Harrogate Town underlined their status as a force to be reckoned with in League Two this season with a deserved victory at Bradford City.
In a first competitive meeting between two Yorkshire clubs with very different histories and pedigrees, it was Simon Weaver’s team who were the more accomplished as Lloyd Kerry’s second-half strike inflicted a first defeat of the campaign on Bradford.
Story of the match
Harrogate made the better start to an entertaining first half, controlling the first 10 minutes though almost being caught out by a quick counter which saw Lee Novak strike at goalkeeper James Belshaw, after which Bradford settled into the game.
Former Bantam Jon Stead was a constant threat for the hosts’ centre-backs, stretching to aim one effort towards goal and then a few minutes later being denied by Richard O’Donnell’s brave block after the keeper initially spilled Kerry’s drive from distance.
O’Donnell then produced a truly outstanding save, showing both rapid reactions and acrobatic agility to turn a bottom-corner-bound Stead header around the post, as Harrogate continued to craft the better of a stream of goalscoring chances in a fast-paced end to the half.
Callum Cooke replaced Gareth Evans in the Bradford midfield at half-time and made a quick impact, driving wide after robust hold-up play from Clayton Donaldson, but few chances of such quality would come their way as the night wore on.
Instead, Harrogate’s surges created the better openings, with the game finally getting the goal it deserved in the 74th minute. Their committal of men into the box was rewarded with Kerry remaining there amidst sustained pressure, and he ran into free space at the near post to nod in an excellent Jack Muldoon cross.
Elliot Watt was perhaps fortunate to remain on the pitch after a very cynical swipe at Josh Falkingham, but Bradford still found no way through at the end with Austin Samuels, coming off the bench for his debut on loan from Wolves, lifting their best opportunity to steal a point over the bar.
Harrogate impress again
Some of the reasons why Harrogate have made a highly respectable start to their debut EFL season were evidenced in this latest assured team performance.
They’re not ashamed to start by doing the basics well, staying solid at the back with a familiar 4-4-2 structure and a well-balanced midfield where Falkingham and Kerry both keep things steady and controlled off the ball and contribute going forward.
They posed a particular threat down the right flank, where Kerry joined the talented Ryan Fallowfield and George Thomson and regularly created overlaps and openings with neat passing moves.
And Harrogate also tried out a new strike partnership with Stead getting his first start of the season and Muldoon returning from injury. Stead was a constant menace in the box, while Muldoon presented a different kind of threat roving from one flank to the other and provided the assist for the match-winner.
Bradford need a defined gameplan
Stuart McCall had minimal time to make an impact on his latest return to the club last season, but their start to this one has raised as many questions as answers on how his side will go about their target of a strong promotion push.
They appeared to have settled on a back-three set-up in pre-season and started the campaign in that fashion, but have switched to a four-man defence in the past couple of matches, perhaps not helped by suspensions for the two O’Connors.
If this 4-3-1-2 is to become established, it needs work. The full-backs appeared inhibited in attack and made few effective ventures forward, while the midfield lacked cohesion and subsequently impact.
Billy Clarke usually had the freer role behind the strikers but the addition of Evans threw another similarly-minded player into the team, and his role wasn’t entirely clear with Cooke faring only marginally better.
Man of the match - Will Smith (Harrogate)
A number of Harrogate men could have got the award, but Smith was particularly accomplished at the back.
The 21-year-old looks every inch the part as an EFL player with strength, composure and smart reading of the game.