MATCH REPORT: Bradford 1 Fleetwood 0
Fleetwood Town slipped to a 1-0 defeat in a cauldron of noise at Bradford's home fortress Valley Parade and will now need to embrace the spirit of Uwe Rosler's former foes Yeovil if they are to come back and nab a place at Wembley
The Glovers are the only team in the last five seasons to have overturned a 1-0 play-off final first leg defeat as they bounced back from losing at another Yorkshire side Sheffield United’s Brammall Lane to win 2-0 at home in the 2012-13 season.
Uwe Rosler will know all about that scenario given it was his Brentford side that ended up losing to the comeback kings in the final at Wembley as Town bid to beat all of the odds and fight back from this 1-0 defeat at a jam-packed Valley Parade.
Fleetwood boss Rosler made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Port Vale on the final day as ex-Bantam Devante Cole, midfielder Markus Schwabl and skipper Nathan Pond came in for the injured Bolger (ankle) with George Glendon and Ash Hunter moving to the bench.
Town won the toss and their decision to swap ends was met with hostile by the home faithful as Town tried to take the sting out by forcing them to attack the Kop first and an empty stand in the second.
But despite that initial rumble for the Bantams it was an electric start as the home faithful built a wall of noise and an intimidating atmosphere as they upped the volume every time Bradford bombed forward in their numbers. The atmosphere was fiery and it boiled over onto the pitch just minutes into the game with some early handbags from Bobby Grant and Tony McMahon.
Skipper Pond had to be on his guard from the off and the Town captain, who is gunning for his seventh promotion with the club, was up to the challenge as he just stopped Billy Clarke running one-on-one by poking the ball to Cairns.
Ball got in at the back stick after Grant had flicked on a McLaughlin cross but he could not get his effort on target from an impossible angle.
Nicky Law’s long range strike was just tipped round the post by Cairns at full stretch Clarke and a Grant mistake in his own box lead to a chance for Wyke but he rocketed the ball straight at Cairns.
Bradford had dominated but Town managed to keep them out and Ball nearly gave Town the lead as ex-Blackpool man Doyle’s scuffed clearance fell on a plate to the striker but his deft chip fell onto the roof of the net.
But it was still all City as Rosler’s men set-out to reach half-time with the score still 0-0 as they played the press and lived on the counter.
They nearly did not get there as another Clarke effort crashed into the right post and trickled to safety with another Clarke effort stopped by Cairns as the Bantams bombarded Town.
Fleetwood got more of a foothold on the game as the half drew to a close with Rosler taking Schwabl, who had picked up a booking after a number of rash fouls, off and introducing Glendon.
But once again Fleetwood took a battering from the Bantams in the opening stages with Josh Cullen’s free-kick forcing Cairns into a fingertip save to tip it away from the top right corner.
Town once again played on the counter through the wing-backs with Bell releasing Cole to get in round the back as he sprinted into the left hand side of the six-yard box but his effort cannoned back off Doyle onto the striker and out for a goal kick.
Clarke’s cross into the mix was blasted over by Romain Vincelot as Bradford continued to force the issue with McMahon’s curling effort just diverted away from the bottom corner by a red and white shirt.
Rosler switched things up in the 65th minute as he rotated his strikers and sent on the fresh legs of Hunter, it was a move Stuart McCall soon used too as a battle of minds took place on the touchline and not just on the pitch with Bradford sending on Jordy Hiwula, the man who did the early damage at Highbury in Town’s eventual 2-1 comeback win, on for Clarke as the Bantams played Rosler at his own game.
Hiwula posed a new threat to Town with his pace and nimble feet and he found a pocket of space in the box before squaring the ball to Wyke in the six-yard box but his ballooning effort was eventually smothered by Cairns.
It was Hiwula’s pressing that forced Pond to divert the ball out and Bradford took the lead from the subsequent set-piece as McMahon’s corner from the right was met by an unstoppable McArdle header.
Bradford were not done yet and they continued to throw bodies forward in the final 13 minutes but some brave defending by Town ensured they now head back to Highbury with only a 1-0 first-leg defeat to attempt to turn around.
Bradford: Doyle, Meredith, Law (Dieng, 88) Vincelot, Marshall, Wyke, Clarke (Hiwula, 69), Cullen, Knight-Percival, McArdle, McMahon. Subs not used: Sattelmaier, Darby, Penney, Gilliead, Kilgallon.
Fleetwood: Cairns, McLaughlin, Eastham, Pond, Davies, Bell, Dempsey, Schwabl (Glendon, 46), Grant, Cole (Hunter, 65), Ball (Burns, 81). Subs not used: Neal, Brannagan, Davis, Nirennold.
Referee: Oliver Langford
Attendance: 15196 (Fleetwood 559)