Guiseley 1 Bradford (Park Avenue) 5

AWESOME Avenue were far too good for Guiseley in a blistering opening spell and it set them on the road to a big victory that keeps them three points clear at the summit of National North.

It was a game that looked like being too close to call with the neighbouring rivals both going into the Boxing Day derby on the back of league wins.

The visitors were much higher in the table than the Lions but with a partisan Nethermoor crowd behind them and the derby element, it was widely expected to be a finely balanced contest.

But Bradford and their former Guiseley manager Mark Bower, returning for the first time since he was sacked in August 2016, had other ideas and they went from kick-off to express train mode in the blink of an eye.

The deadlock was broken in the third minute as Avenue cut through the Guiseley defence like a hot knife through butter. A good break from deep in the midfield by Alex Hurst ended with him laying the ball back for Nicky Clee, whose superb through ball found Oli Johnson – one of five former Guiseley players in the Park Avenue squad – and he slotted a low shot under home keeper Joe Green.

Relentless Avenue pressure continued and it was no surprise when the visitors doubled their lead in the 19th minute.

Once again it was another sweeping move and as Lewis Knight raced down the right wing, he whipped a low, diagonal ball into the area and Jake Beesley side-footed past Green.

The Lions produced their first threat when Will Hatfield did well before playing a through ball to Rowan Liburd but Avenue keeper Steve Drench, another former Guiseley fans favourite, parried for a corner.

It was brief respite for the home defence and, in the 27th minute, Avenue plundered a third goal. This was probably the pick of the three as Hurst broke from deep again, looked up to see Beesley sprinting forward and threaded a superb through ball to the striker, who took it in his stride and calmly dinked it over the onrushing Green.

The home side, and their supporters, were stunned going into the break and there was worse to come.

Just nine minutes after the interval Avenue were on the attack again and as Hatfield stooped to shield and control a ball in the area the referee deemed that he only gained possession by the use of an arm.

Beesley stepped forward to claim his treble but with a gasp of relief after Green had dived to reach the ball, only to see it rebound off him and high into the net.

Four soon became five as a fierce shot from Hurst from the edge of the area was palmed for a corner by Green. The deep flag kick was headed back into the goalmouth and Conor Branson nodded in.

Although the home side snatched a consolation goal and Avenue finished with ten men, it was clearly the visitors’ day.

Alex Purver sullied Avenue’s clean sheet as he pounced to drill past Drench following a spell of pinball in the area. That was fitting as Purver and Hatfield had been the only two Guiseley players not to let their heads drop.

The Avenue player to take the long walk was centre back Luca Havern, who was shown a straight red card for a lunge at Hatfield.

A delighted Bower said: “I thought they stood off us a bit too much early on and with the way we started, with the high tempo, it played into our hands really.

“We were excellent in midfield and the quality of our runs and the through balls was clear and that was matched by the quality we showed up front. The final balls for the goals were fantastic and the finishes were very good.

“There were two down sides because we didn’t keep a clean sheet and we had Luca sent off. I didn’t think it was a red card to be honest. Luca has gone in with one foot and it’s not high.

“He did catch their lad but the player wasn’t injured. We’ve had this referee before and he always seems to give something against us and he’s given a straight red which is a three-game ban for Luca.

“I thought it was a foul, it was late and he didn’t get the ball but it wasn’t dangerous so, for me, it’s a yellow card and get on with the game.”

Guiseley joint manager Russ O’Neill was disappointed but honest in his assessment.

He said: “We’re absolutely devastated but from minute one we’ve just been done, one to eleven, by a better team who were on the front foot and we’ve just got to face up to that today.

“We started badly, went a goal down, went two goals down before Rowan Liburd has cut in and had a good shot that their keeper has made a save to keep out. But if we’re looking for turning points we’re clutching at straws in all honesty.

“We’d be kidding ourselves if we thought we could have got anything out of that .We got done by a much better team on the day. They proved why they’re top and we proved why we’re not.”