Oxford United moved to within one game of Wembley once more thanks to second-half goals from Chris Maguire
and Marvin Johnson
. The U's, fresh from an FA Cup win over Newcastle, continue to fight on three fronts as they go through to face either Luton Town or Yeovil Town for a place in the final in the Checkatrade Trophy.
After the drama of that FA Cup win over Newcastle on Saturday, United perhaps understandably started slowly and once again needed keeper Simon Eastwood
to make crucial saves in the first half, getting down twice to save from the lively Mark Marshall as Bradford made the early running in an open game.
The first effort for the U’s was a 25-yard strike from Kane Hemmings
that visiting keeper Rouven Sattlemaier tipped round the post while Josh Ruffels
almost rounded off a flowing move on 38 with a shot deflected past the post by a covering defender, but the first half had been more about the back line, expertly marshalled by captain Curtis Nelson
, holding firm and keep it goalless at the break.
Having done so, the first ten minutes of the second half saw them raise the tempo and just about seal their semi-final place.
Two important things happened in that time that were to have a massive bearing on the result. First United switched Hall and Maguire, with the Scotsman going more central and Hall attacking from the left. Secondly, when a high ball came in, Nelson headed the back of Bradford’s defender Rory McArdle’s head - accidental but crucial in what was to follow. Nelson was able to continue but McArdle went off to have a head wound repaired, never to return, and while down to ten men Bradford were two goals down in the next two minutes.
The first came when Hall flew in from the left and was tripped by Darby’s outstretched leg on 53 minutes. Maguire was never going to miss from the spot and United were 1-0 up. Even better, two minutes later the very impressive Josh Ruffels
powered forward and worked the ball to his left where Johnson let fly from 30 yards with an unstoppable rising effort that flashed past Sattelmaier before I could spell it.
2-0 and McArdle must have wondered what had happened in his absence.
Bradford came back strongly and had three good chances as they went for broke but a flick by John Lundstram
almost made it 3-0 at the other end before we had late drama when a looping header from Jordy Hiwula on 85 caused tension and drama in the closing stages, complete with an anxious six minutes of added time.
United sat deep, defended for their lives and fought their way through.
Good game, good week, and on to Swindon away, Boro in the FA Cup and one game from a potential Wembley return...
Fifty/50 winning number wins £
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
See extended highlights and video reaction in Yellow Player HD