Bradford City 1
by CHRIS PARSONS
GARY Jones’ first-half strike condemned the Pilgrims to a narrow 1-0 defeat to Bradford City at the Coral Windows Stadium.
The Bantams’ midfielder fired his side ahead inside the opening 25 minutes after Bradford had enjoyed a dominant opening period.
But from that moment on, the tide changed and Argyle started to get themselves back in the match.
The attacking duo of Nick Chadwick and Alex MacDonald combined well to create opening after opening but nothing seemed to fall for the hapless Pilgrims.
The introduction of teen striker Tyler Harvey seemed to inject further fight but in the end, that elusive equaliser was not to be.
On paper, this will go down as the Pilgrims’ fifth defeat in six league games but in truth, this was a much improved performance which can be built on in the preparation for Chesterfield at Home Park on Saturday.
Although most associated with the club would have wanted to put the defeat at Fleetwood behind them, Argyle manager Carl Fletcher was forced to deal with its inevitable hangover when selecting his team to face Bradford and found his arm bent into three changes
His first obvious change was at the back where Maxime Blanchard replaced Darren Purse, who sat out the first of a three game suspension following his sending-off against the Trawlermen.
Then, in midfield, Luke Young, who had picked up a knock at Highbury Stadium, made way for MacDonald, who made his first start since the defeat to Burton Albion.
Warren Feeney was another of the walking wounded and although fit enough for a place on the bench, did not start the game. In his place came Andres Gurreri, who lined up as the advanced middle man in a five man midfield.
The Pilgrims, playing in an all-green kit, started the match well with Gurreiri nodding a Durrell Berry cross over the bar within the first minute.
Bradford’s Nahki Wells has scored 13 goals prior to the start of the match and showed he was hungry for at least his 14th when his shot was charged down inside the area by a combination of Argyle defenders after ten minutes.
Wells would prove the thorn in the Greens’ side again just a minute later when he again attempted to test Gilmartin before Berry recovered well to deflect his effort away.
Just before the 15 minute mark, the game took a somewhat sour turn when Bradford defender John Egan fell awkwardly on the edge of the box with a scream of agony that reverberated around the ground.
Players from both sides were immediately concerned for the young defender, who is on loan from Sunderland, and after a break of six minutes, he was stretchered from the pitch to rapturous applause from the entire stadium.
The stoppage in play initial halted the tempo of the game but on their first sortie forward following Egan’s substitution, the home side took the lead when Jones capitalised on a bungled Pilgrims clearance to fire his side ahead from the edge of the box.
With the Pilgrims struggling to create a lot in the first 30 minutes, Fletcher opted for a slight tactical change and switched the roles of Gurrieri and MacDonald.
MacDonald was not receiving more balls to his feet and was therefore able to drive at defenders with more gusto and aggression than he had been able to do so on the left.
But although he managed to break through on a handful of occasions, the Bantams were defending well and he was often met with a physical welcome by the Bradford back line.
Indeed, as the first-half came to a close, Argyle were having more luck with an altogether different method of attack, with Chadwick winning a number of high balls with his back to goal and then nodding them on into space for his team mates to attack.
After a number of these had gone wanting, Jamie Lowry created the Pilgrims’ best chance of the match so far deep into first-half stoppage time when he met Chadwick’s downward header with a half-volley that Matt Duke in the Bradford goal saved with a great reactionary palm.
Then, in the early stage of the second period, MacDonald used his pace to beat two defenders and drive another of Chadwick’s expertly placed headers agonisingly wide of Duke’s far post.
Argyle were now looking like the better side with plenty of promising possession inside the Bantams half. The vocal home crowd had started to become a little frustrated, too, audibly huffing and puffing when MacDonald again shot wide, this time on the turn from the edge of the area.
But if they needed a reminded of how dangerous their hosts could be, they got it in the hour mark when Jones thundered a cut-back from Hanson over the crossbar.
Unperturbed, the Pilgrims when MacDonald and Chadwick again combined for the latter to head over under pressure from Rory McArdle.
With just under 20 minutes to go, second year apprentice Tyler Harvey was given his senior bow when he replaced Paris Cowan-Hall.
The Plymouth-born 17-year-old, a son of local footballer Lee, had scored ten times in nine appearances for Kevin Hodges’ under-18s this season, including two in an FA Youth Cup tie at Home Park.
Within minutes of Harvey’s introduction, Argyle had another chance to go ahead and it again fell to Chadwick whose shot from a narrow angle was tipped over the bar by Duke.
But already a goal down, the Pilgrims could not afford to be complacent at the back and had Gilmartin to thank when former Pilgrim Will Atkinson slipped his marker to poke a low shot towards the near post.
Lowry fired a long distance effort wide in the final minutes but, alas, it was not to be Argyle’s night.
Bradford City (4-4-2): 12 Matt Duke; 2 Stephen Darby, 22 John Egan (16 Carl McHugh 18), 23 Rory McArdle, 3 James Meredith; 14 Will Atkinson, 18 Gary Jones (capt), 11 Garry Thompson (8 Ritchie Jones 80), 24 Nathan Doyle; 9 James Hanson, 21 Nahki Wells (17 Alan Connell 76). Substitutes (not used): 1 Jon McLaughlin (gk), 4 Ricky Ravenhill, 15 Craig Forsyth, 25 Tom Naylor.
Argyle (4-5-1): 20 Rene Gilmartin; 2 Durrell Berry, 17 Curtis Nelson, 4 Maxime Blanchard, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 32 Alex MacDonald (11 Warren Feeney 90), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 27 Andres Gurrierri, 16 Jamie Lowry, 7 Paris Cowan-Hall (29 Tyler Harvey ); 9 Nick Chadwick. Substitutes (not used): 1 Jake Cole (gk), 18 Guy Madjo, 19 Joe Lennox, 23 Jamie Richards, 33 Scott Griffiths.
Referee: Tony Bates
Attendance: 8,843 (195 away)