Bradford City’s hopes of a League Two play-off place took another blow as they were denied late on by Harrogate Town, who secured a league double over their Yorkshire rivals thanks to Josh McPake’s stunning winner.
The Bantams suffered a second consecutive defeat despite mounting a fightback in their first competitive visit to the EnviroVent Stadium, with Andy Cook levelling in the second half following Jack Muldoon’s opener.
But McPake had the final say with a brilliant strike in the 89th minute, securing a first win in eight for 16th-placed Harrogate while their neighbours dropped into the bottom half of the table.
Story of the match
Joe Cracknell was handed a surprise start in the Harrogate goal against his former side and was quickly put into action, stretching to deny Clayton Donaldson’s glancing header from a Billy Clarke corner as Bradford came out of the blocks at speed.
Donaldson and Clarke were among four new faces for them following a disappointing midweek defeat to Crawley Town and the changes - as well as the switch to 4-4-2, mirroring their opponents - were having a promising effect early on. Another newcomer, Andy Cook, then set up Finn Cousin-Dawson for an impressive overhead attempt which grazed the top of the crossbar.
Harrogate were playing their part in an end-to-end contest with Dan Jones going close, but almost gifted the opener away when Connor Hall underhit a backpass to Cracknell, allowing Cook to nip in and round the keeper. Thankfully for Hall, his centre-back partner Will Smith came across in the nick of time to spare his blushes and prevent a tap-in.
Having escaped from that self-inflicted situation, the hosts then produced the best piece of play yet to grab the lead against the run of play. George Thomson played an excellent ball in behind for Muldoon, who matched it with a composed finish beyond Richard O’Donnell and into the far corner.
Thomson almost caught Bradford out again but Jon Stead pulled wide of the far post, before being denied by O’Donnell after more Thomson work as he searched for a goal against his old team, who were a more subdued force following the opening goal. Cook had a snapshot pushed away by Cracknell but their attacking forays were limited up to the break.
A finessed shot from Levi Sutton shortly after the restart, tipped around the post by Cracknell, might have heralded a resurgence but Harrogate looked the more threatening of the sides on the counter, not least when Thomson was unfortunate to find the top of the bar after being played into space by Muldoon.
Thomson was also denied by Anthony O’Connor before quick chances at either end. First Cook was denied by Cracknell, with Smith blocking Charles Vernam’s effort on the rebound, before a quick counter saw Muldoon play across goal for McPake, only for Cousin-Dawson to intervene with a block that dribbled onto the base of the post and finally to safety.
Clayton Donaldson headed a Clarke free-kick over but Bradford didn’t look like going anywhere until their first substitutes with 20 minutes remaining. Within a couple of those they were level, Ollie Crankshaw making a decisive impact straight off the bench with a mazy run that Cook finished with a fine strike beyond the keeper.
Just as a goal in the first half saw them fade unrecognisably, this time they grew into a different beast. Cook was inches from tapping in a Donaldson ball, Wood drove forward only to be denied by Cracknell, and there were poor efforts from Clarke and Crankshaw as the pressure ramped up.
There only seemed one possible winner as the clock ticked down, but Harrogate still had something left to say about matters. Muldoon found McPake with a minute left of normal time and the on-loan Rangers winger produced a delicious strike from the very edge of the penalty box that curled into the bottom corner.
Seven minutes of added time provided ample opportunity for Bradford to add another twist to the drama and they got one final big chance, but Crankshaw had a point-blank header tipped over excellently by Cracknell to preserve Harrogate’s victory.
Man of the match - George Thomson (Harrogate)
Goalscorers Muldoon and McPake were both impressive performers for Harrogate, but Thomson’s vision and range of passing caused constant difficulties for the Bradford defence.