Gary Liddle’s first ever Notts County goal earned Notts County a hard-fought away point against Play-Off contenders Bradford City at the Coral Windows Stadium. Liddle’s 43rd minute strike had given Notts the lead ahead of the interval but Mark Yeates came off the bench to ensure that the hosts came away with a share of the spoils.
The 90 minutes proved to be a heated affair and the Magpies ended the game with 10 men following a late Marcus Haber dismissal. Regardless, County boss Shaun Derry chalked up his first point since taking charge and his side certainly gave everything they had to hold on for the draw.
Captain Dean Leacock’s return from a two-game ban saw him drafted straight into the first 11 at centre-back, as one of three changes to the side that was unfortunate to be beaten by Shrewsbury Town the previous Saturday. Jack Grealish and Greg Tempest, who had been second half substitutes at Greenhous Meadow, were also handed starts.
Tempest lined up at left-back and Leacock’s inclusion resulted in Liddle moving into midfield alongside Andre Boucaud. Top-scorer Callum McGregor started the game on the bench, whereas Alan Sheehan and Joss Labadie dropped out of the matchday squad.
Bradford headed into the fixture on the back of an impressive victory away at MK Dons and were first to threaten in the eighth minute when a targeted ball forward found James Hanson. The giant frontman applied a headed flick-on into the path of the league’s leading marksman, Nahki Wells, but Bartosz Bialkowski shot sharply off his line and the striker only managed to prod wide.
Notts got the ball forward quickly at every opportunity and a crunching challenge in midfield by Liddle led to his side’s first serious effort on goal. Kieron Freeman raced into the area from the right channel and although he was blocked off Jamal Campbell-Ryce was able to get a shot away from the edge of the box, which failed to hit the target.
On 21, following a brief spell of County pressure, the hosts pushed forward in numbers and almost found an opener. Left winger Kyel Reid floated a dangerous cross over Bialkowski but Leacock made a crucial headed goal line clearance, as Wells attempted to gain a decisive touch.
Wells did have the ball in the back of the net moments later from a right-flank free-kick that saw Matthew Bates’ delivery nodded on by imposing centre-back Rory McArdle. Wells touched home, only to have his goal ruled out by the linesman’s flag.
Reid should have put the Bantams ahead in the 26th minute, after home skipper Garry Jones stretched the away defence with an excellent pass. Reid progressed into the area from the left and watched a low drive skid inches past the foot of the far post.
The Magpies showed glimpses in attack, with Haber winning the majority of aerial battles, whilst Danny Haynes linked up play well. Haynes looked particularly dangerous when he combined with Campbell-Ryce but, on more than one occasion, a little extra was needed in the final third.
As the game edged towards the interval, City found themselves with a fortunate opening, after consecutive blocks on clearance attempts by Liddle and Manny Smith respectively. Wells found space to strike but Bialkowski comfortably clutched the ball out of the air.
In the 43rd minute, Notts gained the lead from a breakaway attack led by Grealish, who raced through the centre before playing Haynes into the box. The striker then provided an inviting low centre behind the City defence that allowed Liddle to finish the job at close range.
As expected, Bradford came out of the traps early after the break and nearly struck within the opening stages of the half. A pacy cross from Reid had the home supporters on their feet as Tempest’s back-post clearance was directed narrowly wide.
From the resulting corner, Jones picked out Hanson, whose thumping header was acrobatically turned away by Bialkowski. The ball was then pumped back into the area where Hanson was again frustrated as another header was kept out, this time by a crucial last ditch Leacock clearance.
Haynes appeared Notts’ biggest threat going forward and twice came close. The striker’s first effort saw a 25-yard punt skew away from the top-right corner and his second, a downward header from a Campbell-Ryce cross, was gathered by City goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin.
Between the attempts, Bradford could easily have equalised, after Garry Thompson capitalised on a short defensive pass by Tempest. However, Bialkowski came to the rescue with an outstanding block and Notts held on to the one-goal advantage.
Bialkowski did all he could to preserve the lead with another impressive parry to deny Wells’ powerful hit from distance. But, there was nothing the Pole could do to prevent Yeates’ 20-yard strike into the bottom-left corner from making it 1-1 in the 69th minute.
Following the goal, Haynes was withdrawn from the action and replaced with Mark Fotheringham to add numbers to the midfield. Still, the lone frontman Haber remained a dangerous figure in attack and nearly made it 2-1 when he nodded over, following fine work by Campbell-Ryce.
In the closing minutes, Grealish won a free-kick in a promising position on the left, which Fotheringham whipped into the box. A Leacock flick-on made the delivery tricky to defend but Smith’s hooked finish was directed straight at McLaughlin.
Smith was then called upon at the other end of the pitch, after Jones won possession in the County half. The experienced midfielder found Alan Connell in space, only the second half substitute’s drive was superbly blocked by Smith.
The dying stages were tense for the away fans, especially after Haber saw red. On the touchline, assistant manager Greg Abbott was also given his marching orders as the benches became embroiled in a heated argument.
A Bates volley proved to be the final effort of the game but Bialkowski claimed confidently on his line to hold onto a much-welcomed point. The draw gives the Magpies a big lift ahead of another tough encounter back at Meadow Lane on Saturday afternoon.