Fleetwood Town 0
Bradford City 0
Sunday 7th May 2017 | Highbury Stadium | Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg
Another trip to Wembley beckons for the Bantams after a goalless draw at Fleetwood Town. Rory McArdle’s first leg header means that Stuart McCall’s men will come head to head with Millwall at the national stadium. City were pretty comfortable throughout the two legs of the semi-final against the Cod Army and although they couldn’t make the tie more comfortable by adding to their tally in the second leg, a resolute defensive display ensured a deserved progress.
Rory McArdle’s first leg header ultimately proved to be the decisive goal in the tie and he attempted to open the scoring in the second leg early on; after connecting with Billy Clarke’s corner he saw a looping header go just over Alex Cairns’ crossbar. The central defender was then on hand shortly afterwards to block George Glendon’s shot from the edge of the box.
Billy Clarke kept his place in the team to start up front just behind Charlie Wyke and he had his first sight of goal midway through the first half, but after being picked out by Nathaniel Knight-Percival’s pass, he dragged a shot tamely wide of the target.
Seconds later City missed a gilt-edged change to open the scoring and put the hosts under huge pressure. Mark Marshall, as he’s done all season long, got the better of his man to deliver a cross into the box and his delivery was met by Charlie Wyke on the stretch who rose above his man but saw a header crash against the far post.
Both sides were to have another chance before the half-time interval and it was Fleetwood’s that came first. Glendon was on set-piece duty for the evening and his free-kick into the box was headed down by Cian Bolger, who’d returned to the side after missing the first leg through injury, and then Ashley Hunter saw a header held onto by Colin Doyle who was rarely called into action throughout the two games.
City’s chance came following a moment of hesitation in the Fleetwood defence; Marshall didn’t give up the chase to try and latch onto a long ball forward which was flicked on by Wyke and as he looked to get in behind, Cairns rushed out his goal to clear but kicked the ball against Marshall before the ball dropped a yard or so wide of the target. Almost a calamitous error by the Town stopper.
Marshall was arguably City’s best player on the evening and certainly the liveliest of the attacking option on the field and he got the better of Bolger before forcing Cairns into a smart stop with a shot from a tight angle inside the penalty area just seconds into the second half.
Hunter looked like he had the potential to pounce on any loose ball inside the box and he latched onto a Glendon delivery after it wasn’t cleared but his goal bound attempt blocked by the melee of City players back to defend. Bolger had to be at his best at the other end as the Bantams looked to find that second goal of the tie; Marshall crossed towards Wyke but the Irish defender made an important intervention.
Bobby Grant was the next Fleetwood player to have a half-chance, and although he connected with Amari’i Bell’s cross from the left-hand side, his header lacked the power to cause any concerns for Doyle who held onto the ball confidently as he headed towards his sixth clean sheet in his last seven appearances.
Wyke had a tough task, in trying to keep clear of the attentions of three Fleetwood central defenders and he performed admirably; his superb hold up play allowed Josh Cullen to run through and towards the edge of the box before seeing a low drive held onto by Cairns.
The minutes left on the clock moved into single figures and the Fleetwood concerns began to grow; Grant had another attempt but this one was a wildly skewed shot from 25 yards out which went nearer to the corner flag that the goal in truth.
Wyke and Cullen combined again as City began to look a growing threat on the counter-attack; The number nine latched onto Timothee Dieng’s superb pass in behind and he moved towards the box before cutting the ball back to Cullen who got underneath the ball with his shot and saw the ball fly harmlessly over the bar.
Fleetwood had nothing more to offer in terms of creating chances; the obligatory huffing and puffing late on came City’s way but they held on to secure progress and a trip to Wembley Stadium on the 20th May for the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final. One obstacle in the form of Millwall separates the Bantams from promotion to the Championship. How can you not be excited!?