Bradford City 3
Pritchard 30, Mellor 40, Ismail 90+5
Carlisle United 1
By Adam Raj
Today’s latest come from behind victory and best performance of the season lifts Bradford City into sixth place in League Two after what was quite an entertaining afternoon at Valley Parade. Four goals, two red cards and another fairly incompetent referee later, and the Bantams come away with a richly deserved three points.
City stuck to the 4-4-2 this afternoon – Callum Cooke, making his first start for the club, replacing Jermaine Anderson and Paudie O’Connor back in for his namesake Anthony. Pre-match, the talk was all about that dysfunctional midfield and how it hasn’t yet been able to control a game so far this season. So Callum Cooke’s inclusion from the start was a massive lift given his encouraging cameos in the previous few weeks.
And the fans’ optimism was rewarded following a vastly improved performance from City’s midfield and Cooke himself. Tenacious, strong and an eye for goal – Cooke offered everything that the likes of Danny Devine, Hope Akpan and Jermaine Anderson aren’t. Matt Palmer also probably had his best game in a City shirt. He was confident in possession and more importantly, confident in his partner.
As the heartbeat of the team, Gary Bowyer needed to find a solution to that underperforming area, those two linked well together and look like a very promising partnership. It’s no surprise a strong central midfield display resulted in a strong overall team performance. Fitness permitting, they’ll be the first choice partnership too.
City started the first half quick out of the blocks and with a real high energy, with winger Dylan Connolly at the heart of everything. A man of the match display from the Irishman who was a relentless threat on the right side, Carlisle never had an answer for him.
It was the visitors who struck first though, in the 14th minute. Left back Jack Iredale drove forwards and found striker Olufela Olomola, in acres of space behind Kelvin Mellor, and the Carlisle front man finished low and hard into the far corner of the net. The goal came in a sticky ten minute spell for the Bantams, who had started be a little overrun in an area every team seems to flood. But City grew back into the game after the goal with James Vaughan having a goal bound shot blocked.
30 minutes on the clock and City were level. Kelvin Mellor with a first time cross into the box which Clayton Donaldson controlled and laid off for Harry Pritchard to score his first goal for the club, with another low, hard finish. Three minutes later and Carlisle were reduced to ten men after midfielder Jack Bridge was sent off for his second yellow card after a cynical foul on Pritchard. From then on, City controlled the game and played it at their tempo.
Five minutes before half time and City were ahead, with Mellor making up for his error at the other end, by heading home Matt Palmer’s free kick. City took that lead into half time and it was imperative that we built on it in the second period. Seemingly that message was given by Bowyer too as the Bantams came out looking for that killer third.
We thought we had it too when Connor Wood swung a delicious ball into the box, Donaldson volleyed straight at keeper Adam Collin before bundling home the rebound. Both the referee and linesman on the near side gave the goal, only for Carlisle’s players to swarm the referee claiming handball.
The referee succumbed to the pressure and disallowed the goal for handball. Strangely, no yellow card was produced to Clayton Donaldson, a mandatory punishment for handling the ball into the net, but that was no surprise as I don’t think the officials had a clue what had gone on.
Vaughan brought another save from Collin and Donaldson hit the crossbar before the only real downside of the game. Ben Richards-Everton saw red for a needlessly late studs up challenge, which was a very silly thing to do when we were so on top and in such control.
Pleasingly, City never took their foot off the gas and never lost control of the game. Carlisle failed to trouble Richard O’Donnell apart from a free kick which nearly went all the way in, and generally looked a limited side. It was game over in stoppage time as the absolute workhorse Donaldson set up substitute Zeli Ismail who, after a few step overs, slammed the ball past Adam Collin. An emphatic finish to seal the game and three points which were fully deserved.
For me, today is the first occasion I can say that, on the basis of the full game, we totally deserved the victory. It’s been a stop-start season so far in terms of results and an underwhelming one in terms of performances. With a trip to second bottom Scunthorpe United next up, it provides a great chance for us to gather momentum before a tough game at home to Swindon Town in two weeks time.
One thing is for sure, this performance has set the bar for the games ahead and City cannot allow their levels to drop.