STUART McCall has praised Clayton Donaldson for carrying the load as City’s last man standing up front.

With Lee Novak and Kurtis Guthrie still sidelined, the veteran striker has been tasked with target man duties for the Bantams.

Donaldson’s partnership with Billy Clarke has proved effective in their last three outings and McCall has acknowledged the contribution of the 36-year-old.

He said: “I think he’s relishing the responsibility of leading the line.

“Clayts did it for Bolton a couple of seasons ago and that was a thankless task because they were struggling and he was playing up front on his own.

“Not that he’s like that with us because we try to give him as much support as he can but he’s not alien to the role. It’s a job he has done before.”

City have been careful not to overdo it with Donaldson by allowing him extra time off to recover in between games. McCall is happy to manage his training minutes to keep the frontman in the best shape for games.

“I think he’s as fit as he’s been this season,” added the Bantams chief. “That comes from a run of games but not pounding him.

“He’s had breaks when he has needed it and we’ve given him a couple of extra days off.

“We’re not training him as much so he can be fresh for us.

“With the other two centre forwards out, a lot of the burden has fallen on Clayts to play every week.

“I though he as much as anyone played his part is us getting back into the Exeter game.

“We don’t want to kick it (long) but there will be times when you have no choice.

“People watch you play and will try to squeeze you. It would be suicide trying to play through them.

“But when you do have to kick it, you do need a focal point or it keeps coming back.

“Even if that means just leaning into the defender so their boy’s not getting a big 20 or 30-yard header back into your end or winning a free-kick or running a channel.

“You need someone competing for that ‘fight’ ball and Clayts was important to get us up the park.

"But like every striker, he likes someone up there with him.”

Clarke, who netted his fourth goal of the season last weekend, is grateful for Donaldson for being prepared to take the knocks on his behalf.

He said: “Clayts is still strong and really quick when he gets in behind. He’s still got bundles of energy.

“We've built up a good partnership and it has been working well for the last three games. Hopefully that can continue.”

It looks like McCall will be relying on Donaldson to keep going for some time yet.

Guthrie is hoping to increase his recovery work in the gym this week after his thigh strain. But the scan revealed an unusual tendon problem so City cannot risk rushing him back.

There is no timescale for Novak’s return but he is expected to be out for up to another month.

McCall had to use winger Dylan Mottley-Henry as a fill-in centre forward last week in the Papa John’s Trophy loss to Oldham. Wolves loanee Austin Samuels was cup-tied.

He said: “Dylan probably got a bit of stick for playing out of position but he helped out. But it shows how important Clayton is to us.”