United chalked up a memorable win against the Capital One Cup semi-finalists Bradford this afternoon. Having given their hosts an early lead United quickly hit back with a stunning strike from Sean Rigg and then won the game with a last minute penalty from Peter Leven. In truth the U's had created enough chances to win the match earlier and were good value for the three points after an excellent team performance.
The much changed U’s started very well against the much admired Bantams, with Sean Rigg testing home keeper Matt Duke with a third minute effort from the edge of the box which Duke pushed over the bar.
Lewis Montrose enjoyed a fine debut in the engine room, knitting things together, playing things simple and attacking the ball in the air at both ends. He certainly added a physical presence and might even have scored after four minutes but got under his header and planted it over the bar when well placed.
Having started so well United were then the architects of their own downfall to go behind. A simple long ball over the top left Michael Duberry in a race for the ball with the much coveted Nahki Wells. Duberry won that quite comfortably and nodded the ball back towards where he thought Wayne Brown was. Unfortunately Brown was about three yards away from Duberry instead and the ball looped over his head and rolled gently towards the goal. It was going wide of the mark but Wells chased it gamely and tapped it into the empty net from the tightest angle, injuring himself by colliding with the advertising boards as a result.
Bradford is never the easiest place to visit and if you are going to gift the home side a goal then you need to show extraordinary character to come back quickly. It took four minutes for United to do it. Good play from Damian Batt and Alfie Potter on the right gave Potter the chance to play the ball into the box for Leven. He laid the ball back for Rigg who had no hesitation in unleashing a magnificent left-footed shot from 22 yards which arrowed into the far corner past the startled Duke to make it 1-1.
Brown, back in goal with Ryan Clarke struggling with a shoulder problem, will have been relieved to see the equaliser go in, but had barely had a shot to deal with in the first half hour as United impressed at the other end. Justin Richards led the line intelligently, bringing in Rigg and Potter and allowing Peter Leven to join from midfield. At the other end the three central defenders, Raynes, Wright and Duberry, added a solid look and allowed wing-backs Batt and Davis to press on and join midfield where Davis’s duel with Zavin Hines was one of the highlights of the first half action.
The other was a good old-fashioned scrap in the middle of the park between Montrose and Bradford skipper Gary Jones who both picked up yellow cards as they tried to win their team the ball. A foul on Montrose on 36 minutes allowed Leven to test Duke with a free kick from the edge of the box which the keeper pushed away for a corner, and then right on the break a surging run from Montrose in which he beat three men allowed Potter to stab a shot at goal which Duke did very well to save at full length to his right hand side.
It had been end to end stuff and great to watch and the second half continued in the same fashion. Duke saved well from Rigg at his near post and just before the hour United thought they had taken the lead as Montrose again engineered an opening and Batt’s cross was headed at goal by Potter at the far post. This time the ball beat Duke but was cleared by Carl McHugh from right under the bar, with ref Jeremy Simpson waving away United’s appeals that the ball had crossed the line.
Another flowing move two minutes later ended with Davis volleying a bouncing ball at goal with Duke again making a great save to his right, then a well-flighted corner from Leven was flicked goalwards by Duberry and Duke somehow got enough of a touch to palm the ball up on the the bar, from where the rebound bounced away from the line and was cleared by a grateful Bantams backline.
The marauding Batt and Davis were well suited to the wing-back system and the new shape of the team left the U's looking very well balanced. From front to back they turned in a very impressive 90 minutes and in the very last minute won the game as Potter jinked past his man and was brought down inside the area. Leave it to Leven...
There was still time for a Bradford effort to be ruled out for offside, but that would have been harsh on the U's. Having lost on penalties in midweek, this afternoon they were spot on.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by PA Sports