Bradford City 0
A STRANGE result, given the 3-3 goal-fest between the same two sides’ previous Home Park meeting as recently as December and the propensity for both teams to score regularly.
Two points lost for Argyle on a dominant first-half showing when, had they taken the chances that their midfield play deserved, they would have surely won for the second year running at the Northern Commercials Stadium.
A point gained for Argyle thanks to a disciplined and unstinting defensive performance in the second half against a Bradford side unrecognisable from that which had been on show in the opening 45 minutes.
Argyle fielded an unchanged starting 11 from the one that had paved the way for the previous weekend's 1-1 draw against promotion-chasing Portsmouth at the Theatre of Greens.
Indeed, apart from one piece of tactical tinkering from Derek Adams, it was the same solid 11 that have been together since the turn of the year, during which time the Pilgrims have amassed five wins and, now, two draws from eight matches.
It meant that leading goalscorer Freddie Ladapo continued his record of having been involved in all league games this season - the only Pilgrim to do so: after coming on as a substitute in the first two games of the campaign, he has started every Sky Bet League One match since.
The Bantams were again led by former Pilgrim Anthony O’Connor, while their other ex-Green Kelvin Mellor took his place on the substitutes’ bench after an injury lay-off.
They handed a full debut to striker Billy Clarke, who was signed recently from Charlton, and recalled another forward Eoin Doyle, who can count Argyle manager Derek Adams among his admirers. With David Ball and Jack Payne also on duty, David Hopkin’s selection was chockful of menace.
For all that, and for the peerless potency of Argyle’s own in-from leading triumvirate, there was precious little to concern either goalkeeper in the opening quarter.
Argyle rode out a minor squall from the home side before beginning to pick out the pocket of space behind the Bradford attacking quartet. A free-kick by Graham Carey – not one of those – just failed to find a touch from either Ladapo or Niall Canavan at the far post, while Antoni Sarcevic tried his luck with a couple of shots that promised more than they ultimately delivered.
After the previous week, when time on the ball and the space to use it was at a premium against Portsmouth, Argyle enjoyed plenty of possession. Frustratingly, they were unable to make much from it, as passes, runs and good intentions failed to properly ally.
Then, three minutes from half-time, it almost all came together. Ruben Lameiras cut inside before laying off to Carey, whose low left-foot shot beat diving goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell, and clattered against the post. He was doubly unlucky that the rebound managed to avoid the prostrate custodian and the incoming Ladapo.
The eerie quietness which greeted the half-time whistle must have been music to the Pilgrims’ ears, their efforts causing concern off the pitch, as well as on it, but Bradford started the second 45 with more purpose and one sensed that a home goal would see the atmosphere lift and the confidence flow back into anxious veins.
That feeling was reinforced after Ball was the beneficiary of some less than decisive defending, finding space inside the Argyle box for a shot across Kyle Letheren that hit the outside of the Argyle goalkeeper’s far post.
City’s second-half game-plan appeared to be to get the ball wide as quickly as possible, and full-backs Ash Smith-Brown and Gary Sawyer had to maintain their concentration. Even then, they had reason to be grateful to Letheren, who got down quick-smart to keep out a drive from overlapping right-back Paul Caddis.
With half an hour to play, Argyle brought on Ryan Taylor for Lameiras, allowing Carey to shuffle across to the left side of midfield to help out Sawyer. Shortly afterwards, the belated second coming of Oscar Threlked followed, for the already booked Ash Smith-Brown.
Still, though, City came at the Pilgrims, who needed every ounce of focus that they were expending to limit their hosts to half-chances, rather than anything more full-blooded.
With the clock ticking down, Lewis O’Brien picked sent over a sweet cross from the Bradford right that found the head of the hitherto virtually anonymous Doyle for an attempt that fully extended Letheren.
Argyle were not without their moments, but most of the threat was at their defensive end, and substitute Hope Akpan should have done better when presented with a clear shot of goal that would not have been on target had another frame been built on top of the existing one.
Then Letheren again defied the claret hordes, scrambling to block Jermaine Anderson’s back-flick of Caddis’s cross from point-blank range.
In injury-time, Bradford’s best chance yet. O’Brien chipped another seven iron into the pocket behind Sawyer, where it fell perfectly for Ball. In one move, he took the ball down and swept past the committed Letheren, only to find Canavan had read his intentions and was on hand to mop up.
Bradford City (4-2-3-1): 1 Richard O’Donnell; 38 Paul Caddis, 6 Anthony O’Connor (capt), 22 Nathaniel Knight-Percival, 3 Adam Chicksen; 16 Jacob Butterfield (21 Hope Akpan 80), 39 Lewis O’Brien; 40 David Ball, 10 Jack Payne (18 Jermaine Anderson 83), 16 Eoin Doyle (12 George Miller 90); 17 Billy Clarke. Substitutes (not used): 13 Ben Wilson (gk), 15 Kelvin Mellor, 23 Connor Wood, 24 Daniel Devine.
Booked: O’Brien 27.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 21 Kyle Letheren; 23 Ashley Smith-Brown (26 Oscar Threlkeld 70), 5 Ryan Edwards, 14 Niall Canavan, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 8 David Fox, 4 Yann Songo’o; 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 11 Ruben Lameiras (9 Ryan Taylor 66), 10 Graham Carey; 19 Freddie Ladapo. Substitutes (not used): 1 Matt Macey (gk), 2 Joe Riley, 20 Lloyd Jones, 25 Scott Wootton, 35 Luke Jephcott.
Booked: Smith-Brown 61.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton.
Attendance: 15,855 (544 away).