Bradford City 1 (McArdle 77)
Fleetwood Town 0
May 2017 | Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg | The Northern Commercials Stadium at Valley ParadethThursday 4
A Rory McArdle header late in the second half means that City take a slender advantage to Highbury on Sunday evening in a bid to reach the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final. The Bantams dominated the lion’s share of the contest and Billy Clarke was denied the opening goal by the post after his fine strike from distance had beaten Alex Cairns. The evening was largely a frustrating one but McArdle’s near-post header from Tony McMahon’s corner lifted the roof off the ground.
Nicky Law had the first chance of the evening for City but after Alex Cairns had only punched McMahon’s cross from the right-hand side half clear into his path, his half-volley from just inside the box was blocked importantly by a Fleetwood defender.
City were out of the traps quickly in attempt to put the visitors under pressure and Billy Clarke capitalised on an Ashley Eastham error to make a run towards the box but a fantastic bit of last ditch defending from Town’s long-serving skipper Nathan Pond halted the Irishman and made sure that he wouldn’t have a clear run on goal.
Eastham was having a nervy start to the game and after cheaply giving away possession, Romain Vincelot found the feet of Clarke who played the ball to Law in-field, the City midfielder seeing a low drive tipped wide of the post by Cairns.
Bobby Grant’s horribly sliced clearance presented Charlie Wyke with his first sniff of goal and although he latched onto the loose ball in the penalty area, he topped his attempt and a volley into the ground was grasped onto by Cairns; the former Rotherham and Leeds stopper a key player for Uwe Rosler’s side throughout what has been an impressive campaign for them.
A bad mistake by Colin Doyle allowed Fleetwood to have their first chance of the evening and it was quite a presentable one. The City stopper tried to pick out a teammate in midfield with a pass which was intercepted by David Ball, but the Cod Army’s leading scorer saw a delicate chip from 20 yards loop over Doyle but fortunately it went just over the bar and landed on the roof of the net.
City continued the put the visitors under pressure and after James Meredith had seen a header go over the bar after Marshall had been allowed the opportunity to deliver a cross following some commendable hard work by a contender for Man of the Match in the form of Josh Cullen.
The visitors didn’t have an attempt on target throughout the game but City would go into the half-time interval at level pegging with their opponents. The closest Stuart McCall’s side came was seven minutes before the break when Clarke moved into a pocket of space to see a fizzing low drive from outside the box crash against the post.
Sometimes overly tenacious in his play, Markus Schwabl was walking a tight rope throughout the first half after an early booking and he was sacrificed by Uwe Rosler at half-time, with George Glendon brought on in his place.
Marshall was kept at bay for large parts of the first half but he had City’s first chance of the second half. After coming forward down the right-hand side, the ball is worked into the feet of the wide man and he saw a low drive go a yard or so wide of the target.
Josh Cullen saw a free kick from 25-yards tipped over the bar by Cairns shortly before Vincelot hammered the ball over the bar in a promising position when Clarke’s dangerous low cross into the box had bounced invitingly into his path twelve yards from goal.
Former Bantam Devante Cole got the better of McArdle to get a sniff of goal but he was halted bravely by Doyle before Vincelot went close again shortly afterwards, seeing a looping header held onto just in-front of the goal-line by Cairns.
Ashley Hunter was introduced from the substitute’s bench in place of Cole and he looked to pounce early on, seeing a looping attempt go wide of the target after being picked out by Amari’i Bell’s low cross from the right-hand side.
City fans were halfway to celebration when Wyke latched onto the ball at the far post after Jordy Hiwula had threatened but in came an important intervening block to take the sting out of the attempt; the ball looped towards goal with Cairns grounded, but the Town stopper recovered and got back to his feet to claim the ball.
The goal had to come and it did. Rory McArdle latched onto McMahon’s corner from the left-hand side to score what has become an almost trademark near post header and celebration to match. The Bantams had the edge, an edge they’d merited and just over ten minutes to make sure they’d keep that edge intact and take it with them to the Fylde coast this weekend.
Charlie Wyke and Nicky Law saw shots from distance fail to hit the target as the hosts senses an opportunity to score again, before James Meredith really should have done just that. McMahon almost turned provider again and his cross into the box was met by Meredith, arriving late and unopposed but he couldn’t hit the target.
Maybe the lead should have been doubled late on but City have the slender one goal advantage to take to Fleetwood Town on Sunday. One game of football lies between the Bantams knowing their fate as to whether they will get a trip to the national stadium on the 20 May.