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Bradford City 2-1 Stevenage — Utilita Energy Stadium — 26 September 2020

Boro’ are forced to rue costly errors and missed chances as Bradford City came from one goal down at half time to claim the points. It was a match that, on Friday afternoon, wasn’t even guaranteed to go ahead; Boro’ confirming one – and then two more – positive cases of Covid-19 in the squad. But, with the green light coming on Saturday morning, north we went only to leave empty-handed; Lee Novak’s second half brace doing the damage.

• Bradford City 2-1 Stevenage – match details.

Bradford City 2-1 Stevenage — Match Report

Boro’ made seven changes to the side that saw off Southampton U21s in the EFL Trophy last week. In terms of League Two action, however, just one change was made to a team that had recorded a first home win for almost a year at the expense of Oldham. That was Marcus Dinanga coming in for an injured Inih Effiong; our match-winner versus the Saints for a lad who left the action early in that game.

While the starting line-up was familiar enough, the impact of illness and injury could be seen on the bench; Boro’ travelling with three academy starlets who all made the bench.

From the off, the hosts looked to impress themselves upon us; using the presence of the two tall lads up top and space on the wings to get at our defence. Boro’s options seemed limited to counter-attacks to start with. But we didn’t take that long to come into the game; two half-chances emerging early one. Luke Prosser met a corner well on eight minutes – but couldn’t keep the header down. Soon after, some good work from Elliott Osborne saw the ball reach Jack Smith at the far post.

The young midfielder’s headed effort was tame, however; dropping wide at the near post.

Against the backdrop of these Boro’ chances, the hosts were still having a fair amount of joy out wide and over the top. And we had Jamie Cumming to thank big time with around 16 minutes gone; a clever corner from the hosts and a free header needing the Chelsea stopper to be at his best from close range. The corner itself came from a near-miss too; a leg hung out by Osborne could easily have led to a penalty.

Not long after, Boro’s defence was thrown into panic as Scott Cuthbert hit the deck to stop Kurtis Guthrie getting the shot away. A shout went up for handball as things got scrambled by the penalty spot. You won’t see them given often, if at all. Either way, Boro’ were able to get the ball clear eventually and keep the scoresheet clean.

For Boro’, fine lines went against them in attack as the first half wore on. Had the final ball been a little better (or even the right option), Dinanga and Danny Newton could’ve been in on goal on more than one occasion. Osborne found himself with a good chance with half-an-hour on the clock. But the midfielder tried once too often to come inside and the hosts were able to snuff out the danger.

With each counter-attack that Boro’ mounted, the prospect of a goal did start to increase. Elliott List had an ambitious penalty claim turned down; going down under a challenge from a recovering defender after his initial surge towards goal was slowed up by centre back Ben Richards-Everton.

With less than 10 minutes left on the clock for the first half, Boro’ took the lead. Dinanga took his time on the left to get the cross into the mixer. While it didn’t find Newts, it would – eventually – find List. The forward got the ball under control in good enough time to work the space; blasting home from close range to put us in front. Not that it’d be plain sailing into the break, however.

It took an immense block from Prosser to stop Novak levelling things up on the stroke of half time. The experienced forward had already sold Cuthbert a dummy to leave himself with a glorious chance. But the skipper’s partner at the back lunged in to stop the shot – and no doubt an otherwise inevitable equaliser. It was the last action of an intriguing first half; Boro’ showing promise, but the Bantams frequently showing menace.

Half Time: Bradford City 0-1 Stevenage

The last time Boro’ had led at half time was our 3-1 defeat at the Utilita Energy Stadium back in February. Eager to not let history repeat itself, Boro’ sought to get onto the front foot a bit more in the second half. But the final ball was still lacking. And the gaps at the back were very much still there for the hosts to exploit; Callum Cooke with perhaps the best of the second half up to that point on 58 minutes.

Cuthbert was beaten in the initial aerial battle, but Luther James-Wildin was on hand to clear up with the Bradford forward chasing into the box. For some reason, the right back decided not to get rid. Robbed of the ball, it fell to Cooke; the shot possibly deflected as Cumming again found himself in the action. The ball fell kindly again for Cooke. This time, however, the shot didn’t pose the same challenge and Boro’ survived.

The let-off didn’t last long. Just two minutes later, the hosts got themselves back on level terms. Not for the first time, the hosts found space out wide. Tyler French supplied a top cross in and Novak made no mistake with the header. For Bradford, it felt as if it was just reward for their efforts. And it gave them even more belief to go on and get the win. For Boro’, however, the next step had to be about regaining a foothold in the game.

The ball did go into the back of the Bradford net for a second time on 69 minutes. Newts chased down another through ball that didn’t quite work out. For some reason, however, the home ‘keeper spilled the ball at Newts’ feet; the striker pivoting and steering the ball towards the empty net. But the linesman’s flag was up and the goal did not count. Was it offside? We’re not sure that it was…

To add some steel to the midfield, Revs turned to Ross Marshall on 71 minutes; bringing off Arthur Read. Two minutes later and the sub forced a long pause in the match; getting himself a bump on the noggin in the heat of battle.

As the clock started to wind down towards the 90, Prosser won yet another corner from a set-piece. His header, however, went straight at the goalkeeper. It set in motion a train of events that would not work out well for us too. As he left the Bradford box, the defender went down; seemingly turning his ankle. After making his way to the sidelines to await his chance to return to the action, the hosts sent the ball long. With the defence lacking that height in the middle, a mistake let Novak slip in and convert a pull-back for his second.

The hosts went in for the kill after that; hitting the crossbar just a minute later via the arm of Cumming. It’s an understatement to suggest the stopper didn’t know too much about it. Even so, chances still came Boro’s way and Revs introduced Femi Akinwande to try and capitalise on that. Each time, however, sights of the Bradford goal went to waste.

First, an Osborne corner bounced in the middle of the six-yard box. No Boro’ player was on hand to take advantage; the ball running clear to LJW, who shot from range and made O’Donnell work for his supper in the home goal. And, with the clock all but done, Dinanga came within a whisker; his turn and shot narrowly deflected wide. Six minutes of stoppage time didn’t prove enough, alas. And the blast of the ref’s full time whistle leaving nothing but disappointment ringing in Boro’s ears.

Full Time: Bradford City 2-1 Stevenage