Bradford City 1 Doncaster Rovers 0: Bantams one win from Wembley as luckless Rovers' injury woes resurface once more

THERE was considerably more fanfare and expectation on the previous occasion that these Yorkshire rivals met at BD8 at the end of July 2022.

An expectant crowd of 19,362 - a then fourth-tier record at Valley Parade assembled, including 2,000 Doncaster Rovers followers for the opening-day jamboree in 2022-23.

Almost 18 months on and things were somewhat different on a cold January evening and a somewhat sparser stadium, with just over 3,000 present.

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These White Rose combatants, who have lost their mojo in recent times amid painful slumps, were in need of a sugar rush.

Bradford City duo Jonathan Tomkinson and Ciaran Kelly celebrate at full time after the EFL Trophy win over Doncaster Rovers. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.Bradford City duo Jonathan Tomkinson and Ciaran Kelly celebrate at full time after the EFL Trophy win over Doncaster Rovers. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Bradford City duo Jonathan Tomkinson and Ciaran Kelly celebrate at full time after the EFL Trophy win over Doncaster Rovers. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

The hope at least for one of these sides was that it would arrive here in deep mid-winter.

For the victor - however it transpired - there was at least the realisation that Wembley was metaphorical coming into view. Just one game away and something to cling onto - and strive for - amid forgettable league seasons.

The honour could fall to City, courtesy of a sublime free-kick on 58 minutes from Harry Chapman. An opportune moment to register his first goal of the season, while you had to go back to Easter Monday for his previous strike.

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That said, the night was soured following the late dismissal of Andy Cook and the experienced striker only had himself to blame following two yellow cards for getting involved with fellow north-easterners Jamie Sterry and Owen Bailey and being booked for fouls. He will miss the semi-final.

If both sides went to an ABBA convention, their song of choice would have been SOS.

Since winning at Rovers just before Christmas, when talk of a play-off push started to generate after a sixth straight win in all competitions, City had won just once in eight outings.

For Doncaster, their form was even more dire, with one win in ten.

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Their performance was far more resolute than last weekend, but it was a night which saw three players in Luke Molyneux, Conor Carty and Ben Close come off injured.

The sight of Close being stretched off in stoppage-time was a big worry for Rovers, who face a key game at second-from-bottom Sutton on Saturday.

How they will need fit-again Richard Wood for that one.

With both these sides on rotten runs, a scoreless first half did not constitute an earth-shattering surprise in truth, although the competitiveness on show could not be doubted in an even first half.

It was a big night for two particular players on either side, with Bantams striker Jake Young making his first start at Valley Parade since October 2022.

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Thirty-eight years young, Wood stepped out for Rovers and wore the captain’s armband in his first appearance since the end of November.

Given a litany of soft concessions in his absence, particularly from crosses and most definitely corners, how Rovers were crying out for his leadership and organisational skills in a defensive sense. Saturday’s lamentable rearguard performance against Stockport being a major case in point.

The hope was that Wood would not only provide some badly needed seniority and decisiveness at the back, but also that he would come through unscathed, given an injury-hit stint at Rovers thus far.

A thumping early defensive header from Wood was a good sign, while a crisp first-timer from Young which was blocked by Louis Jones and a mazy run not long after were also encouraging from the claret and amber perspective.

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Rovers had a couple of early half-chances, with Joe Ironside off target from close range and corners actually produced their most threatening moments in the half.

Colin Doyle denied James Maxwell after Wood won the air miles from Molyneux’s inswinging cross, while substitute Jon Taylor was a whisker away with a low shot late on in the first period after City failed to clear.

For City, Halliday also fired tamely at Jones when well placed.

The downer for Rovers was an age-old problem this term, injuries, with Molyneux and Carty both succumbing after going down in a heap following separate challenges close to the left touchline. Carty, helped off by two members of Rovers’ staff, looked in particular discomfort.

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On the restart, Rovers fired the first salvo when Doyle getting down well to parry a 25-yarder from Ben Close before play swung to the other end, where Rovers custodian Jones showed his prowess at his near post to keep out Lewis Richards’ drive after a cross from ex-Rovers defender Brad Halliday wasn’t cleared..

A probing Richards cross was then attacked by Cook, whose header flew off target as City gradually started to build up a head of steam, attacking the Kop.

The pressure would pay off following an inviting free-kick chance after Jay McGrath pulled back Alex Gilliead, with Chapman showing an exquisite touch with a fine right-footed strike.

It crowned an assertive opening quarter to the second half, but gradually Rovers did respond.

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Backed by a raucous back of followers, Rovers pushed forward with one chance seeing substitute Jack Senior seeing an effort blocked at the far post.

City held out, despite making it overly hard for themselves, courtesy of Cook’s daft dismissal.

Bradford City: Doyle; Tomkinson, Platt, Kelly; Halliday, Gilliead, McDonald, Richards (Ridehalgh 89); Chapman (Oduor 68), Cook, Young (Stubbs 90). Unused substitutes: Hadi, Smith, Stubbs, Pointon, Wilson.

Doncaster Rovers: Jones; Sterry, Wood, McGrath, Maxwell (Senior 69); Bailey, Broadbent (Olowu 69), Close; Molyneux (J Taylor 36), Ironside, Carty (Hurst 45+1). Unused substitutes: Bottomley, Rowe, Flint.

Referee: W Finnie (Beds).

Attendance: 3,086 (468 Doncaster supporters).