Bradford 0 Sheffield United 2: City fail another screen test as Blades enjoy away-day triumph

Marc McNulty slots home Sheffield United's second goal at Valley Parade. Picture: Martyn Harrison
Marc McNulty slots home Sheffield United's second goal at Valley Parade. Picture: Martyn Harrison
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FOR Nigel Clough, getting back purely to matters on the pitch must have come as a blessed relief on Saturday tea-time.

The normality of the muck and nettles of League One combat for an hour-and-half or so and the routine of the day job will have been embraced by the grounded Sheffield United manager and his staff.

All the better when you can speak about a win at the end of a week’s work too.

The other inevitable questions came after the game regarding the future of former player Ched Evans, with the club having earlier in the day vehemently denied national reports that they had offered the Welshman a two-year deal following his release from prison after serving half of a five-year sentence for rape.

But for Clough, who straight-batted any questions on Evans and reiterated the mantra that the club will make a statement “as and when they need to”, his preoccupation was discussing the merits of a White Rose derby victory and not something which has turned into a national debate.

Given the Blades’ week, it was perhaps inevitable that some on-pitch controversy would reign in their televised victory at Valley Parade, with home captain Stephen Darby’s dismissal for two cautions by referee Simon Hooper earning rebuke from Bradford manager Phil Parkinson.

Yet the visitors – for whom Bob Harris and substitute Marc McNulty struck in Darby’s absence – certainly were in no mood to complain.

Nor their supporters either, with a fair number of the 1,993 travelling contingent who made the short trip to West Yorkshire voicing their support for the return of Evans to the club.

Clough, whose side moved up to seventh spot in League One with the victory, said: “I didn’t really hear the chants and we cannot control what supporters shout.

“They have seen us get done a couple of times away from home heavily this season, so it is lovely for them that they have gone back with three points.”

Television evidence may have showed up Darby’s sending-off as soft after he half-tugged at the shirt of Jamie Murphy after he threatened to give him the slip, but there was no disputing that the Blades were the better side prior to the right-back’s exit for a second caution.

They had more in their attacking armoury than the Bantams, who at least upped their performance levels from their lame televised showing at Barnsley eight days ago with the sight of the returning James Hanson putting himself about again in the claret and amber a welcome one.

Darby’s dismissal barely half a minute into the second period with Parkinson still making his way to the dug-out changed the complexion of things for Bradford, who were forced to man the barricades and dig in for the second 45.

Their resistance was increasingly stoic until an unlikely source in Harris broke it with the sweetest of curling shots on 66 minutes after being set up by Murphy.

It was a milestone strike for the Scot, whose only previous goal in English football arrived exactly two years ago today when he netted during a loan spell at Rotherham United in a 3-0 League Two win at Aldershot.

Most would have expected that pretty much to be that, but only a top-drawer save from Mark Howard from Alan Sheehan’s 
exocet of a free-kick prevented a home leveller.

Soon after, the Blades suffered a further scare when Jason Kennedy headed against a post with the goal at his mercy following a radar-like cross from ex-Blade Mark Yeates.

Moments after Kennedy’s miss, the visitors applied the gloss with substitute McNulty, four minutes after coming on, becoming the unwitting beneficiary of a bobble which saw the ball skew away from Andrew Davies.

McNulty raced clear before stroking the ball past Jordan Pickford.

Remarkably, McNulty’s 83rd-minute strike was the 12th goal the Blades have scored in the final 10 minutes of their last nine games.

The victory also represented their fourth in their past five outings at Valley Parade, where they have lost just once in 10 visits since November 1987.

Bradford City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Sheehan, Routis, Kennedy, Yeates, Clarke (Knott 57), Hanson (Stead 74), Mclean (Morais 53). Unused substitutes: Halliday, Meredith, Dolan, Williams.

Sheffield United: Howard, Alcock, McCarthy, McEveley (McGahey 22), Harris, Murphy, Doyle, Basham, Campbell-Ryce (Flynn 85), Scougall (McNulty 79), Baxter. Unused substitutes: Davies, Porter, Reed, Turner.

Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).