that with a full compliment, they would probably have bagged the points.
Both sides had first half chances, City probably the better ones, but Spireites always looked more assured and more controlled.
Stead and another ex-Blade, Andrew Davies, headed close early on before Jimmy Ryan forced a decent save from Jordan Pickford.
Armand Gnanduillet twice headed high from openings provided by Jay O’Shea whilst Eoin Doyle, searching for his 20th goal of the season, saw Pickford pick the ball off his toe whilst if his foot would have been an inch longer, he’d have got a touch on a tasty Sam Clucas delivery in.
Another former Bramall Lane man, Mark Yeates, was City’s stand out pre-break performer.
He showed solid play in every aspect bar finishing, three times failing to match his excellent build-up play with the right shot.
Morsy’s dismissal changed the whole complexion of the game but, after fiften minutes of Chesterfield doing a headless chicken impression, the hosts re-gained their composure and looked the better side once more, but they were unable to penetrate the Bantams’ well-drilled back line.
O’Shea forced the save of the day with a rising angled effort but, push as they did, Chesterfield were unable to add to their six game unbeaten run.
All attentions now turn to Wembley and Spireites’ chance to put forward their side of the Georg Margreitter eligibility argument. The Austrian, who played his last game of his three months loan from Wolves on Saturday, hadn’t had written permission lodged with the FA stating that he could play ahead of the FA Cup win at MK Dons.
It’s believed that lending club Wolves and ousted club Milton Keynes are both supportive of Chesterfield being allowed to continue their cup journey, Scunthorpe United or Worcester City will host either Spireites or a re-instated Dons side.
Precedence is on the Proact side’s side, ironically in 2012 Bradford City were reinstated into the competition on appeal after initially being excluded for fielding Andy Liddle in similar circumstances.
Chesterfield: Lee 6, Darikwa 6 (Boco 83), Raglan 8, Margreitter 8, Clucas 7, O’Shea 7 (Gardner 83), Ryan 8 , Morsy 7, Roberts 7 (Ariyibi 88), Doyle 6, Gnanduillet 6. Subs: Wright, Evatt, Hird, Humphreys.
Bradford: Pickford 7, Darby 7, McArdle 7, Davies 7, Meredith 6, Morais 6, Liddle 6, Halliday 6 (Knott 62, 6), Yeates 7, Clarke 8 (Zoco 90+2), Stead 6 (Hanson 84). Subs: Williams, Sheehan, Kennedy, Routis
Goal: Clarke 59
Ref: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne & Wear)
Booked: Roberts (Chesterfield) Halliday, Clarke, Davies, Pickford (Bradford)
Sent-Off: Morsy (Chesterfield, 48 mins, straight red)