ANALYSIS: Dylan Connolly and Callum Cooke shine as Bradford City do things the hard way once again

Bradford City's Dylan Connolly in action against Carlisle United. Picture: Simon Hulme
Bradford City's Dylan Connolly in action against Carlisle United. Picture: Simon Hulme
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Bradford City seem determined to do things the hard way at Valley Parade.

Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Carlisle United was their third in four matches on home turf and lifted them back into the League Two play-off places.

It was however not achieved as easily as it might have been.

Just as was the case in their previous outing in front of their own fans - a dramatic late comeback win against Northampton - they fell behind early on and had to call upon their powers of recovery.

Then, when seemingly poised to go on and put the game to bed having taken a 2-1 lead against their 10-man visitors, the Bantams themselves had a player sent off.

Gary Bowyer’s men did continue to look the more likely, though they had to endure a couple of nervy moments before eventually making the game safe in the fifth minute of added-time.

The Bantams boss will of course have been impressed with the character that his team displayed, but more pleasing surely will have been the performances of midfielders Callum Cooke and Dylan Connolly.

The latter, on loan from AFC Wimbledon, sparkled down the right flank and tore Carlisle left-back Jack Iredale to shreds with some good old-fashioned wing-play, with Cooke equally effective, proving a real driving force in the middle of the park.

Central midfield has been something of an issue for Bowyer this term with neither Daniel Devine nor Jermaine Anderson setting the world alight alongside Matt Palmer.

With this no doubt in mind, Peterborough United-loanee Cooke was handed a first start and added a different dimension, bringing dynamism and drive to the engine room.

Having worked with him before, Bowyer knows that Cooke can play and indeed he did, helping to get City on the front foot, offering a threat in the final third and ensuring that the likes of Connolly and fellow wideman Harry Pritchard had a good platform from which to try and effect the game.

Connolly did not need a second invitation, his early nutmeg on Carlisle's Iredale a sign of things to come as the Irishman ran riot, showcasing his pace, trickery and real desire to take on defenders and make things happen.

Yet, it was Pritchard who made the first telling impression on the match from a Bradford perspective, drawing his team level on the half-hour-mark after Olufela Olomola handed the Cumbrians a 14th-minute lead when he beat Richard O'Donnell with a neat finish from a narrow angle.

Prior to their equaliser, City had really struggled to create anything at all going forwards, but just as the home faithful began to show signs of frustration, a breakthrough arrived.

Pritchard managed to hold off a couple of defenders inside the United box and fire left-footed across Adam Collin and into the far corner of the net.

With both the game and the atmosphere inside the stadium suddenly transformed, Carlisle's Jack Bridge was then sent off for a second bookable offence and the hosts smelt blood.

They moved ahead when some Connolly magic earned a free-kick and Palmer delivered from the right for Kelvin Mellor to nod in at the back stick.

A third and surely decisive 'goal' appeared to have arrived just six minutes after the resumption.

Connor Wood curled over a delicious cross from the left that skipper James Vaughan headed straight at Collin before Clayton Donaldson forced the ball over the line.

The home celebrations were in full-swing as referee John Busby initially appeared to have awarded a goal, only for the strike to eventually be ruled out for handball.

Undeterred, Bowyer's men kept coming and Vaughan met Connolly's low right-wing cross and forced Collin into a fine stop at his near post, Donaldson stabbing the rebound against the woodwork.

Seconds later, Mr Busby evened things up, Ben Richards-Everton shown a straight red card following a 62nd-minute lunge on Iredale in midfield.

Bradford continued to look the more likely despite this set-back, Cooke doing superbly to intercept then play Connolly through on goal, only for the Irishman to scuff his finish.

Cooke then shot narrowly over the bar himself, while Nathan Thomas was just wide at the other end as Carlisle pushed for a way back into the game late on.

However, in stoppage-time City finally made the points safe.

With the Cumbrians having committed men forward, Donaldson was able to break and send a pass from left to right across the edge of 18-yard box for substitute Zeli Ismail, who produced a couple of step-overs and then lashed a strike into the roof of the net.