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Bradford City 0 Rovers 1

6 April 2019

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Another Mallik Wilks thunderbolt fired Rovers to a vital victory at Bradford City to keep his side on course for the play-offs.

His second half goal was the difference as Rovers stretched their run to three consecutive wins in a scrappy affair at the Northern Commercials Stadium and retained their five-point advantage over seventh-placed Peterborough United.

Grant McCann made one change to the side which earned back-to-back victories at the Keepmoat Stadium in the previous week. Tom Anderson replaced Paul Downing at centre back as the latter dropped to the bench due to illness. He did, however, stick with the slight alteration to formation which has proved fruitful in recent games.

Bradford City manager Gary Bowyer made three changes to the side which lost 1-0 away at Charlton Athletic on the previous weekend. Connor Wood, Anthon O'Connor, and Hope Apkin all dropped out of the starting XI, Nathaniel Knight Percival, Adam Chicksen, and Billy Clarke were the replacements.

Fast starts have been a feature of Rovers' upturn in form, but that was not to be the case at Valley Parade. Bradford City might be Sky Bet League One's bottom placed team, but they did not look like it and John Marquis was called on to do his bit for his side's defensive efforts with an important toe to send Jacob Butterfield's strike from outside the box off target in the opening minute. Soon after Butler required a timely touch to deny Clarke's effort, and Marko Marosi needed a sure touch to punch a corner-kick clear.

Ali Crawford had the first sight of goal for Rovers, Kieran Sadlier reacted quickly to a loose ball played out of the back by the Bantams and found the Scot at the edge of the box. Crawford connected well with his first-time strike, but it was some way over Richard O'Donnell's cross bar.

Bradford City thought had taken the lead just before the ten-minute mark when Eoin Doyle's glancing header from a delightful Clarke cross took the ball beyond Marosi but connected with the far post before ending up in the keeper's gloves.

Bradford continued to threaten, Knight-Percival tried and failed with his effort from distance and Marosi had to be on his toes to prevent a clever through ball from providing David Ball with a tap-in.

While Bradford's strikers were struggling to find the target, their defenders were struggling to find each other. Loose passes out of the Bantams' defence were providing Rovers with opportunities to win the ball high up the pitch and launch quick attacks. One such occasion afforded Wilks an opportunity to cross into Marquis in the Bantams box, both Marquis and his marker tumbled to the floor – Rovers top scorer wanted a penalty - but referee Dean Whitestone was having none of it instead awarding a free-kick to the home side.

Rovers' next chance came when a Bradford pass found Crawford unmarked at the top of the box, it was a near carbon copy of his earlier effort though this time the ball sailed just wide as oppose to over.

After a slow start, Rovers were beginning to get a foothold in the game, and Wilks excellent turn to take him away from Paudie O'Connor allowed him to play a perfectly weighted lifted ball into Sadlier whose header was just wide of O'Donnell's goal.

Some controversy on the half-hour mark seemed to swing the momentum of the game back in the home side's favour. Referee Whitestone saw fit to stop the match for a head injury to Marquis. Once the forward was back on his feet, Bradford opted to kick the ball out for a Rovers throw-in near the corner flag rather than back to keeper Marosi and Bradford manufactured a shot from the resulting play.

That was really it for the first-half action with neither team doing enough to stake their claim on the match.

No changes for either team at the break and, once again, it was Bradford City who would register the first shot. Chicksen's driving run took him into the box but smart defending by Anderson pushed him wide and Marosi was able to catch the effort with some ease.


Rovers first chance of the half came as Sadlier picked the ball up in acres of space in the middle of the park, he had room to run into and – while more than 1,000 Rovers fans wanted him to shoot – he opted to play a sublime throughball into the path of Marquis. Marquis' first-touch took the ball between the two Bantams centre backs but the pair closed out the space and the ball ran through to O'Donnell.

The noise in the stadium rose with every minute that passed and the Bradford side did look the most likely as shots from Ball and former Rovers player Jermaine Anderson went close.

Just before the hour-mark, McCann opted for a change with Sadlier making way for Alfie May, leading to a slight change with May taking over the No.10 role and Coppinger taking his place on the left of the three. May looked lively from the outset, chasing and harrying to win the ball high up the pitch and his attempted overhead kick (of sorts) almost crept in at the far post when O'Donnell's clearing-punch from a corner-kick failed to clear the 18-yard box.

At the other end, Doyle would almost certainly have turned Lewis O'Brien's cross into the Rovers net if it had not been for an exceptionally brave diving-header by Butler to prevent the ball from reaching the striker.

Butler was on hand time and time again to head away Bradford's crosses into the box and keep the Bantam's strike force at bay and made some important interventions when left one-on-one with Doyle. Centreback partner Anderson also had some key touches an acrobatic clearance taking the ball off the Rovers' goal-line.

It was Wilks who – as he often has in recent matches – would prove the difference as he bagged his 16th goal of the season after 73 minutes. He still had it all to do when he picked the ball up around 25 yards out, but he showed patience, let defender Knight-Percival continue to retreat and pulled the trigger from the edge of the box firing towards the near post and sending O'Donnell the wrong way.

The goal seemed to kill most of the home side's impetus, with Rovers suddenly afforded more time on the ball.

Bantams substitute Sean Scannell had some joy down Bradford's left-hand side, but every cross Bradford put in the box seemed to be met by the head of Butler.

Substitute Alfie Beestin did brilliantly to win back possession high up the pitch and played a beautiful ball through to namesake May but O'Connor did just enough to ease May out and Rovers maybe should have done better when Matty Blair's overlapping run took him beyond Chicksen, his cross was into a dangerous area but the strikers had not managed to keep up with his pace.

Bradford were mere inches from equalising when Butterfield's shot from the edge of the box brush past Marosi's left hand post. Shortly after Scannell and Doyle took turns to avoid shooting from just 10 yards out as they passed the ball between themselves, Scannell eventually sent the ball towards the goal but – once again – Butler was the man in the way.

A long stoppage in play earlier in the half due to head injuries to Marquis and O'Donnell meant Rovers had to see out seven minutes of added time, but they did just that earning their third consecutive win and keeping a five-point gap between themselves and seventh placed Peterborough United.


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