Bradford 1-0 Fleetwood Town: Match Report
Bradford take slender lead over Fleetwood
Rory McArdle's second-half header gave Bradford a slender advantage as they beat Sky Bet League One play-off rivals Fleetwood 1-0 in the first leg of their semi-final at the Northern Commercials Stadium.
McArdle, one of only three players in Bradford's squad to have won promotion with the club in 2013, headed home a deserved winner in the 77th minute, but the home side may regret their failure to convert a string of chances.
Stuart McCall's side, unbeaten on home soil this season, made all the running, but Uwe Rosler's Cod Army turned in a wholly-committed defensive display and will head back to the Lancashire coast full of hope for the return leg at Highbury Stadium on Sunday.
Bradford, who conceded three first-half goals in their last two home play-off semi-finals, stormed out of the blocks and Fleetwood captain Nathan Pond's brilliant last-ditch tackle on Billy Clarke rescued his side in the opening exchanges.
Home midfielder Nicky Law's low drive was then turned away for a corner by Alex Cairns and Clarke's mis-timed volley was easily gathered by the Fleetwood goalkeeper.
The visitors were gifted their first chance in the 21st minute when Bradford goalkeeper Colin Doyle's clearance flew straight to David Ball, who reacted smartly by chipping just over the crossbar from 25 yards.
But Bradford were intent on gaining an early advantage and left-back Billy Meredith was next to threaten as he headed Mark Marshall's cross off target.
McCall's side went even closer in the 38th minute when Clarke's 20-yard shot hit the woodwork and the same player then curled Meredith's cross the wrong side of the same post.
It was all Bradford as half-time approached and although Fleetwood held out until the interval the pattern continued after the restart, with Josh Cullen's excellent free-kick tipped over the crossbar by Cairns.
A rare foray forward for Fleetwood saw Doyle smother Devante Cole's effort, but City continued to force the issue and right-back Tony McMahon's shot from inside the penalty area was blocked by the outstanding Pond.
McCall sent on Jordy Hiwula for Clarke with 20 minutes left and City went close again soon after when striker Charlie Wyke's close-range shot following neat work by Marshall was blocked by Amari'i Bell.
Bradford then made the breakthrough their approach play and persistence deserved in the 77th minute. McMahon delivered a perfect inswinging corner and McArdle rose highest to power home an unstoppable header.
Meredith spurned another golden chance when blazing over from another superb ball in by McMahon and Fleetwood will be delighted it will be just a 1-0 defeat to overturn at the weekend.