Burton Albion put another point and another place between themselves and the bottom two places in League 2 after a battling 1-1 draw with Bradford City at Valley Parade. Skipper John McGrath put the Brewers ahead three minutes before half time with a thumping header but a close range equaliser from substitute Jake Speight denied Albion the chance to climb five places in the table above their hosts. An entertaining game always looked likely to produce goals and the Brewers were more than worthy of their point although the disappointment of not being able to secure back to back wins was evident.
Paul Peschisolido was forced to watch the match from the stands after picking up a fine and a one match ban for his verbal lashing of last week's referee at Bury. The Brewers boss had cause to be angry at official Neil Swarbrick the last time the Brewers were in Bradford back in January and with the pitch arguably harder than it was back in winter there was a degree of irony as Albion took to the field against the Bantams.
The Brewers boss opted for just one change to the side that beat Cheltenham Town on Saturday with striker Calvin Zola recalled to the starting line up to partner Greg Pearson in attack. An otherwise unchanged side meant that Adam Bolder, a loanee at Valley Parade last season had to make do with a place on the substitutes bench while Darren Moore was sufficiently recovered from the knee injury picked up towards the end of Saturday's match to retain his place against the side he helped reach the Premiership. Scott Malone was recovered sufficiently from his injury to take a place on the bench with young winger Garyn Preen the man to miss out.
A lively start saw both side sshow their attacking intent. An early attacking run from Maghoma, showing no signs of his knee injury, was halted by a good challenge from Steve Williams and it was then the turn of Omar Daley, a speedy winger recalled from a loan spell at Rotherham who drove forward and then across the pitch looking for an opening only to lose possession as Albion held their shape well.
Daley was then flagged offside in the fifth minute as Robbie Threlfall tried to play him through but it was a warning sign for Albion that the winger was determined to on his return to Valley Parade. He then proceeded to rob Andy Corbett in the full back position but his attempted cross to the far post went straight out of play.
The home side continued to look the more threatening but without really testing Adam Legzdins in the Burton goal.
Albion began to grow in confidence and around the quarter of an hour mark Zola tried an ambitious overhead kick that nearly came off and as the Brewers maintained possession Jimmy Phillips put in a low cross that was just behind Pearson. The striker managed to gather the ball in and prod it goalwards with Zola almost nipping in front of Lenny Pidgely in the Bradford goal.
The striker then squandered a glorious chance to give the Brewers the lead. A neat backheel from Pearson released Maghoma who drove to the edge opf the penalty area. Looking for option the midfielder found Zola who set himself but horribly scuffed his shot.
Phillips was next to miss the target. John McGrath's corner was not effectively cleared and when Zola picked out Phillips on the edge of the box the young winger's shot was always rising as it went past Pidgeley.
The Brewers were fortunate to still be on level terms in the 26th minute but had Legzdins to thank for with a contender for save of the season. Gareth Evans swung in a free kick from 25 yards out after Corbett had felled Daley and Luke Oliver's header looked destined for the net until the Albion keeper threw himself full length to his left to keep out the ball with a Bradford player putting it back across the six yard box but wide of the far post to the relief of the Brewers defence.
Albion recovered to go up the other end and threaten again. Maghoma won a corner and from McGrath's flag kick, Phillips was left with a half volley that looped up off a defender and dropped just wide of the target.
After a couple of wayward efforts Zola almost atoned in the 37th minute. James Hanson carelessly gifted possession to the Albion man twenty five yards from goal after after setting his sight he unleashed a thunderous shot that PIdgeley did well to spring to his right ot keep out.
Albion's persistence was rewarded in the 42nd minute when skipper John MCGRATH gave them the lead. Zola won a corner and although the first came to nothing a second corner came out to Phillips on the right and his crossto the far post for the captain to come steaming in and head powerfully home.
The Brewers almost relinquished their lead on the stroke of half time as some hesitant defending allowed Gareth Evans to shoot and with Legzdins rooted to the spot the ball whistled not far wide of the post.
Half time: Bradford City 0-1 Burton Albion
The Brewers had a great chance to double their lead four minutes into the second half. McGrath swung in another corner and Aaron Webster got the flick on at the near post but the ball seemed to hit Greg Pearson before he knew anything about it and it dropped wide of the post.
McGrath was almost gifted another goal as well just moments later as Phillips hooked a hopeful ball into the box and as two Bradford defenders made a mess of it the Albion skipper volleyed high and wide from 15 yards.
Maghoma was next to try his luck from what was something of a route one approach. Legzdins punted the ball downfield where Pearson held off his defender to setup his team mate for a teasing runinto the box ending with a shot straight at Pidgeley.
Bradford made the first substitution of the evening ten minutes into the second half. Skipper Michael Flynn, deployed in a more advanced role than normal, was sacrificed to allow striker Jake Speight to come into the attack.
The former Scarborough striker almost made himself an instant hero for the home fans with a smart turn and run towards goal in the 63rd minute that ended with another shot flashing just wide of the upright.
Albin's response was to introduce Adam Bolder to stiffen up the midfield. Calvin Zola was the man to make way, the Brewers switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation at the same time to try and protect the back four.
The best hope for Bradford seemed to be to try and exploit the pace of Daley and he became more prominent as the Bantams sought to try and get back on level terms. One cross from the left saw Darren Moore have to make a good block and another cross saw a bout of head tennis in the Albion box before the ball eventually landed in the grateful arms of Legzdins.
Bradford's flow was stopped slightly in the 73rd minute when Jacques Maghoma had to receive treatment after the home side launched another crossfield raid but after receiving the treatment and before he couldf come back onto the field the Bantams were level. A long throw into the box was not cleared effectively and SPEIGHT was on hand to hook in from close range to the delight of the home fans.
Maghoma was unable to continue and before the game restarted Scott Malone was brought on to replace him.
Despite the home side throwing themselves forwards it was Albion who came the closest to going in front again. Malone raided won the left and pulled back a teasing cross for Phillips who saw his effort loop up off a defender and onto the crossbar before Pearson saw his follow up effort blocked.
Speight saw a sight of goal moments later with a volley that went wide after another angled ball fell to him just inside the box.
Pearson then saw a curling shot go inches wide of the far post. Russ Penn broke forward and allowed Malone to put the ball into the path of the striker. On his wrong foot he cut back inside and measured his shot to the far post but just didnt quite put enough curl onto it.
Daley was substituted in the 89th minute after running himself ragged but it was Albion looking to take home the points as Penn and Malone again tried to prompt another attack.
Neither side wanted to settle for a draw given the significance of the game as stoppage time came and both teams continued to go forward but a point apiece was what had to be settled for in the end.
BANTAMS: Pidgeley, Flynn (Speight, 56), Oliver, Daley (O'Brien, 89), Evans, Williams, Hunt, Hanson, Worthington, Syers, Threlfall. Substitutes: McLaughlin, Dobie, Dean, Bullock, Chilaka.
ALBION: Legzdins; Corbett, James, Moore, Webster; Phillips, Penn, McGrath, Maghoma (Malone, 76); Pearson, Zola (Bolder, 63). Substitutes: Poole, Walker, Young, Dyer, Parkes.
Referee: Mr. N.Swarbrick (Lancashire)
Attendance: 13,814 (164 away)
GOALS: Bradford: Speight (75); Albion: McGrath (42)