ANALYSIS - Bradford City's victory over Swindon Town confirmation that new-look Bantams have gelled already

Shay McCartan came off the substitutes' bench to net Bradford City's winning goal against Swindon Town. Picture: Getty Images
Shay McCartan came off the substitutes' bench to net Bradford City's winning goal against Swindon Town. Picture: Getty Images
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Bradford City manager Gary Bowyer has been at pains in recent weeks to stress that it is still too early to make any assessment of how the League Two promotion battle is shaping up.

He has insisted that although the 10-game mark is usually the point where you can gauge something by looking at the league table, it will be another month or so before the division settles down and really begins to take shape.

He might be reluctant to acknowledge it at this stage, but it is becoming fairly clear that, having overcome a couple of early-season stumbles, his new-look Bantams side has gelled nicely and now looks well placed to mount an attack on the top-three.

Saturday's 2-1 victory over fellow promotion-hopefuls Swindon Town was City's fourth in their last six league matches and leaves them sixth, just three points off the summit.

And it is not just their side's league position and recent form that will have Bantams supporters licking their lips.

Bowyer has got his team playing the way he wants them to, passing the football with intent, getting their wingers on the ball in dangerous areas, and delivering balls into the box.

The squad he has assembled looks to be full of quality and he has options aplenty at his disposal.

That, perhaps more so than anything else, is what Bradford can take from their latest victory at Valley Parade.

Missing three regular starters down the spine of the side in the shape of centre-half Ben Richards-Everton, central-midfielder Matty Palmer and skipper James Vaughan, City still found a way to win.

Hope Akpan was handed a start in the centre of the park and capped a decent showing with a goal, while Zeli Ismail shone having been given a chance on the right wing.

And now Shay McCartan has demonstrated exactly what he can bring to the party with a match-winning contribution from the substitutes' bench, underlining the strength-in-depth that the Bantams possess.

Having dropped points at struggling Scunthorpe last time out, it was important that Bowyer got a response from his players and, after an even start, the hosts soon took control of proceedings.

Clayton Donaldson sent a clever strike narrowly wide with the outside of his boot early on and Ismail shot over as the Robins struggled to get out of their own half.

The lively Ismail then showcased his quick feet down the right before crossing for Paudie O'Connor to nod over the top from close range.

Ismail looked City's biggest threat during the first half and it was he that went closest to breaking the deadlock, meeting Connor Wood's cross from the left flank and diverting the ball against the base of the far post.

With Callum Cooke excellent in the midfield engine room and driving the hosts forwards, Bradford went into half-time very much on top, but with nothing to show for their supremacy.

Swindon showed more in the first 10 minutes of the second period than they had done in the whole of the first, though only a linesman's flag saved them from falling behind just before the hour-mark.

Dylan Connolly came off the right wing and drove infield, riding a challenge and slipping the ball to his left for Ismail, who delivered an inviting low cross to the back post where Donaldson converted emphatically, but apparently from an offside position.

Eleven minutes later, City had the ball in the back of the net once more, and on this occasion there was to be no salvation for the visitors.

Donaldson cut inside from the left-hand corner of the penalty area and unleashed a vicious, swerving effort that Luke McCormick could only parry into the path of Akpan, who headed the ball straight back past him.

The Bantams' lead was however short-lived.

Paudie O'Connor slipped as the Robins attacked down the right, and the remainder of the home back-four switched off, leaving Jerry Yates with enough space inside the box to bring down Kaiyne Woolery's cross, swivel neatly and send the ball beyond Richard O'Donnell.

That goal could easily have shifted the momentum in favour of the visitors, though Bradford were unfazed and kept trying to force the issue.

There didn't seem to be much on when substitute McCartan picked the ball up just outside the Town area in the 79th minute, yet that was the moment that the contest was decided.

Having opened up his body and made room for a shot at goal, the Northern Irishman's right-footer arrowed past the outstretched palm of McCormick and into the bottom corner, possibly with the aid of a slight deflection.

Yates should have levelled matter again on 83 minutes, though this time he fluffed his lines from just two yards out, his diving header from another right-wing Woolery cross hitting the turf and bouncing over O'Donnell's cross-bar.

Then, at the other end, Kelvin Mellor headed across the face of goal and wide, while McCartan just failed to get on the end of Connolly's cross with the goal gaping, but Bowyer's men had already done enough.