Bradford City 1 Oxford United 0
Oxford United were on the wrong side of the Law this afternoon as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Bradford City. A simple finish from midfielder Nicky Law kept Bradford's promotion push on track while simultaneously ending the U's slim play-off hopes.
With one eye on next season there was a debut, at last, for Christian Ribeiro at right back. The Wales international fractured an ankle in the very last training session before the season began but was impressive in his first competitive game, solid defensively and always willing to join the attack. One tackle on Jordy Hiwula after 33 minutes will have done his confidence the world of good as he kept pace with the winger and then showed good strength to take the ball away from danger.
United had the first on-target effort of the afternoon when Chris Maguire tested Bantams keeper Colin Doyle’s handling with a fourth-minute free kick but Simon Eastwood had the more difficult save to make on 16 when he pushed a Rory McArdle header round the post when the home side threatened for the first time. The game then settled into an interesting tactical battle between two good sides, both comfortable on the ball and trying to open the other side up through swift one-touch football.
United had chances and might well have been ahead at the break. Charlie Raglan should perhaps have done better with a 36th-minute header, the excellent Josh Ruffels sent a 25-yard effort wide and Curtis Nelson poked a 39th-minute shot wide after running from one penalty box to the other with that familiar elegant style. A rugged defender who likes the ball at his feet, Nelson has had a hugely impressive first season with the U’s. Conor McAleny whipped a difficult shot across the face of the goal and then smashed a decent chance wide on 44, so the half chances had come predominantly the way of the boys in blue.
However, needing a win to keep up the pressure at the top of the table, Stuart McCall’s side raised their game after the break, spurred on by a crowd of almost 20,000. Captain Romain Vincelot nodded an early chance over the top, McArdle saw a header well saved by Eastwood and then on the hour they were in front. A deep cross from Hiwula was headed back at the far post and there was Law to apply a simple finish from six yards out to give the home side a priceless lead.
United could have been level almost immediately though when Joe Rothwell ran free behind the Bradford defence but was denied by an unbelievable recovery tackle from McArdle to take the final shot wide. Nelson and McAleny then peppered the upper tier of the away stand with off-target efforts before Eastwood made the best save of the day to reach back and push a vicious dipping effort from Charlie Wyke over the bar. The goal had opened the game up completely and the dangerous Marshall pinged a 75th-minute effort narrowly wide before McAleny forced Doyle into a good save down low to his left at the other end.
There was an even better save on 77 when McAleny once again let fly from distance but Josh Cullen scooped an 80th-minute shot over the top for Bradford with Eastwood scrambling to get to him for once.
Bradford are a good side and could well be a Championship side next season. The U's will be in League 1 again, but there really wasn't too much to choose between the sides this afternoon. Not so long ago the teams were competing in League 2. Bradford have had a little longer to adjust to the higher division and have done so impressively. United have done extremely well in their first season back at this level in 16 years and will learn a lot from games like this and come back stronger.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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