Bradford (Park Avenue) 2-1 Chester

WHEN Avenue fans woke up on Saturday morning beating playoff contenders Chester was only a pipe dream with Mark Bower’s side winless in 10 and almost condemned to relegation at the foot of the Vanarama National League North table.

However, a remarkable victory pushed those negatives aside to provide Bradford some cheer in what has been a miserable campaign.

It turns out that just under a month without football can do your side some good, supplying the hosts a chance to recharge the batteries.

During their 28-day absence, the bobbled Horsfall pitch has experienced more wear and tear thanks to the endeavours of the Bradford Bulls reserves who will play the reminder of their season at Park Avenue’s home.

Returning to matters on the field, the Seals travelled to West Yorkshire expecting to end their 50-year wait for an away win, having lost two and drew the other on their three previous visits to Bradford in that period.

Surprisingly, Bower chose not to start the ever reliable Nicky Clee, later confirming that his skipper had only just recovered from a bout of tonsillitis.

Up stepped experienced forward Oli Johnson who took to the armband with great success not only leading his team to an improbable three points but netting the valuable winner.

The Bradford manager made his intentions clear from the get-go, starting with a 4-4-2 formation for the first time in a while.Tom Clare partnered Johnson and did not disappoint, putting in a tireless shift to keep the Chester defence wary.

Worry was the feeling shared by the 525 spectators in attendance when Chester’s Gary Stopforth had to be stretchered off, by the Bradford medical staff including manager Bower, mid-way through the first half. The midfielder made a great challenge to deny the poised Johnson. Thankfully, Stopforth returned to the bench to watch the rest of the action.

The away side should have opened the scoring on two occasions. Anthony Dudley scuffing his pass-come-shot before Danny Elliott’s lobbed strike fell wide of the far post.

The deadlock was broken minutes short of the break. A stroke of luck was attached to Clare’s near stick effort from a Ryan Toulson cross. The striker struck the post for the ball to then hit Simon Grand and roll over the line.

Avenue have chopped and changed their man between the sticks all season with Tom Nicholson Bower’s current favourite. However, he did not look confident dealing with the wind all afternoon, flapping several times, before conceding directly from a Matty Waters corner.

Throughout this season, Bradford heads have dropped after conceding a leveller. This certainly was not the case this time out though as Johnson capitalised on poor defending to bury his header.

Soon after, Bower exchanged Johnson with Clee and switched to a 4-5-1. It was all hands on deck for the home team.

Chester's George Waring should have finished his headed effort but he fired off target.

The tension was so evident that boss Bower landed himself a booking for kicking the ball away as the Blues were awarded a last-minute free kick. Waters fired straight into Nicholson’s gloves and referee Kristian Silcock ended proceedings to halt the excellent Mitch Lund and his defensive teammates relentless display.

So Bradford’s impressive home record against Chester continues, the biggest question on Avenue fans lips is whether their team’s taming of the Seals will spark a surprise survival run in the remaining 11 games.

Player ratings

BPA: Nicholson 6, Toulson 7, Demetriou 7, Lund 9, Priestley 8, Nowakowski 7, Knight 8 (Hall 77'), Hurst 7, Clare 8, Johnson 8 (Clee 74'), Hibbs 7. Subs not used: Green, Byrne.

Chester: Gray 6, Waters 7, K Roberts 6, Grand 5, Jones 6, Stopforth (Burton 14' 6) , G Roberts 6, Jackson 7, Johnston 6, Elliott 5 (Asante 66'). Subs not used: Morgan, Ngwatala.