BRADFORD (Park Avenue) manager Mark Bower has backed his teenage goalkeeper Jack Atkinson to learn from a tough experience at Stockport County last week.

The 19-year-old stopper, who replaced the hamstrung Steven Drench, made some fine saves in the 3-0 Vanarama National League North defeat at Edgeley Park, but the abiding memory was his 73rd minute howler.

He was preparing to punt the ball forward, but former Avenue loanee Frank Mulhern emerged from behind him to steal possession and tap the ball into an unguarded net for the third goal.

Bower has little doubt that the youngster will bounce back, and he said: "Jack has to take the positives out of the game and I thought he did well, especially because the players in front didn't do a good job of protecting him.

"He'll learn from it and, for a keeper of that age to be playing in an atmosphere like that, it will be fantastic for his development too."

Summing up the game, Bower said: "I thought the first half was even but we couldn't get a foothold in the second half. Stockport showed why they've been so successful recently.

"We're still above them though and we knew we'd get setbacks during the season. We just have to get back to our basic principles now."

Bradford will look to make up for that defeat when they take on FC United of Manchester at Horsfall tomorrow.

Bower's side conceded a last minute penalty to draw 2-2 in the reverse fixture, and he said: "I don't like throwing away leads.

"We have bad memories from playing them last season too, when we had two men sent off in a 4-0 defeat.

"It means there are plenty of incentives to succeed this weekend and if we put in a good performance, we have every chance to win.

"There's plenty of belief here despite the two successive defeats. I think we've still done well over the last few weeks, except maybe that second 45 minutes at Stockport and a brief spell against Boston United."

The league's format means that only the title winners get automatic promotion, with the six teams below going into the play-offs.

Bower feels that it is a fair system, and he explained: "I don't think there's any other way they could do it. You can't really have any more than two teams going up because we're going from a regional to a national level.

"Everyone loves the drama of the play-offs and having six available places keeps the season alive for longer. We certainly benefitted from that last season.

"We're in the New Year now and nearly every team is either looking over their shoulder or thinking about getting into that top seven.

"Besides, the teams that finish second or third still get a deserved easier ride by playing one less game and having home advantage."