(Osbourne 49)Walsall 1
(Hiwula 53)Bradford City 1
The Bantams were held to a draw by Walsall this Saturday afternoon in what became quite an end to end game. After a first half where chances didn’t exactly come thick and fast, the second half was quite the opposite. Either team could’ve won it, although the outcome was probably a fair one; Isaiah Osbourne gave the hosts the lead early in the first half, but his goal was cancelled out by Jordy Hiwula just four minutes later.
City had plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges and after Colin Doyle stood firm to claim Simeon Jackson’s header inside the opening sixty seconds, Stuart McCall’s men were denied the lead thanks to some superb goalkeeping. Marauding down the left flank, James Meredith’s cross was helped on by Jordy Hiwula into the path of Mark Marshall and his vicious attempt from 10 yards out was kept out by Neil Etheridge.
Timothee Dieng tried his luck from distance shortly afterwards, and although his effort was well-struck, Etheridge watched it all the way and held alertly. Walsall were set up to be resolute against a City midfield who were controlling the early play and the next to try his luck was Nicky Law but he sliced his attempt well wide under pressure from Isaiah Osbourne.
Walsall were presented a decent opportunity to test Doyle after a free kick was conceded 25 yards from goal; Scott Laird stepped up to execute the shot but it was relatively tame and held onto inside a bobbly six-yard box by the Bantams goalkeeper.
The hosts began to grow into the game in an opening half filled with half chances more than anything else and the next chance came to the experienced James O’Connor who headed wide on the stretch after connecting with Flo Cuvelier’s deep free kick to the far post.
Before the half was out, Josh Cullen tested Etheridge with a stinging drive before the Philippines international stopper had to be at his best to keep out Hiwula after he had controlled Stephen Darby’s cross and unleashed an excellent shot on the turn from 18 yards which headed towards the top corner.
The first half wasn’t one that will last long in the memory but the second half started at a great pace. Stephen Darby was replaced by Marc McNulty at the interval as City changed the system to play three men at the back and essentially three in the forward line.
The first chance of the half was a Bradford one as Josh Cullen forced a great low save from the impressive Etheridge after Meredith’s low cross had come out as far as the West Ham United loanee 20 yards from goal.
A minute later, Walsall broke the deadlock. Perhaps a bit light at the back in this instance after the change of system, a Walsall attack became a bit of a three versus three situation and Isaiah Osbourne got into the box and found a half yard of space before lashing a shot into the far corner from a tight angle to leave the Bantams with an uphill battle.
Before City’s equaliser, Osbourne tried an attempt from distance as he looked to get a second goal and it was one which was held comfortably by Doyle before Hiwula made amends for a swing and a miss seconds earlier to draw the visitors level. He was sent in behind and his initial attempt fortunately deflected back into his path and he smashed the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
City had a couple of opportunities to take the lead after levelling; Law lashed a fierce drive wide of the target and Hiwula failed to connect with McNulty’s pass which found him in a promising position in the heart of the penalty area.
The Bantams probably couldn’t argue with a point from this one; neither side really deserved three points and the next opportunities came through Jason McCarthy, forward from right back. His thumping drive forced a corner after Doyle’s fingertip save before he connected with Cuvelier’s restulting corner which was hooked off the line by Cullen.
Hanson threatened with a looping header with fifteen minutes left on the clock after connecting with Meredith’s cross into the box but it wasn’t enough to beat Etheridge who although was probably the Walsall Man of the Match wasn’t perhaps forced into enough action on a frustrating afternoon for the visitors.
McNulty looked bright during his substitute cameo and he saw a half volley held onto by the Walsall stopper after connecting with Cullen’s cross; Erhun Oztumer was introduced as a late substitute for the hosts and he looked spritely late on in the game but it was an afternoon which was perhaps destined for a draw with neither side really looking likely to win it.
It’s a point on the road for Stuart McCall’s men in what wasn’t the most vintage display of the campaign and it’s one which will give his side something to build on going into Boxing Day’s clash against table toppers Scunthorpe United at the Northern Commercials Stadium.