Cheltenham Town have suffered their first League Two defeat of 2021, as Bradford City ran out 2-0 winners at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Andy Cook’s double either side of half-time condemned the Robins to their first home league defeat in over two months as Michael Duff’s side struggled for a reply.
The Bantams travelled to the Jonny-Rocks in a rich vein of form, despite enduring a tricky start to the League Two campaign.
A run between November and December that saw Bradford lose five consecutive League Two matches sparked a change in leadership for the second half of the season as youth team coaches Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars took interim charge at Valley Parade.
The two interim coaches had only lost once in the ten game’s they’d taken charge of since December, including six wins during that time. Trueman and Sellars took 21 points from 11 games before facing Cheltenham - an eight point improvement on the tally the team managed before their appointments two months ago.
Cheltenham had themselves taken all three points off Bradford in December through goals from Alfie May and Chris Clements, whose goals consolidated the club's place amongst the automatic places as the festive period loomed.
Midfielder Clements missed this afternoon’s reverse tie against Bradford through a hamstring injury, as Callum Wright made his first home start for the Robins following his goalscoring debut at Walsall on Tuesday night.
Duff was also forced to make changes to his defence as Lewis Freestone joined a back-three in replace of Will Boyle, who is facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee ligament injury.
It was Leicester City loanee Wright who struck the game’s first shot in anger, but after keeping four clean sheets in their last nine, Bradford were in no mood to let Cheltenham force an early advantage. With Chris Hussey’s wide free-kick cleared only as far as the edge of the box, Wright’s left-footed swipe was well blocked by Bradford’s defenders.
Inside the first ten minutes, both teams were still acclimatising to the windy conditions at the Jonny-Rocks, so when the first corner of the game was awarded to the away side, the Bantams made use of the testing gales.
Callum Cooke’s deep delivery hung over Josh Griffiths, who was unable to prevent Andy Cook from heading in at the far post to hand Bradford a breakthrough after only eleven minutes. Despite Cheltenham's gesticulations, referee Matthew Donohue didn’t spot a foul on the Robins goalkeeper.
Charlie Raglan and Ben Tozer are now Cheltenham Town's only League Two ever-presents this season, following the injury to fellow centre-half, Boyle. Raglan came close to levelling the scores when he connected with Hussey’s deep delivery towards Sam Hornby’s six-yard box in the 30th minute, but his wayward header was as close as the Robins would get to a first-half goal, as Bradford took their 1-0 lead into the break.
As the away side welcomed the half-time interval, Cheltenham’s growing momentum was stalled and after starting the second period like the first, Bradford punished the promotion chasers again.
Cook stole a march on Cheltenham’s defenders after taking a good touch to escape Raglan before rounding Griffiths and slotting into an empty net. His second goal of the game forced a Duff into making a triple substitution before the hour mark.
Indianna Vassilev and George Lloyd were both introduced to add some more firepower on the pitch, while Seàn Long replaced Finn Azaz in midfield.
Without a goal in three - after scoring against Manchester City and Oldham in successive starts - Alfie May came within inches of halving the hosts’ deficit after giving Paudie O’Connor the slip and firing wide of Hornby’s far post.
Bradford were able to soak up pressure and make use of some counter-attacking football throughout the second-half. After May squandered his best chance of the afternoon, Bradford’s Callum Cooke re-created his chance at the other end.
After registering both assists for Cook’s goals either side of half-time, Cooke nearly put the away side in cruise control when he steered his effort towards Griffiths’ far post, but narrowly missed the target.
Cheltenham will travel to the Abbey Stadium on Tuesday night to contest a battle between fellow promotion chasers Cambridge United (kick off 19:00).
CHELTENHAM TOWN (3-5-2): J Griffiths (GK); C Raglan, B Tozer, L Freestone (Vassilev ’58); M Blair, C Hussey, F Azaz (Long ’58); C Thomas, C Wright (Lloyd ’58); A May, S Smith (Williams ’71). Subs not used: S Flinders (GK), G Horton, T Chamberlain.
BRADFORD CITY (4-2-3-1): S Hornby (GK); A O’Connor, P O’Connor, N Canavan, C Wood; L Sutton (Scales '89), E Watt; G Evans, C Cooke (Stevens '81), C Vernam (Crankshaw '71); A Cook (Rowe '71). Subs not used: R O’Donnell (GK), F Cousin-Dawson, C Donaldson.
REFEREE: Matthew Donohue. Assistants: Daniel Leach, Mark Jones. Fourth Official: Adrian Waters.