Bradford City 1 Doncaster Rovers 1: Smith pitches in to rescue below-par Bantams as Rovers fail to seal deal in feisty derby

A PITCH battle, as opposed to the pitched one which brings together two local combatants in a Yorkshire derby, had been dominating the exchanges ahead of this particular White Rose joust.

The only forecasts both sets of supporters were concerned about beforehand revolved around the weather and the likelihood of the game being on or otherwise, given recent events and nothing necessarily to do with the match itself.

Given the crazy state of much of the League Two table with ten teams having an interest in the final two play-off spots, forecasting the final standings with any semblance of authority would have been foolhardy in any case.

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As for the pitch? Well, it was heavily sanded in both goalmouths, but looked good enough to go with a weather break of sorts on Monday and Tuesday seeing no further unwanted rain to saturate it.

Valley Parade, home of Bradford City. Picture Tony Johnson.Valley Parade, home of Bradford City. Picture Tony Johnson.
Valley Parade, home of Bradford City. Picture Tony Johnson.

Grant McCann patrolled the pitch as his players warmed up with a fair degree of scrutiny. In the event, his side produced most of the polish on a tricky surface and certainly settled better than City, playing their first game since February 21 and it showed.

A nifty opener from Luke Molyneux put Rovers ahead of the stroke of half-time with his fifth goal of the campaign. An offside call looked tight, but the goal stood. It thwarted City’s prospects of a fifth successive league clean sheet for the first time since 2015.

It definitely was not a straightforward night for the hosts. But Rovers did not put them to bed and they persisted and got their rewards.

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It came six minutes from the end of normal time when former Doncaster loanee Tyler Smith fired home following a left-wing cross from fellow substitute Harrison Chapman. It was his first league goal since the reverse fixture just before Christmas.

As for the derby spice? Well, it arrived by way of nine bookings, including both managers.

The first half got more progressively tetchy as it went on, with three players from each side - Clarke Odour, Sam Stubbs and Kevin McDonald for City and James Maxwell, Owen Bailey and Harrison Biggins - cautioned as tempers rose.

McCann was also yellow-carded after taking his protests a bit too far after Bailey was carded.

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When the football broke out, Rovers possessed more of the poise and their lead was merited, even if they did not look entirely convincing in defence with their tactics of playing out from the back looking dangerous giving the surface.

It came just before the interval when Joe Ironside won a flick-on. The ball found Biggins, who had a good first half and slotted in Molyneux, who beat the offside trap before slotting the ball past Sam Walker.

It was a half in which City were second best in the middle of the park, with Rovers seeming to outnumber them, with McDonald and Oduor struggling to find a semblance of control with Alex Gilliead otherwise engaged out wide.

Gillead did, in fairness, create the hosts’ best chance midway through the first period. He dropped his shoulder and beat Molyneux on the left and his low cross found Tyreik Wright. Steaming into the box, he fired just wide.

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Andy Cook - sent off in the recent EFL Trophy fixture between these sides - had one strong run which ended in him shooting at Thimothee Lo-Tutala, but given their outstanding performance last time out against Wycombe, this was pretty low-key and the questions belonged to Graham Alexander.

Rovers had the offensive players to catch the eye. In-form Hakeeb Adelakun had his moments, while Matthew Craig was prominent. Top-scorer Joe Ironside also went close when his hooked shot was nicked just wide after Adelakun’s deflected free-kick had been played towards him by Bailey.

Graham Alexander resisted the urge to make changes, but a quiet start to the second period gave him something further to think about.

Wright did see a dangerous low cross kept out well by Lo-Tutala, while an audacious effort from just inside his own half from Biggins as Rovers countered was bold, but straight at Walker.

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The stretching Ironside then just failed to get a decisive touch to a wicked cross from the right from Molyneux as Rovers sought the second goal which would surely seal victory with the Bantams struggling for rhythm, conviction and threat.

Alexander relented and threw on Adam Wilson, Lewis Richards and Smith in a bid to pep up his side, who were starting to look like they really needed something.

In the event, the best chance for the next goal fell to Rovers, with Walker making a brilliant finger-tip save to keep out Maxwell’s screaming drive.

Cook did test Lo-Tutata with a far-post header, fortunately Smith soon had the Rovers’ keeper picking the ball out of the net to save the day for City.

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Bradford City: S Walker; Tomkinson, Stubbs (Chapman 75), Kelly; Halliday, McDonald (Richards 63), Oduor, Gilliead; Wright (Smith 63), Kavanagh (Wilson 63); Cook. Unused substitutes: Doyle, Ridehalgh, Pointon.

Doncaster Rovers: Lo-Tutala; Sterry, Anderson, Wood, Maxwell; Craig (Rowe 87), Bailey, Biggins (Westbrook 72); Adelakun, Molyneux; Ironside. Unused substitutes: Jones, Olowu, Hurst, Biamou, Waters.

Referee: L Doughty (Lancashire).