Walsall 2 Bradford City 1
The Bantams suffered their first defeat since late September at fellow promotion contenders Walsall this Saturday, going down by a goal at the Banks’s Stadium despite an improved display after a slow start. Tom Bradshaw fortuitously put the visitors ahead early on but City levelled things up with Lee Evans dispatching a superb volley in the second half. The Saddlers won it though late on with Milan Lalkovic finishing superbly past Ben Williams after latching onto Romaine Sawyers’ incisive pass.
Walsall had the majority of possession in the first half but City had the first real chance of the game. Billy Clarke moved into a pocket of space before delivering a cross into the area; strike partner James Hanson got his head on the ball but his effort was held alertly by home ‘keeper Neil Etheridge.
The home side took the lead with their first real chance of the match. Lalkovic attempted a shot on goal from outside the area, but it wasn’t a clean strike and it deflected into the path of Bradshaw and Walsall’s leading marksman made no mistake in beating Ben Williams from close range after emerging in space as the flag stayed down.
Manchester City loanee George Evans tried his luck from outside the penalty area, but his curling effort went narrowly wide of the target and then down the other end Lee Evans forced Etheridge into a save after beating James Chambers to a loose ball before letting fly from the edge of the area.
Before the half was out, Paul Downing came inches away from giving the home side the lead after heading over the bar following James O’Connor’s cross into the area.
The Bantams started the second half superbly and almost equalised just a few minutes in; Kyel Reid turned Jason Demetriou inside out before delivering a cross to the far post, Tony McMahon connected with a header on the stretch but his looping attempt went narrowly over the bar.
Etheridge was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers and he was forced into a smart save to keep Hanson’s header out. Some neat interplay resulted in Stephen Darby having the opportunity to cross, he delivered superbly and Hanson couldn’t quite guide a powerful header into the back of the net, although he certainly wasn’t far off.
The pressure was certainly being applied by City and shortly after Billy Knott had gone close with a low drive from 20 yards, Lee Evans found the equaliser and it was an exquisite strike. A long ball forward was cushioned into his path by the head of Billy Clarke and the Wolves loanee hit a wonderful volley into the bottom corner from just outside the penalty area.
City were only on level terms for just under ten minutes before the impressive Lalkovic fired his side back into the lead. Possession was surrendered in the middle of the park and Romaine Sawyers threaded a killer pass through for the speedy winger to run onto and he confidently fired an angled shot into the bottom corner from 15 yards.
Devante Cole and Mark Marshall were introduced from the bench in an attempt to rescue a point late on and the latter delivered a cross shortly after his arrival on the pitch; McMahon volleyed over the bar at the far post - a real let off for the hosts.
The second of five minutes of additional time at the end of the ninety, City saw a creditable penalty appeal turned down. With City relentlessly pressing for the leveller, a loose ball broke to Cole on the edge of the area and he unleashed a powerful shot which looked to have every chance of hitting the target. The ball appeared to be blocked by the arm of Walsall defender James O'Connor but adamant penalty appeals were waved away by the referee.