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Plenty of pressure but goals proving elusive for Bradford City
Plymouth 0, City 0
A third stalemate on the bounce – is City’s outside play-off push drawing to an early conclusion?
Once again, the Bantams could not convert pressure into goals and were unable to find their way through when they stepped it up second half.
While the unbeaten run stretched to five games since the Capital One Cup final, it was an unsatisfactory outcome for a side with aspirations of catching the top seven. Plymouth, who climbed off the foot of the table with a point, looked nervous and were there to be beaten. Phil Parkinson had a major reshuffle with the City line-up, making six changes from the team that had started on Saturday. But there was no place for Alan Connell, whose last-gasp penalty had rescued a point.
Instead, it was Andy Gray who got the nod to partner Garry Thompson up front. Gray, still looking for the first goal in his second spell with the club, had not been involved at all in the previous three games.
Home Park was not a traditionally happy hunting ground for City. They had won only one of the last 12 visits, when Paul Jewell scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 romp in 1994.
But Argyle boss John Sheridan was in no doubt about the challenge facing his relegation battlers, describing City before the game as “one of the best teams in the division”. He gave an immediate debut to Bristol City midfielder Joe Bryan, who had only signed on loan earlier in the day.
Plymouth had the first chance as Andres Gurrieri flicked over the bar but City should have been ahead in the ninth minute.
The home defence were caught waiting for an offside flag that never came as they pressed up and Thompson suddenly found himself totally in the clear.
He could have gone round Jake Cole but instead opted to try to slide a low shot past him and the keeper stuck out a left leg to divert the ball behind. It was good work from the stopper but a gilt-edged opportunity gone begging for the visitors.
Kyel Reid, another of the City changes from the weekend, had a chance to test Cole with a free-kick just outside the box but his shot was poor.
There was an air of edginess about the home side and the crowd – not surprising given their precarious position. But both began to settle as Plymouth saw more of the ball.
A hopeful shot from captain Conor Hourihane sailed high into the hardy band of away fans. But on-loan Jason Banton, who had scored four in seven games, was starting to pull the strings.
The Crystal Palace midfielder latched on to a misdirected pass from Thompson to force a parried save from Duke and then cut back to Gurrieri, whose shot was blocked in front of the line by Carl McHugh.
Gray got his head to a Zavon Hines cross but it was too loopy to threaten. City had not troubled the Argyle stopper since Thompson’s early chance.
Reid had been quiet but a good pass suddenly found Thompson in the box. He shaped to shoot but Lee Cox slid across with a vital block. Then the winger took a pot from a 30-yard free-kick but there was no power to test the keeper.
Guy Branston went right through the back of Thompson and rightly picked up the first booking of the night as the game went into first-half added time.
There was still time for City to win one last corner and McHugh came charging in to meet Reid’s kick. Sadly the teenager’s radar was completely awry as he leapt above the pack and the header flew well wide.
Nathan Doyle opened the second period with another wayward shot before Plymouth went a lot closer. The elusive Banton wiggled his way into space to the left of the goal before firing against Duke’s near post.
Banton continued to pose a one-man threat to the City back four and he took another shot through Stephen Darby’s legs, which Duke saved low down.
City responded with a corner and again McHugh got his head to Doyle’s delivery but the ball flashed past the post. It was the closest the visitors had come for a while.
Ravenhill joined Branston in the book for one foul too many before City thought they had a penalty when Reid was sent tumbling by Maxime Blanchard. It looked to be in the box but referee Andy Davies called it a yard outside.
The Plymouth right back hurt himself in the challenge and needed treatment. The delay allowed Parkinson to make his first change, with the ineffective Gray replaced by James Hanson.
Paul Wotton, making his 468th Plymouth appearance, hammered a shot wide from 30 yards. The home side, like City, realised that a point was not enough.
Will Atkinson came on for Hines against the side where he spent the first half of last season. Sensing the urgency, Thompson ran menacingly across the Argyle box but his well-struck shot was blocked by Onismor Bhasera.
City were pushing for a breakthrough and almost had it when Cox miskicked into the path of Hanson. He set up Thompson for a strike which hit the top of the bar.
That proved Thompson’s final touch as Connell took his place but the chances continued to build. Reid’s shot was pushed out by Cole and Hanson’s follow-up was deflected a yard wide.
Connell advanced menacingly towards goal but his low shot was held by Cole and Reid ran into traffic in the penalty area.
There were six added minutes to end the stalemate but City could find no repeat of Saturday’s late, late show.
They won a corner and Duke wanted to go up for it. Instead it was pulled up for a foul by Rory McArdle and the danger had passed.
The game finished in farcical circumstances after McArdle miscued towards his own goal. Duke was bundled over by two Plymouth players before Darby blocked their attempts to force the loose ball over the line.
It was a blatant shove on the keeper and City were unimpressed that nothing was given. Now they head for Exeter in part two of the Devon double header urgently in need of a winning tonic.