Bradford City 0
by RICK COWDERY
A POINT won or two lost?
Time will tell, of course, but, in the immediate term, the Pilgrims’ third goal-less stalemate in their last five home games did relatively little harm to their current position, parlous as it is.
They lost ground on only one of their relegation rivals – Wimbledon – and took themselves off the bottom of League 2, but failed to make any significant gain and remain in the bottom two.
Jason Banton was again the Pilgrims’ most potent weapon, clattering the post just after the interval, but Bradford also hit the woodwork, and Argyle’s Jake Cole was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers.
With Anthony Charles having failed to recover from a groin strain sustained at Gillingham four days previously, veteran Pilgrim Paul Wotton was called up for a landmark appearance in central defence.
Wotton played quite a few of his 467 previous matches in that position earlier in his career before moving into a defensive midfield role; number 468 meant that he now stands alone in third place in the list of all-time individual Argyle appearances, behind Kevin Hodges (620) and Sammy Black (491).
At the other end of the appearance spectrum was Wotton’s latest Home Park team-mate, teenage left-winger Joe Bryan, borrowed earlier on in the day from Bristol City and making his debut on the left flank.
His inclusion, at the expense of Ronan Murray from the 11 that had started the 2-1 defeat at Priestfield, allowed Banton to move inside into a free role behind lone striker Reuben Reid.
City manager Phil Parkinson made good on his promise to freshen up his side after a the latest of late 1-1 draws at home to Aldershot four days earlier, making six changes.
Called to arms were goalkeeper Matt Duke; central defender Andrew Davies – an exact namesake of the referee; midfielders Nathan Doyle and Kyel Reid; and forwards Andy Gray and Garry Thompson.
Former Pilgrim Will Atkinson was one of the sextet to make way, dropping down to the substitutes’ bench.
Reid was prominent early on and created the first opening for the Pilgrims, going wide to find the ball, beating his man, and firing in a low near-post cross that was a fraction too much behind Andres Gurrieri for the Argentinean to be able to keep his shot down.
Bradford responded with a break that saw Thompson receive the ball in splendid isolation just outside the Pilgrims’ penalty area. As Argyle’s defenders appealed vainly for what seemed a justifiable offside call, Cole stayed big to thwart the Bantams’ veteran.
On a marrow-chilling night, Argyle gradually warmed to their task, with Bryan providing some crosses – by way of dead-ball and from open play – that hinted at good things to come.
Banton turned up the heat with a shot that stung the hands of Duke, before the Palace youngster teed up Gurrieri for a grubber that beat Duke but was hacked clear by Ricky Ravenhill as it arrowed in on goal.
The Pilgrims did not keep their foot on the gas, however, and the game turned a little tepid as both sides jockeyed for supremacy.
As the game approached half-time, it appeared that Bradford were winning that battle and Cole was again called into action to deal with a swinging, dipping 25-yard free-kick from Reid.
Immediately, Argyle fashioned a chance of their own when the understated Lee Cox slipped Conor Hourihane in behind the defence on the left flank, but the captain’s decision to take an extra touch proved a fatal hesitation and he was denied by a fine cover tackle.
The minute of first-half injury-time was an eventful one, with Guy Branston being shown a yellow card after a tackle on former team-mate Thompson that arguably merited a higher tariff, and Carl McHugh heading wide a Reid corner that arguably merited a better finish.
Attacking the Devonport after the break, Argyle immediately raised the temperature, not for the first time through Banton’s individual brilliance, teasing his way in from the left and smashing a rising shot that thudded against the post, maybe with a slight touch from Duke on the way.
Another Banton shot, which did not unduly trouble Duke followed, before McHugh provided a near action replay of his earlier miss, this time from Nathan Doyle’s flag-kick.
Banton then tried his luck from range, this time causing Duke a little more anxiety, and again Bradford responded, this time by sending on big forward James Hanson.
Argyle withdrew Reid in favour of not quite so big Nick Chadwick as the game opened up, and Bradford, sensing three points were there for the taking, introduced Atkinson and, after Thompson had rattled the crossbar from 20 yards, Alan Connell.
The Bantams were getting cockier as the final whistle approached. Reid cut into the box and unleashed a shot that was parried by Cole into the path of Hanson, whose toe-poke was shovelled wide by Onismor Bhasera.
Cole again stayed firm to save a shot from Connell, who had scored in the 53rd minute of play in Bradford’s previous match to steal a draw.
With five minutes to go, Sheridan threw on Tyler Harvey and Paris Cowan-Hall – hardly a negative move – but despite the preponderance of forward players, and an amazing conclusion when McHugh scrambled the ball off the line after a bizarre melee, the Pilgrims again drew a blank.
1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 15 Paul Wotton, 5 Guy Branston, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 27 Andres Gurrieri (7 Paris Cowan-Hall 86), 10 Lee Cox, 19 Jason Banton, 6 Conor Hourihane (c), 18 Joe Bryan (29 Tyler Harvey 86); 24 Reuben Reid (9 Nick Chadwick 69). Substitutes (not used):
8 Luke Young, 13 Ollie Chenoweth (gk), 23 Jamie Richards, 28 Ronan Murray.
Branston 45, Blanchard 68.
Bradford City (4-4-2):
12 Matt Duke (gk); 2 Stephen Darby, 23 Rory McArdle, 5 Andrew Davies, 16 Carl McHugh; 20 Zavon Hines (14 Will Atkinson 78), 4 Ricky Ravenhill (c), 24 Nathan Doyle, 7 Kyel Reid; 10 Andy Gray (9 James Hanson 66), 11 Garry Thompson (17 Alan Connell 80). Substitutes (not used):
1 Jon McLaughlin, 18 Gary Jones, 21 Nahki Wells, 22 Michael Nelson.
5,609 (174 away).