Bradford City 2 Burton Albion 3
The Bantams suffered a less-than-ideal first leg play-off semi final defeat at the hands of Burton Albion to leave the tie very much in the balance going into Sunday's return leg at the Pirelli stadium.
A quick fire first half brace from Calvin Zola sent Gary Rowett's men into an astonishing lead but Nahki Wells reduced the deficit from the penalty spot. Robbie Weir restored Albion's two goal cushion in the second half before Garry Thompson replied with a blistering strike late on.
Burton started the game well and were looking more than capable of creating goal scoring opportunities. Calvin Zola's flick on had Alex MacDonald through on goal but he could only strike a shot wide of the target after being put under pressure by James Meredith and Rory McArdle.
City's first chance wasn't quite as clear cut as their visitors' first as Will Atkinson dragged a volley a yard or so wide of the target after latching on to James Hanson's knock down from a long ball forward.
Jacques Maghoma and Calvin Zola were The Brewers' outstanding attacking threats and the two linked up incisively to hand Burton the lead and a dream start to the game. Maghoma found a yard of space on Stephen Darby before delivering an inch perfect cross that was powered home expertly by the head of Zola to send the 420 away fans into rapturous celebration.
Six minutes later and the whole of the stadium were left stunned. Zola collected a long ball forward from what looked like an offside position and with a couple of step overs he found half a yard of space on Rory McArdle in the area before curling an emphatic shot into the far bottom corner beyond the dive of Jon McLaughlin.
Things almost got worse for The Bantams when a slick build up play eventually saw John McGrath emerge one on one with Jon McLaughlin in the area but he was denied expertly by the City stopper to prevent the scenario from becoming even worse.
City were thrusted back into the game minutes later though when they were awarded a penalty kick. A cross into the area was missed by the swinging leg of Rory McArdle and Garry Thompson's goal bound effort was blocked by the arm of the sprawling Damien McCrory. The spot kick was tucked away confidently by Nahki Wells as he sent Stuart Tomlinson the wrong way.
The deficit was reduced to a single goal for merely five minutes however, as Burton doubled their lead on the stroke of half time. A ball over the top wasn't tracked by James Meredith and Alex MacDonald found himself in behind the back four; his cut back was precise and Robbie Weir made no mistake in hammering the ball past Jon McLaughlin from close range.
Nahki Wells came close to grabbing a goal back in spectacular fashion in additional time at the end of the half when his acrobatic cross-shot dropped inches wide of the target with Tomlinson a spectator. But come half time it was Burton who were two goals to the good and seemingly cruising to victory.
The second half began and it was Burton who came close to scoring early on. Alex McDonald produced a teasing cross into the area that powered wide by the head of Calvin Zola at the far post ahead of his markers Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby.
Just past the hour mark City came close to a much needed goal. Ian Sharps' attempted back pass was intercepted by Nahki Wells who saw his initial shot blocked, the ball came out to Garry Thompson whose shot couldn't be diverted towards goal by Wells with the goal gaping.
Nahki Wells came close once more ten minutes later; Gary Jones' corner was helped on by bodies in the area and dropped into his path but he could only scuff a shot wide on the turn from close range.
The Bantams were enjoying a dominant spell in the game and their much needed goal came a couple of minutes later through Garry Thompson. Picking up the ball he surged down the right hand side before cutting infield and letting rip with an unstoppable drive that flew past Tomlinson in the Burton goal who was left stunned.
The home crowd erupted as they sensed a comeback in the game but it was the visitors who came close to scoring the next goal only a few minutes later. The ball was worked to MacDonald in the area who clipped the bar with a fierce strike to let City off the hook for slack defending.
City continued to press for an equaliser and Michael Nelson came close with only a few minutes of the ninety remaining. Following Damien McCrory's foul on Stephen Darby, Gary Jones delivered a freekick which was met by the head of Nelson but he could only watch his effort sail a yard over the bar.
The last of City's efforts came deep into injury time at the end of the game. Kyel Reid found James Meredith with a neat pass and the Australian produced a low cross which fell invitingly to James Hanson but he could only scuff a shot wide of the target when he had to really test Tomlinson.
The full time whistle sounded and The Bantams were edged out in the first leg of the play-off semi final meaning they would have to be well and truly at their best to turn the tie around at Burton in three days time. Obviously not impossible but a massive ask for Phil Parkinson and his men.