BRADFORD CITY will be hoping Highbury can join Bloomfield Road and the Pirelli Stadium in staging a memorable celebration party as the club prepares to embark on what has become a by now familiar attempted route to Wembley.
For the fifth time in five play-off appearances, the Bantams will be away from home in the all-important second leg.
Away from home, we have won nine times and 11 at home. There is not a massive gulf between our home and away form, even though we went the full season at Valley Parade without being beaten.Stuart McCall
Next Sunday is D-Day for Stuart McCall’s side in their quest to keep alive those hopes of apeing the classes of 1996 and 2013 by booking a place in the final.
Fleetwood Town stand between Bradford and a return to the national stadium with the first leg at Valley Parade on Thursday.
Both sides will go into the two-legged tie with a 2-1 win apiece to their name from the two meetings in the regular season, suggesting the clash with Uwe Rosler’s men will be a tight affair.
“We are relishing the challenge,” said McCall, who is likely to be without Alex Jones against Fleetwood after yesterday’s goalscorer was forced out of the action with a hamstring injury.
“We probably played better in the game we lost at their place than we did when winning at home. And I definitely don’t see being away second as a problem, either.
“Away from home, we have won nine times and 11 at home. There is not a massive gulf between our home and away form, even though we went the full season at Valley Parade without being beaten.”
An afternoon that began with McCall making nine changes ended with teenagers Ellis Hudson, Daniel Pybus and Matthew Penney having made their league debuts from the bench.
Bearing that in mind, Bradford deserve huge praise for securing a point from a keenly-fought encounter.
Rouven Sattelmaier was the main reason for that, the German being in outstanding form on only his second league appearance of the season.
The first had also come against Dale in November’s 4-0 at Valley Parade but this was a very different afternoon.
With the Bantams struggling to cope against either Nathaniel Mendez-Laing or Calvin Andrew, the City goalkeeper was tested time and time again.
He stood up admirably to the examination, pulling off no less than six saves of such quality that they drew deserved applause from the travelling 3,500 fans and groans from the local supporters.
The pick of Sattelmaier’s efforts came just after the half-hour mark, Andrew’s rasping drive somehow being flicked over at full stretch by the summer signing from Stuttgarter Kickers.
He also denied Mendez-Laing in the first half with a fine block following a ‘fresh air kick’ from Kevin Toner, while Callum Camps, Mendez-Laing and Matthew Lund also saw efforts turned away.
Lund, though, did exact a modicum of revenge by beating Sattelmaier with a delightful chipped shot after latching on to a through ball.
By then, Rochdale’s play-off hopes – already slim before kick-off – had been all but extinguished.
Millwall and Southend United, the two clubs Keith Hill’s men were looking to overhaul in the fight for sixth place, had both taken early leads elsewhere.
So, too, had Bradford. A swift break down the right flank by Billy Clarke in the eighth minute created an opening that Alex Jones gleefully accepted with an assured finish after being found by his team-mate.
Bradford also hit the crossbar through Alex Gilliead on the stroke of half-time and then the post via a shot from Daniel Devine but the rest of the game belonged to Dale and Sattelmaier.
Fittingly, City’s German goalkeeper was involved in the final slice of drama as he superbly tipped away Reuben Noble-Lazarus’s free-kick before Matthew Kilgallong cleared Joseph Rafferty’s follow-up off the line.
“Alex’s injury was the downside of the day,” added McCall. “Anyone who queries why we made all those changes, there is why.”
Rochdale: Logan; Rafferty, McGahey, McNulty, Bunney; Mendez-Laing, Lund (Noble-Lazarus 87), Camps, Allen; Andrew, Henderson (McDermott 9, Cannon 72). Unused substitutes: Canavan, Vincenti, McDermott, Wilson, Rathbone.
Bradford City: Sattelmaier; Darby, McArdle, Kilgallon, Toner; Dieng, Devine; Gilliead (Hudson 55), Clarke (Pybus 72), Hiwula; Jones (Penney 60). Unused substitutes: Doyle, Hanson, Knight-Percival, Peters.
Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).