Sheffield United 1 Bradford City 1
The Bantams ended a difficult run of results with a deserved draw at Bramall Lane on Saturday afternoon. A closely fought Yorkshire derby sparked to life when Jason Holt gave the home side the lead mid-way through the second half. The Bantams showed great character to come back and earn a point through Billy Clarke who rescued a point with a smartly taken half volley in the latter minutes for his 12th goal of the season.
City were licking their wounds from the midweek heavy loss to Bristol City and the performance was certainly a lot better in another tough encounter against a side in the play-off shake up.
Andy Halliday, who was back in the starting lineup for this one, had the first chance of the game in the opening 60 seconds. Tony McMahon, making his first start for the club, released a pass towards James Hanson and the ball ran through the Halliday who curled a shot marginally wide of the bottom corner.
It was a good start to the game by the Bantams and Billy Knott had an opportunity of his own just a minute later. Hanson passed the ball to him, and after cutting inside Terry Kennedy, he curled a shot across goal and just wide of the target to let the hosts of the hook.
It wasn’t long until United had their first chance of the game though, and it was a golden one that was presented to them. John Brayford’s low cross was sliced into the path of Jamie Murphy by Andrew Davies, but the Scotsman fired over the bar from roughly 8 yards out.
City were playing with real purpose in the early stages of the game, and were denied by a goal line clearance this time. Knott couldn’t control a fizzing ball but inadvertently turned the ball into Billy Clarke’s path in the area and he saw a shot cleared off the line by Chris Basham.
The Bantams were certainly having a larger share of the early chances than the home side and this time it was Billy Knott himself, who had the chance. The midfielder moved into space central to goal with the ball at his feet before seeing a rasping 25 yard drive tipped round the post by Blades stopper Mark Howard.
Within the space of a minute of each other, the hosts spurned two half chance. Jose Baxter fired an effort wide of the target, before Steven Davies saw a shot from the edge of the area held onto with relative ease by Ben Williams.
There was time for a penalty appeal before the break and it was a considerable one, which the referee Graham Scott turned down. Billy Knott attempted to turn away from Terry Kennedy in the 18 yard box and the ball appeared to strike the young central defender’s arm. Loud appeals voiced from the away end but the appeals were waved away.
The first real chance in the second half belonged to City; Knott found space on the right flank and floated a cross into the area which was glanced towards goal by the head of Andy Halliday but Howard held onto the ball well.
United were having a real spell of pressure after this and after Jose Baxter and Steven Davies had gone close, they took the lead through Jason Holt. Jamie Murphy’s low cross into the area fell to Michael Doyle who saw a shot blocked, before Holt latched onto the loose ball to score from close range in front of a packed and approving stand full of Blades supporters behind the goal.
Mark Yeates was introduced as a second half substitute just after the hour mark and he went close not long after his arrival; Hanson headed James Meredith’s long throw into a pocket of space and the Irishman hit a sweet volley from just inside the area which was dealt with well by Howard - it was a great strike.
Steven Davies fired a shot wide of the target from 20 yards after turning away from his namesake Andrew down one end and there was another goal line clearance down the other five minutes later. Tony McMahon’s deep free kick, was headed back into the mix by Hanson and Yeates, involved in the action once again, saw a goalbound shot headed off the line by John Brayford.
With six minutes of normal time remaining, City levelled the scores. Billy Clarke it was who scored the goal, and it was a goal which took him to the top of the football club’s seasonal goal scoring chart. After Andrew Davies’ header back into the mix dropped into his path, he rifled a half volley past Howard and into the bottom corner from just inside the 18 yard box.
Rory McArdle, a lifelong fan of City neighbours Sheffield Wednesday, saw red for the second time this season in the 90th minute; already on a booking, he brought down Davies as he turned away from him and left the ref with no choice but to give him his marching orders. The dismissal saw Yeates sacrificed for Gary MacKenzie, who filled in at centre back.
The Bantams held on for a point, and in all truth, a deserved one. United had a lot of the play in the second half, but on chances alone, City had the upperhand. It was a point that ended the Bantams' recent run of defeats and all but secured a play-off spot for Sheffield United.