Bradford City 2-2 Exeter City: Grecians held to thrilling draw
Bradford City's Billy Clarke celebrates scoring the opening goal against Exeter City. Photo: George Wood/Getty Images.

Exeter City missed the chance to move into the League Two promotion places as they shared the points with Bradford City in an exciting draw at Valley Parade.

In an action-packed first half, Billy Clarke gave the home side an early lead, only for Matt Jay and Ryan Bowman to respond for Exeter.

Young defender Reece Staunton scored his first goal in professional football to level the scores going into the break, and despite chances for both sides neither could find a second-half winner.

Story of the match 

The match was breathless from the off, with a thrilling first half seeing four goals and repeated swings in momentum. After a good Exeter start, it was Bradford who took a tenth-minute lead as Callum Cooke lead a breakaway and, after seemingly taking too long to pick the pass, finally threaded an exquisite ball for Clarke to smash in.

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The home side played with confidence after taking the lead and Elliot Watt volleyed wide, but Exeter hit back as the Bantams failed to clear in defence, with Watt giving the ball away for Jake Taylor to square the ball and Jay to score.

Eight minutes later, the Grecians were ahead. Again the hosts had only themselves to blame, with Staunton the man at fault as he allowed Bowman to poke Jake Collins’ cross into the bottom corner.

Chances continued to come at both ends, with Exeter goalkeeper Jokull Andresson denying Cooke and Paudie O’Connor while Joel Randall made two chances for himself with good runs down the left but couldn’t force either past Richard O’Donnell. The Bantams stopper also came up trumps with a brilliant save to deny Jay another goal, displaying superb reactions to keep him out from close range.

There was still no time for a breather as the match reached 45 minutes, because stoppage time brought a fourth goal as Bradford levelled going into half-time. Staunton redeemed himself for his earlier error, doing well to volley in a Watt corner for his first senior goal.

The second half continued where the first had left off, thought now it was only Bradford generating excitement and opportunities. Clayton Donaldson couldn’t turn in a Harry Pritchard cross at the near post and Austin Samuels fired over on the counter, but Andresson was tested when Anthony O’Connor’s header from a corner required a sharp stop.

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The Reading loanee also kept out a Watt strike from the edge of the area, but while Stuart McCall’s side were controlling the game, the final pass seemed to have deserted them. It could have been costly as Exeter created two huge opportunities in a couple of minutes.

First Randell Williams had a free header in the middle of the box, but he somehow nodded Jack Sparkes’ cross wide. Moments later, newly-introduced substitute Nicky Law, once of these parts, threaded a pass to left-back Sparkes, who came inside but couldn’t control his shot.

Sparkes also created another chance, headed badly wide by Randall, before the visitors came close again in injury time. O'Donnell produced a fine save to deny Randall, with Bowman prevented from heading in the rebound and Pierce Sweeney then volleying the final chance wide.

Takeaways 

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Both managers take pleasure from seeing their teams play entertaining football, and this match was a great spectacle with end-to-end action throughout.

Both teams were very positive in their outlook, particularly in the first half when the chances and the goals flowed freely, with quick transitions and space all over the pitch allowing for waves of attack.

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Bradford will be particularly pleased having struggled for goals early on the season, but they proved that their wins over Southend United and Tonbridge Angels – by an aggregate 10-0 scoreline – were no fluke by backing that up against one of League Two’s pacesetters.

For Exeter it is nothing new, though it will be pleasing to see the likes of Randall and Jay – who scored his fifth goal of the season – stepping up this season as key players.

Big chances were also missed by both sides, and Andresson and O’Donnell made some top saves, but that only added to the drama of a pulsating match.

Defensive improvements needed 

If there are plenty of reasons for the two sides to be happy in attack, the same cannot be said of their defences. Attacking brilliance is great, but the top teams in this division have to be more consistent at the back than this.

All four goals can be traced back to defensive errors, and quite obvious ones. Exeter were caught out at the back for the early counter attack from their own corner which gave Bradford the lead, and could be particularly disappointed with both the timing and the nature of Staunton’s equaliser as the youngster was allowed to stab home from a corner in first-half injury time.

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Bradford’s errors were possibly even worse, with Watt at fault for the first when failing to clear and losing the ball in his own box, before Staunton failed to deal with what should have been a simple cross soon after which allowed Bowman to score.

Exeter boss Matt Taylor is particularly aware of how costly such errors can be having seen his side fall short last season, while McCall too knows things need to be tidied up if his side are to be in contention at the top end of the table. If either side is to secure promotion this season, it is an area which will need to see improvement.

Man of the match: Billy Clarke (Bradford)

Clarke showed his finishing touch for the opening goal, his third strike in two games, and presented a consistent threat up front in the first half before continuing to influence in the second half when withdrawn into midfield.

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