Photo: John Rhodes
Bradford (Park Avenue) were held to a 2-2 draw by Darlington at the Horsfall Stadium.
The Quakers posed a much greater threat than they did in the last meeting between the sides, when Mark Bower’s side knocked them out of the Emirates FA Cup.
It took just two minutes for Darlington take the lead, harshly bringing the hosts back down to earth following the high of Saturday’s win over Chorley. Jordan Nicholson exploited a gap in the Bradford midfield to burst through and find the top corner with a curling effort.
Mark Bower was then forced to make an early change when Danny Lowe sustained an injury. Nicky Clee entered the fray and was thrown in at the deep end as the Bradford backline dealt with an early onslaught.
Luca Havern had to be alert to thwart Harvey Saunders after a slick move involving the Darlington forward and Josef Wheatley carved the hosts open.
A miscued clearance from Steven Drench then landed at Luke Trotman’s feet and the full-back teed up Stephen Thompson, who blasted over the crossbar.
The visitors then doubled their lead as Nicholson grabbed his second, capping off a swift attacking move with a composed finish from close-range.
Bradford, however, responded quickly. Lewis Knight dispossessed Wheatley before teeing up Jamie Spencer, who saw two shots blocked. The ball then fell to Knight, whose effort was parried by Hemming into the direction of Oli Johnson, allowing the forward to head home.
A golden opportunity to draw level followed when Spencer drilled across the face of goal, but Branson fired wide after arriving at the back post.
Darlington had no intention of simply defending their lead and came very close to adding a third. Saunders weaved his way past several defenders but was denied by Drench in a one-on-one scenario.
The opposing stopper Hemming then made an impressive stop to keep the scores level, pushing Knight’s driven effort wide of the post.
Bradford eventually levelled proceedings through Nicky Clee, who rifled into the bottom corner after the ball was worked out to the left flank.
The first-half continued to be a poor advert for defending when Bradford gave away a penalty on the stroke of half-time. Havern felled Wheatley but Drench saved Thompson’s spot-kick at full stretch.
HALF-TIME: Bradford (Park Avenue) 2-2 Darlington
Early drama ensued after the break when the visitors began appealing for a penalty within two minutes of the restart. There was a tangle of legs between Knight and Saunders, but the referee dismissed protests.
The tricky Nicholson was a thorn in Bradford’s side throughout the game but Clee made a superb last-ditch challenge to prevent the winger securing his hat-trick.
Nicholson then combined well with Trotman on the right flank but the latter’s shot flew wide.
Bradford appealed for a penalty of their own on the hour mark when Spencer insisted that his shot had struck the outstretched arm of Terrence Galbraith. The referee, however, ignored the fierce protests.
Both sides continued to hunt for the elusive winning goal but the defensive units had been significantly tightened since the half-time interval.
Beesley delivered the ball on a plate for Clee but Jonathan Burn launched himself in front of the thunderous effort.
Johnson then found himself in a promising position after the ball was threaded through to him by Knight, but his shot failed to find either side of Hemming.
It became apparent that the absence of a cutting edge would prevent either side edging themselves ahead as the game entered its final fifteen minutes.
Beesley lifted a powerful effort over the crossbar and Darlington’s Tom Elliott did the same minutes later.
Ben McKenna’s introduction as a substitute re-ignited the spark in Bradford’s frontline and his direct running caused problems on the left flank. He evaded the challenge of Burn before making an incisive dart into the box, but his strike was blocked by a sliding Trotman.
Branson has proven himself to be a goal threat from the heart of Bradford’s midfield but couldn’t weigh in to fire the hosts ahead, nodding over the woodwork after meeting a cross from the right.
A sliced clearance from Shane Killock allowed Nicholson to advance at an alarming pace but a miscued cross left Bradford off the hook as the ball rolled out for a goal-kick.
The hosts were given a stoppage-time scare when Galbraith connected with a teasing delivery from Elliott, but Drench plucked the defender’s volley out of the top left-hand corner.
FULL-TIME: Bradford (Park Avenue) 2-2 Darlington
Bradford (Park Avenue): Drench, Ross, Lowe (Clee 7’), Wroe (McKenna 61’), Killock (c), Havern, Spencer, Branson, Beesley, Johnson, Knight (Hurst 83’).
Unused substitutes: Toulson, Nowakowski.
Darlington: Hemming, Trotman, Elliott, Burn, Hughes, Galbraith, Nicholson, Wheatley, Ainge (c) (Syers 83’), Saunders, Thompson (Henshall 83’).
Unused substitutes: Glover, Hall, Stansfield.
Referee: Aaron Bannister