A moment of quality from two former Premier League players decided last night’s League Two versus League One FA Cup replay in favour of Shrewsbury Town.
Dave Edwards’s goal apart, Bradford City had the better of the game against opponents they hope to be playing against in the league next season.
An unremarkable match was 66 minutes old when former Sunderland defender Donald Love expertly curled a low cross for former Wolverhampton Wanderers player Edwards, recently introduced from the bench, to get a precise touch to. It was a good night for Welsh internationals.
Edwards’s goal ensured the Shrews will host Mansfield Town in the second round. For a Bradford side with the fixtures already backing up, going down with a fight was not the worst outcome.
They had the better of a first half which was slow to get going as both teams took their time finding – and perhaps feeling – their feet on a cold night in West Yorkshire.
The Shrews were quicker into the game, but Bradford grew into the stronger first-half team.
Jason Cummings’s early blocked shot and Brad Walker’s header wide under pressure from Ben Richards-Everton were not signs of things to come from the visitors as the game started with both sides giving possession up cheaply.
In between them, Dylan Connolly’s run down the right was the first promising sign from the Bantams, even if it came to nothing.
The first real moment of quality on the night was Harry Pritchard’s 15th-minute reverse pass to Connolly, but the Bradford winger’s cross was cut out.
Callum Cooke delivered an excellent corner in the 19th minute from which Hope Akpan, with his head, and the fit-again James Vaughan, with his foot, had efforts blocked. Richards-Everton headed wide at the far post.
Bradford took heart from it, Aramide Oteh dinking a lovely pass to the opposite flank, where Connolly beat his man and picked out Pritchard, who was denied by Joe Murphy’s brilliant save. He kept Vaughan’s follow-up out too.
Although Akpan’s backheel to Connolly did not come off, it showed how Bradford were growing in confidence against League One opposition, and how they were trying to make full use of the right winger.
Self-belief perhaps got the better of Anthony O’Connor when he overran the ball trying to bring it out from the back and released the Shrews on the counter. Whalley let him off by missing the target.
A poor Akpan pass out of keeping with the rest of his performance also indirectly led to Connor Wood’s booking, for clipping Love’s heels to try to stop another counter-attack.
Cooke had a couple of chances at the start of the second half, driving towards goal and seeing Murphy touch his shot just wide, then far more comfortably off target with a volley.
Shrewsbury had improved after the break and their goal came at the end of a ten-minute spell of pressure which started with an effort by Cummings which deflected wide. Ro-Shaun Williams’s free-kick was gathered by O’Donnell, but Edwards made the breakthrough.
It was a back-handed compliment to Bradford that their higher-division opponents then went into full time-wasting mode. Murphy was as ponderous as possible over his goal-kicks, Cummings came off at the furthest possible point when he was substituted, and when Whalley was ordered to the near touchline as he was due to come off, he took the long road to the byline until Paul Madsen intervened.
That said, headers from Vaughan and Daniel Devine were the closest the Bantams came to equalising. A desperate foul on Zeli Ismail earned him a booking and Wood an added-time free-kick he could only put into the goalkeeper’s arms.
The Bantams FA Cup dreams are over for another year but they have bigger fish to fry in 2019-20.
Bradford City: O’Donnell; Henley, A O’Connor, Richards-Everton, Wood; Akpan, Cooke, Pritchard (Devine 77); Connolly, Vaughan, Oteh (Mellor 77).
Unused substitutes: P O’Connor, Reeves, Ismail, Anderson, Sykes-Kenworthy.
Shrewsbury Town: Murphy; Love, Williams, Ebanks-Landell, Beckles, Golbourne; Walker (Edwards 54), Whalley (Thompson 87), Norburn, Laurent; Cummings (Okenabirhie 68).
Unused substitutes: O’Leary, Pierre, Giles, John-Lewis.
Referee: P Marsden (Lancashire).