Bradford City 1
Saturday 1st April 2017 | Northern Commercials Stadium | Sky Bet League One
The Bantams edged to a victory against mid-table Walsall thanks to Billy Clarke's second half goal. City were pretty comfortable throughout the contest and although the first half didn't conjure up too much in the way of chances but Alex Jones was denied the opening goal by some heroic defending on the goal line by James O'Connor. Clarke gave City the lead after Mark Marshall's low cross had been diverted into his path inside the penalty area but the lively Kieron Morris came close to a leveller late on but he was denied by a solid stop from Colin Doyle.
The game opened up at a pretty lackadaisical pace with neither side able to get their foot on the ball and create any genuine chances of note; Walsall were the first to threaten and it came from a set-piece situation. Joe Edwards' corner broke to James O'Connor and he drove the ball back across the six-yard box and Rory McArdle had be alert to stop Matt Preston from having a free sight of goal at the far post.
As mentioned earlier, Kieron Morris was probably the liveliest player on the pitch in a Walsall shirt all afternoon and shortly after seeing a shot deflect wide via a block from Romain Vincelot, the resulting corner which he took himself was met by Scott Laird on the stretch and although he got his head onto the ball, he couldn't get it on target to leave the Bantams unscathed.
Billy Clarke would ultimately go on to be the match winner and his first chance of the game came twenty-five minutes into the game; he plucked a high ball out of the sky excellently but he swivelled onto his weaker right foot and skewed a shot over the bar to leave Jon Whitney's side breathing a sigh of relief.
Walsall paid a fee in the region of 300,000 euros for the signing of Cyprus international forward Andreas Makris last summer and he almost gave his side the lead out of the blue; he tried an audacious half-volley from the best part of 25 yards and with Colin Doyle slightly concerned, the ball went narrowly wide of the target.
Makris threatened again a few minutes later and after being picked out by Morris, he saw a low drive pushed away and around the post by Doyle; Walsall perhaps sensing an opportunity to pounce after what wasn't the brightest start to the game by the Bantams.
Nathaniel Knight-Percival made his return to the team equipped with a bandage across after missing out the last game with a gash picked up in training and he saw an attempt diverted behind for a corner after Josh Cullen's deflected attempt found its way into his path when Billy Clarke had teed up the West Ham United loanee for a pop at goal.
Neil Etheridge is undoubtedly one the Saddlers' best players but he flapped at a delivery to gift City a gilt-edged chance just before the interval. The stopper came for Tony McMahon's cross but spilled the ball into the path of Alex Jones but his header from a couple of yards out was prevented a route into the back of the net by a headed goal line clearance by O'Connor.
Clarke saw a looping volley towards the far post held onto by Etheridge before Walsall missed a gilt-edged chance of their own to take the lead. Morris delivered a corner into the box and Preston was there at the far post to connect with a header, fortunately for City though the ball went inches wide of the post. Morris went close with a thumping drive from 20 yards after Romain Vincelot had given away possession before a big penalty appeal came the way of the referee down the other end of the field.
McMahon's cross was headed towards goal by Clarke and the ball struck Preston, seemingly on the arm. The players in claret and amber certainly thought it was worthy of penalty and asked questions of the referee as the crowd did too. Jon Whitney's side left breathing another sigh of relief as the referee only awarded a corner rather than a spot kick.
The defender in question Matt Preston was on hand to unorthodoxly clear danger although he almost turned the ball into his own net after Charlie Wyke had helped it on its way on the stretch after latching onto a cross delivered by Marshall. From the resulting corner, taken by Marshall, Vincelot steered a header narrowly wide of the post.
The opening goal did come and it was courtesy of Billy Clarke to give Stuart McCall's side the lead just before the hour mark. Marshall was a constant threat and he capped a mazy run with a low centre into the box which looked to be heading into the path of Jones but a fortunate diversion meant the ball fell to Clarke in an even more inviting position and he slammed the ball into the roof of the net for his 7th goal of the season.
A decision to play out from the back by Etheridge almost proved costly as, under pressure from City, they surrendered possession in their own half. Marshall came forward down the left hand side before picking out Wyke in the middle, but his attempt on this occasion was off target.
It wasn't to be Wyke's afternoon on the goal scoring front but he came mightily close to doubling City's lead with just over ten minutes left on the clock. Picked out by James Meredith's superb ball over the top, he got goal side of O'Connor before drilling an angled attempt a matter of inches wide of the far post.
Morris warmed the hands of Doyle with the visitors' last chance of the afternoon; substitute Simeon Jackson went to attack the loose ball inside the box but the linesman already had his flag up for an offside decision.
The Bantams recorded their third successive home victory ensuring a return to winning ways after last week's Scunthorpe set-back and that means too that the six-point play-off cushion remains in tact.