Bradford City 0 Salford City 1 - Henderson returns to inflict late defeat on Bantams

LAST week, Salford City co-owner and media pundit Gary Neville launched an impassioned tirade against owners of the nation’s ‘big six’ clubs – labelling them as ‘imposters’ amid the European Super League furore.

Andy Cook leaves Ashley Eastman on the deck as Oscar Threlkeld closes in. Picture Bruce Rollinson

In terms of League Two on-pitch matters, now was the time to discover whether his club’s play-off bid was fake or not. 

Unfortunately, Bradford City’s own surprise push for the top six has been that of a pretender after tantalisingly hinting at producing the sort of tale that exposes the ‘closed-shop’ format – where there is no promotion or relegation in an unfair, boring league – for what it is.

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As recently as December, City’s status as a Football League club looked to be in grave peril. By the early spring, they were a firm play-off contender, only to fall away in recent weeks. At least, it shows the vibrancy of the pyramid system at the very least.

Jason Lowe and Charles Vernam chase the ball. Picture Bruce Rollinson

For big-spending Salford, the play-offs are a salvation. Sacked by City with their promotion hopes in doubt in February, 2020, Gary Bowyer – recently appointed as Ammies manager for the rest of the season – might have the last laugh given events in stoppage time as his side moved into the business positions.

Just for good measure, it was a player who has feasted at City’s expense in the past in Ian Henderson who played the telling hand, dinking the ball over the advancing Sam Hornby after being played clear as the home defence appealed in vain for an offside flag and remonstrated furiously with the officials.

It was represented a 19th goal of the campaign for Henderson, a player who City enquired about last summer and who had previously scored four times in his last two visits to Valley Parade. Make that five in three.

Left to rue a tough moment at the end, bitterly-dejected joint City manager Mark Trueman commented: “Watching it back, it looks offside and the linesman makes an easy decision to keep his flag down.

Bradford City v Salford City. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“With the manner we lost it, we are disappointed.”

It means that the season is still alive and kicking as a competitive entity for Salford who were two points behind the Bantams at the start of April – the month which sorts things out.

In contrast to the victors, City’s season has tailed off after five successive defeats and a third on the spin at Valley Parade.

Imploring a side to deliver a reaction after a poor run of form is one thing, getting it is another.

The first-half evidence suggested that the home players had taken criticism from Trueman and Sellars, specifically following City’s weekend loss to Port Vale, on board and were keen to do something about it.

Some slick play, usually with an old-fashioned midfield schemer who Bowyer knows a fair bit about in Callum Cooke at the hub of it, provided elements to enthuse about, while Paudie O’Connor and Anthony O’Connor kept things in order at the back.

When Salford switched system to a 4-3-3 and assumed control in the second half after the introduction of ex-Sheffield United midfielder Paul Coutts, City threw their bodies in the way of everything. Defeat was cruel.

Earlier, the visitors showed they have a redoubtable figure themselves in Vaclav Hladky, who underlined his status as one of the best keepers in the division, by making two fine saves.

After keeping out Charles Vernam’s low angled shot at his near post, he showed first class reactions to turn away Andy Cook’s effort after lovely interplay and the pressure continued with a header planted wide by Paudie O’Connor, who was booked for a uncompromising challenge on his former Leeds United team-mate Robbie Gotts.

It was Gotts who was presented with the Ammies’ best first-half chance, but fortunately, Hornby’s decisiveness to come out off his line and narrow the angle and make a textbook block was faultless after the loanee was found unmarked on the right.

All in all, it was decent entertainment in sheeting rain, with Salford’s main semblance of threat coming down the right through Brandon Thomas-Asante and D’Shon Bernard and City looking more purposeful inswitching back to a 4-2-3-1.

In the second, City were more on the back foot as Salford upped the ante.

Gotts saw an early deflected shot grasped by Hornby, while Thomas-Asante fired wide.

Jordan Turnbull planted a point-blank header at Hornby, shortly after Cooke put the chance that City had patiently waited agonisingly wide after good work by Vernam.

The late twist came from Salford and a familiar face in Henderson from Turnbull’s pass.

Bradford City: Hornby; Cousin-Dawson, P O’Connor, A O’Connor, Wood; Sutton, Watt; Evans, Cooke (Novak 72), Vernam (Stevens 84); Cook. Substitutes unused: O’Donnell, Donaldson, Stevens, Foulds, Sikora, Scales.

Salford City: Hladky; Bernard, Eastham, Turnbull, Touray; Lowe; Threlkeld; Gotts, Henderson, Hunter (Coutts 55); Thomas-Asante. Substitutes unused: W Evans, Clarke, Boyd, Burgess, Dieseruvwe, Loughlan.

Referee: R Joyce (Cleveland).

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