Bradford (Park Avenue) advanced into the third qualifying round of the Emirates FA Cup with a narrow win over Darlington.
Mark Bower’s side came into the game on the back of two consecutive defeats but edged past their National League North counterparts with an impressive display.
The visitors threatened from the first whistle and Ben McKenna accelerated away from left-back Ben O’Hanlon twice in the opening three minutes. Despite seeing his deliveries collected by Jonathan Maddison, it was an indication of Bradford’s willingness to drive at the Darlington backline and test the hosts in the opening exchanges.
Forward Jake Beesley was a source of frustration for Darlington defenders throughout and he came close to registering an assist after six minutes. He switched the ball to the Nicky Wroe on the right but the midfielder fired wildly over the crossbar.
18-year-old goalkeeper Jack Atkinson was introduced for his debut between the sticks and displayed maturity beyond his years. He was called into action twice in as many minutes but thwarted Liam Hughes and Stephen Thompson.
McKenna continued to experience joy against O’Hanlon and lifted a cross in for Beesley, who escaped his marker but headed over the woodwork.
The winger then had the opportunity to score from a free-kick but his low drive was held by Maddison.
Bradford were eventually rewarded for their persistence and took the lead through Danny Lowe. The defender intercepted a pass intended for Luke Trotman before unleashing a vicious strike that flew past Maddison, opening his account for the season in style.
The attacking intent of the visitors didn’t relent and Maddison was forced to beat away a diving header from Nicky Clee on the stroke of half-time.
HALF-TIME: Darlington 0-1 Bradford (Park Avenue)
Pressure eased on the Quakers after the break as they gained a grip on the game but Atkinson was unassailable in the Bradford goal. He made a particularly superb save to deny David Syers, who had struck with venom from just outside the 18-yard box.
The young goalkeeper then had to be alert to hold on to a flicked header from Syers, who had made a bright start after entering the fray as a substitute at the beginning of the second-half.
Bradford did, however, come close to doubling their lead when a neat exchange between Chris Dawson and Conor Branson opened up space for the latter to shoot. He generated power in his strike but Maddison held.
A flurry of chances for the hosts followed and Darlington duo Liam Hughes and Reece Styche missed opportunites to draw level. The former’s header was plucked out of the top corner by Atkinson and latter’s volley was held by the Bradford debutant.
Mark Ross shone on his return to the starting eleven and he made a crucial block to divert Simon Ainge’s piledriver away from danger.
As the game entered its latter stages, Darlington desperately hunted for an equaliser but found that their direct style was dealt with comfortably by the Bradford backline.
The frustration of the Quakers players soon became evident and Stephen Thompson blazed over the crossbar with a wild effort from distance.
Gibraltar international Styche then followed suit, blasting over the woodwork twice in as many minutes during stoppage time.
FULL-TIME: Darlington 0-1 Bradford (Park Avenue)
Darlington: Maddison, Trotman, O’Hanlon, Elliott, Hughes, Galbraith, Henshall (Syers 45′), Nicholson (Saunders 79′), Styche (c), Ainge, Thompson.
Unused substitutes: Glover, Burn, Lycett, Alderson, Stansfield.
Bradford (Park Avenue): Atkinson, Ross, Lowe, Wroe, Killock (c), Havern, McKenna (Toulson 79′), Branson, Beesley, Dawson (Spencer 69′), Clee (Johnson 62′).
Unused substitutes: Knight, Nowakowski.
Referee: Dean Hulme