Verdict '“ Blackburn Rovers 2 Bradford City 0: Play-off hopes slipping away from shot-shy Bantams

'˜CHAMPIONSHIP, we're on our way,' sang the Blackburn Rovers fans after returning to the top of League One in impressive style.

Bradford Citys Charlie Wyke duels with Derrick Williams and two other Blackburn Rovers players during the visitors 2-0 defeat (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

Those from Bradford, meanwhile, filed out into a cold night chanting the name of Stuart McCall, the club’s recently sacked manager who was covering the match for Sky Sports.

There, in a nutshell, was the story of not just last night’s one-sided Roses clash, but also how 2018 is panning out for these two old foes.

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Separated by just a point after the New Year’s Day fixtures, City now trail their Lancashire rivals by a mammoth 26 points.

More importantly, the play-off spots are four points away – or five, if sixth-placed Peterborough United’s vastly superior goal difference is taken into account – going into today’s round of fixtures.

A season that promised so much under McCall not so long ago is slipping away and the 1,642 fans who made the trip to Ewood Park knew it.

Hence the cries of ‘Stuart, Stuart..’ in the direction of the Sky studio where the club’s most popular player of all-time was following proceedings as a pundit.

Those same Yorkshire voices did also sing their support for Simon Grayson, handed the unenviable task of getting back on track a campaign that had gone so badly awry amid a breakdown in relations between McCall and the club’s hierarchy.

It is to be hoped the former Leeds United manager can be persuaded to stay on beyond the contract that runs until the summer as, on the basis of this one-sided defeat, there is plenty of work to do for someone as versed in winning promotion from the third tier as the 48-year-old.

Bradford failed to muster a single shot on target, while Blackburn had so many that, had this been a boxing bout, the referee would have called a halt long before the end.

That it took until midway through the second half for Rovers to make the breakthrough was down to a mixture of wayward finishing and determination on the part of the visiting defence.

But once Bradley Dack had finally broken City’s resistance there was never any doubt that Tony Mowbray’s men would be back at the summit come 9.40pm.

Twenty eight years had elapsed since the Bantams’ previous visit to Ewood Park, the two clubs having managed to avoid each other around the turn of the Millennium despite both having stints in the Premier League.

The opening quarter was spent almost exclusively in the Bradford half of the pitch. Twice City escaped courtesy of the woodwork, and Colin Doyle also saved brilliantly from Corry Evans.

Marcus Antonsson wasted a gilt-edged opportunity during that early onslaught when he headed wide from six yards out.

The on-loan Leeds United striker had also been one of those in blue and white to hit an upright, moments before Dack’s looped effort crashed against the top of Doyle’s crossbar.

With Nathaniel Knight-Percival also fortunate to receive just a yellow card for cynically hauling down Dominic Samuel as he looked to race through on goal, there is little doubt that City rode their luck in the early exchanges.

The response from Grayson, whose manic arm waving during that early onslaught had given him the look of a traffic officer in a Rome rush-hour, was to switch to a back four and push Romain Vincelot into midfield.

It helped stem some of the attacking tide, but Blackburn continued to look the most likely to make the breakthrough.

Adam Armstrong twice shot wide in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, either side of a header from Samuel at full stretch that also failed to test Doyle in the visitors’ goal.

Knight-Percival then had to be alert to keep out a thunderous shot from Evans after Armstrong had raced clear down the right flank.

Armstrong dragging another effort wide moments later when well placed suggested City might survive the night unscathed after all.

But, after Dack had been released by a delightful pass from Antonsson, the former Gillingham man finished with aplomb to finally break the deadlock.

Blackburn’s second goal followed nine minutes from time, Craig Conway firing past Doyle after Armstrong’s shot had been blocked by Matthew Kilgallon.

It was all over for City, who can this afternoon only watch anxiously from afar as Peterborough, Scunthorpe United, Charlton Athletic and Plymouth Argyle go in search of the points that would make a third consecutive tilt at the play-offs for the Yorkshire side even more of a distant dream.

Blackburn Rovers: Raya; Evans, Lenihan (Downing 30), Williams, Bell; Smallwood, Bennett; Armstrong, Dack, Samuel (Payne 65); Antonsson (Conway 79). Unused substitutes: Leutwiler, Whittingham, Caddis, Nuttall.

Bradford City: Doyle; Vincelot, Knight-Percival, Kilgallon; McMahon; Gilliead (McCartan 64), Guy (Dieng 72), Law, Warnock; Wyke, Poleon (Patrick 64). Unused substitutes: Raeder, Chicksen, Devine, Grodowski.

Referee: C Sarginson (Staffordshire).