Argyle 3 Bradford 3 - REPORT
Ladapo 12, 74, Grant 50
Bradford City 3
Payne 4, 18, Miller 53
THREE goals, countless efforts at goal and a heavy dose of creativity were not enough for Argyle to defeat Sky Bet League One's bottom side.
A hugely entertaining affair, though not exactly one for the defensive enthusiast, Bradford took the lead three times at Home Park, only to be pegged back thrice by the hosts.
Jack Payne and Freddie Ladapo both exchanged braces, whilst the supporting cast of George Miller and Joel Grant netted themselves. It was a remarkable game of football and one Argyle will feel they should have won.
Argyle boss Derek Adams made one change to his starting-line up from the team beaten 2-1 by Oxford United in the Emirates FA Cup last weekend, and it was an enforced one.
Unavailable through injury, Jamie Ness dropped out of the squad, with Yann Songo'o coming into midfield, leaving a gap to fill in central defence. Returning from injury, Ryan Edwards took up that spot, with second-year apprentice Tom Purrington coming on to the bench.
The visitors also made the single change in an attempt to leapfrog the Greens in the table, as Miller came in for Jim O'Brien. Bradford's centre-back partnership consisted of two former Greens who more than played their part in the club's journey out of League Two: Anthony O'Connor and Kelvin Mellor.
As expected, it was Graham Carey and Grant who offered the first line of support for front-man Freddie Ladapo, the pair floating between central and wide positions. Carey was the first to face up a full-back, allowing space for Joe RIley to send in a testing cross. Ladapo was closing in to reach the delivery, but the familiar strength and calmness of O'Connor saw the ball shepherded to safety.
Despite the bright opening salvo, an early breakthrough for City further dulled a dreary winter's afternoon. Edwards' attempt to intercept a through ball slipped under his studs, allowing Miller a sight at goal. His effort was parried by Matt Macey, but Payne was the first to react to the rebound, prodding into a near-empty net in the fifth minute.
Argyle were eager, though, to not let the goal alter their momentum. Neat work from Grant earned his side a corner, then another, which Carey opted to play short. Grant returned the pass and GC10 fired in a superb cross to the back post, where a visibly fired-up Ladapo arrived and stooped to nod in the equaliser.
The hosts had not conceded a shot aside from the opening goal and continued to apply the pressure. Carey picked up the ball on the right flank and drove past a flurry of Claret shirts, before a low shot narrowly skimmed past the far post.
Just as Argyle looked likely to complete a quick turnaround, they found themselves behind once more. Somewhat similarly to Bradford's opener, David Ball 20-yard shot could not beat Macey, but the loose ball was picked up by City. It was recycled and eventually fell to Payne, who inflicted more damage, crashing a shot off the crossbar and into the goal.
A mad opening quarter to the game continued. Antoni Sarcevic pushed his side forward with incisive runs and passes, earning a free kick 25 yards out. Carey's dead ball strike took a small nick off the Bradford wall, beat goalkeeper Richard O'Donnell, but smacked the face of the post.
Grant's semi-permanent station on the left wing was serving him well. Riley picked out the winger with a pinpoint cross-field ball. Joel then chipped a pass to the edge of the box, giving David Fox every chance to line-up a volley, which he placed just over the bar. Grant then capitalised on indecision in the Bradford defence, winning the ball and surging into the box, before forcing a save from O'Donnell.
Intricate passing five minutes before the break drew a strong penalty shout for the Pilgrims. Carey's blocked shot fell to Grant out wide, and a neat triangle from himself, Sarcevic and Ashley Smith-Brown finally led to Grant shooting from close range. The effort was blocked at close quarters by a diving Mellor, who smothered the ball like it were an unpinned grenade. Loud claims that the ball hit his arms in the process were waved away by referee Rob Lewis.
Sarcevic was denied by O'Donnell just before half time, latching on to an excellent through ball from Ladapo, concluding another bizarre 45 minutes in this season. Constantly creative, but somewhat dodgy defensively, Argyle found themselves behind at the break.
The Green Army roared their team back onto the field ahead of a key final 45 minutes - and it certainly seemed that their collective voice was heard. More great work from Ladapo five minutes after the restart saw him release Grant. His first shot was saved, but a somewhat fortunate (and deserved) ricochet allowed the second ball to fall perfectly for Joel to tap in.
Still, you know what they say about old habits. Argyle's eagerness to take the lead for the first time led to an unusually high back line. Eoyle Doyle capitalised by flicking a looped ball over the top for Miller, who calmly found the far corner. 3-2. 53 minutes gone.
Sarcevic spurned another half-chance, chipping over as he attempted to swivel and shoot in stereo. He then had another effort saved from short range, as the pressure refused to relent. Ryan Taylor was brought into the fray for Edwards; a striker for a defender. Enough said.
Bradford shot-stopper O'Donnell threatened to have one of 'those afternoons'. He denied Sarcevic and Fox acrobatically, in quick succession, before tipping over Taylor's header, but there was nothing he could do from the resulting corner. Carey's low delivery found a way into the six-yard box, defying a host of attempted clearances. Ladapo was the only man who kept his nerve, turning home to make it 3-3 on 74 minutes. Goal number 12 for the season, and his fourth brace.
Ruben Lameiras joined the race for the final furlong, whilst Hope Akpan came on to tighten up Bradford's midfield. Ladapo scuffed a hat-trick effort past the post, whilst Niall Canavan had to be quick to step in and deny Payne netting a hat-trick of his own.
The five minutes of added time produced another roar from the home faithful, but it was Bradford who came closest to nicking it at the death. Miller broke through on the left channel and had a narrow sight at goal, but Macey stayed big and denied him. Miller had another chance to win it seconds later, but Songo'o slid in to deny him from close range.
Argyle: (4-3-3) 1 Matt Macey; 2 Joe Riley, 5 Ryan Edwards (9 Ryan Taylor 61), 14 Niall Canavan, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown; 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 4 Yann Songo'o, 8 David Fox (capt); 16 Joel Grant (11 Ruben Lameiras 76), 19 Freddie Ladapo, 10 Graham Carey. Substitutes (not used): 3 Gary Sawyer, 20 Gregg Wylde, 21 Kyle Letheren (GK), 24 Peter Grant, 42 Tom Purrington.
Booked: Grant 23, Sarcevic 87.
Bradford: 1 RIchard O'Donnell; 38 Paul Caddis, 6 Anthony O'Connor (capt), 15 Kelvin Mellor, 3 Adam Chicksen; 48 Karl Kenry (21 Hope Akpan 80), 40 David Ball; 12 George Miller, 10 Jack Payne (36 Luca Colville 86), 39 Lewis O'Brien; 9 Eoin Doyle (5 Jim O'Brien, 65). Substitutes (not used): 4 Ryan McGowan, 13 Ben Wilson (GK), 18 Kai Bruenker, 24 Danny Devine.
Booked: L O'Brien 57, Chicksen 60, Akpan 89, Ball 90.
Referee: Rob Lewis..
Attendance: 9,092 (252 away).