McARDLE STRIKES LATE TO LEAVE THE ‘JUVE IMPERSONATORS’ ON BACK FOOT
RORY McArdle’s towering header drew first blood for Bradford, but the Bantams will regret their failure to kill off faltering Fleetwood.
Rampant from first whistle to last, the home side attacked relentlessly but failed to convert dominance into goals.
Stout defending, the woodwork and profligate finishing all conspired to give Fleetwood a lifeline they scarcely deserved, with only McArdle’s late intervention ensuring Bradford have something to protect ahead of this evening’s return leg.
“It’s frustrating, but actually it’s been a bit like that all season,” admitted Bradford boss Stuart McCall. “We’ve had chances and put pressure on, but we haven’t capitalised.
“Having said that, we can’t be greedy. When you’re on top and pushing like that, the other team can easily nick a goal. That’s always in the back of your mind.
“But I was delighted with the
attitude and application of the players. They kept going, nearly got a second. Now we have to recreate that passion, desire and quality again.”
Fleetwood boss Uwe Rosler described his side’s resolute rearguard action as “catenaccio” and jokingly compared the Cod Army to defensive doyens Juventus.
“Bradford played with tremendous tempo and had a lot of crosses, but how many saves did our keeper have to make?” asked the German. “Not many.”
“We have never pretended to be someone we are not. That organisation, that spirit, that desire to defend – that is what has got us where we are.
“Of course, I don’t like to stay so deep and defend, but these things can happen. And, when we had to defend like that, we did it very well.”
Unbeaten at home since last season’s 3-1 play-off semi defeat by Millwall, Bradford have turned Valley Parade into the EFL’s most impenetrable fortress.
On this evidence, it isn’t hard to see why. Galvanised by an electric atmosphere and freshened by ten changes, the Bantams seized Fleetwood and shook them like a terrier killing a rat. James Cullen and Nicky Law were tremendous in the middle, the former driving through challenges, the latter picking up pieces, seeing passes, keeping the ball in dangerous areas. At full-back, James Meredith and Tony McMahon used the space afforded by Fleetwood’s deep-lying wingback system to roar upfield.
But, while Billy Clarke hit a post and Cullen’s free-kick drew a save from Alex Cairns, it wasn’t until McArdle rose to meet McMahon’s corner that the deadlock was broken.
“Rory’s been doing that his whole career,” added McCall. “There’s not many better than him at meeting a header.”