The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINAL - By Chris Dunlavy

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.”

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