Bradford City 2 Aldershot 0: Bantams avoid FA Cup upset as Leigh leads the way

AS the rain beat down on a bitterly cold and a near empty Valley Parade, Bradford City’s FA Cup heroics of last season against Premier League duo Chelsea and Sunderland seemed light years away.

City's Mark Marshall tackled by Shots' Cheye Alexander. Picture Tony Johnson

Still, the Bantams can today dream about a possible repeat of those glorious, never-to-be-forgotten days after avoiding a potential upset against National League outfit Aldershot Town.

Greg Leigh’s first goal for Bradford and a penalty from Tony McMahon earned safe passage to the second round, where Chesham of the seventh tier lay in wait.

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Phil Parkinson’s men will be strongly fancied to progress and if the December 6 home clash with the minnows goes to form then the Yorkshire club really can start really dreaming about another potential giant-killing act in the New Year. Not that Bradford had it all their own way last night. Far from it, in fact, with goalkeeper Ben Williams having to twice save the blushes of the League One side during a first half in which the visitors were the better side and unfortunate not to end ahead.

Eventually, though, class told with the spark City required coming courtesy of a quite wonderful move just after the hour. A pinpoint 40-yard pass from Billy Knott started proceedings as the midfielder picked out Leigh as he darted down the left flank.

Such was the accuracy of the delivery that the former Manchester City Academy product, making only his third appearance for the Bantams, hardly had to break stride to control before racing into the penalty area and dinking a delightful finish over Phil Smith.

It was a goal worthy of winning any game but City made sure there would be no way back for the plucky Hampshire outfit when McMahon fired in from 12 yards after Luke James had been tripped by Omar Beckles.

Last night’s replay being shown live on BT Sport together with the inclement weather saw just 2,930 supporters brave a cold West Yorkshire night to attend.

It meant the atmosphere was a far cry from Bradford’s last home tie in the competition, March’s quarter-final at home to Reading.

Despite the low-key feel to proceedings, the two teams, separated by 46 places in the football pyramid, produced a decent contest amid difficult conditions that included a swirling wind and heavy rain.

Mark Marshall came the closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half, his smart turn and shot bringing a one-handed save from Shots’ goalkeeper Smith that saw the ball turned on to the post. It was the first of two saves in quick succession that saw Marshall frustrated by Smith but, otherwise, Williams was the busier of the two goalkeepers in the opening 45 minutes as the visitors belied their lowly status with a lively showing in attack.

Twice, he was called into serious action after Aldershot had carved open their League One hosts with incisive play.

First, Damon Lathrope was afforded far too much space 30 yards from the home goal and he found Richard Brodie.

The former York City striker then showed neat footwork to create an opening and Williams had to get down smartly to save before collecting the rebound from Sam Hatton.

Williams’s effort to then keep out Jim Stevenson was even better, the Bantams goalkeeper reacting smartly to block an effort that been created by a cushioned header from Brodie.

The fear for those hoping to witness an upset live on television was that Aldershot being unable to capitalise on two gilt-edged opportunities would, ultimately, cost the non-League side.

Sure enough, Leigh’s sublime run and finish meant Bradford had a precious advantage that the Football League club rarely looked like surrendering.

Indeed, before McMahon doubled the home side’s lead 15 minutes from time, Knott had a thunderous first time shot beaten away acrobatically by Smith.

Once two goals ahead, McMahon saw a shot charged down and Billy Clarke was unfortunate not to get on the end of a deflected cross from Marshall.

Luke James then brought another smart save from Smith but Aldershot prevented any further damage before accepting the acclaim of the 127 hardy souls who had travelled north.

As for City, Chesham of the Southern Premier League await in the next round and as a possible path opens up to the stage where the big boys come into play. And, after what happened last term, it is surely a safe bet that Bradford, even allowing for last night’s struggles for an hour, will be high on the list of sides that many Premier League managers will be keen to avoid.

Bradford City: Williams; Darby, McArdle, N Clarke, Leigh; McMahon, Liddle (Routis 81), Knott, Marshall (Reid 84); Hanson (B Clarke 59), Cole (James 70). Unused substitutes: Cracknell, Morris, Mottley-Henry.

Aldershot Town: Smith; Alexander, Beckles, Oliver, McGinty; D Walker, Stevenson, Lathrope (Browne 67), Hatton; Brodie, C Walker. Unused substitutes: Thomas, Richards, Gallagher, Barker.

Referee: K Hill (Hertfordshire).