Followers of League Two football this season may have seen this result as something of a surprise – Torquay’s fans certainly did. The Gulls had embarked on an impressive winning streak that was expected to continue against a struggling Bradford side. Torquay fans had begun to get used to winning ways – a rarity at a small club. Although Bradford will always be seen as a club too big for League Two’s relegation battles, they have consistently underachieved in recent years.
Bradford had edged the sides’ previous encounter 1-0 in the sunshine at the Valley Parade, despite playing with ten men for a considerable chunk of the game. Dreadful weather preceded this game, provoking fears that the match would be postponed at short notice. Heavy rain pounded the Plainmoor turf just minutes before kick-off but thankfully the teams were able to emerge in slightly more welcoming conditions when they did run out.
Looking to avenge their loss at Valley Parade, Torquay began brightly, but failed to create any real chances in the first ten minutes. Bradford looked threatening, especially through ex-Premiership forward Craig Fagan, but it was the home side who opened the scoring in the 12th minute through diminutive winger Danny Stevens. The former Tottenham youth player began a move on the left hand side before drifting into a central position to carry the attack to Bradford. Eunan O’Kane’s cross from the right was not dealt with and Stevens produced a sublime early volley to catch Bradford’s Jon McLaughlin by surprise. News came through that other League 2 high-flyers had fallen behind, propelling Torquay to the top of the table for the first time in 2011-12. However, jubilation and apparent confidence of promotion in the Yellow ranks were soon gone.
Rather than allowing their heads to drop, in poor conditions away from home, Bradford took the game to Torquay, Andrew Davies’ free-kick narrowly topping Bobby Olejnik’s crossbar. Soon after the scores were level. Craig Fagan misfired but was on hand to fire past Olejnik after the ex-West Ham and England youth winger Kyel Reid launched the ball back into the box.
Torquay fans, lulled into a false sense of security by some strong home performances in recent months, saw Bradford’s equaliser as a momentary pause in Yellow dominance. How wrong they were. Far from parking the proverbial bus and defending a well-earned point, Bradford continued to attack. Their positivity was rewarded within three minutes of drawing level, Fagan turning provider after 20 minutes to tee up Reid for a thunderbolt, United were shell-shocked. They poured men forward in search of an equaliser before half-time but Bradford defended resolutely and remained a threat on the counter.
Torquay celebrate – but their joy didn’t last long
For all their efforts, Torquay could not penetrate the determined City defence on enough occasions in the second half. In a rare moment of excitement in what was a relatively uneventful second half, a Kevin Nicholson free-klck was thundered against the post by centre-back Mark Ellis. It was as close as Torquay came to an equaliser and Bradford heeded the warning, holding out well to clinch a vital three points.
Torquay can seek some consolation in the brief but positive cameo of young forward Ashley Yeoman, who replaced the tireless Chris McPhee late on. However, with both first-choice strikers Rene Howe and Taiwo Atieno failing to impress, some fans fear a loan signing is needed to keep the wheels on United’s promotion bandwagon turning. As for Bradford, a well-deserved win that hoists them out of relegation trouble – for now.
Torquay: Olejnik, Oastler, Saah, Ellis, Nicholson, Mansell, McPhee (Yeoman 78), O’Kane, Morris, Stevens, Atieno (Howe 59). Subs not used: Rice, Rowe-Turner, MacDonald.
Bradford: McLaughlin, Ramsden, Oliver, Davies, Seip, Smalley (Syers 76), Flynn, Jones, Ravenhill, Reid (Atkinson 90), Craig Fagan (Wells 85). Subs not used: Duke, Kozluk.