Bradford (Park Avenue) claimed their first win of the season with a hard-fought victory at Darlington.
A first goal in senior football for Jaheim Headley was enough for Bradford to claim victory in a brilliantly battled backs-to-the-wall win in which Darlington hit the post three times – including with a penalty in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
Goalkeeper Rhys Taylor made a string of fine saves as Bradford claimed their first win of the season, with a second clean sheet in a row.
There were two new faces in the Bradford lineup with Headley starting for Marcus Law’s side, while Brad Dockerty also came into the starting 11.
The game started at a fast pace despite the sweltering heat, Lewis Knight played in behind twice but to no avail, before Stephen Thompson’s header down couldn’t find a teammate at the other end.
Thompson had the game’s first real chance of the game, as his header from a corner dropped just onto the roof of the net with Taylor stranded.
Avenue struggled to properly find any rhythm early on as Mitch Lund was forced off in the second minute with a facial injury, before the referee waved him off again not long after returning, both times refusing to allow him back into the action while the play was ongoing.
The visitors did have a sniff just after Lund was forced to receive treatment for a second time, as Knight’s long throw dropped in the area but neither Jon Moran or central defensive partner Nelson Digbeu could get there.
Dockerty then saw some joy on the right for Bradford, twice getting to the by-line but both times just struggling to find a man with his low cut-backs.
The hosts then had another chance, once more created by Thompson, whose chest down was volleyed well over by Adam Campbell.
Avenue came forward again though and came their closest through Digbeu, who headed Knight’s throw-in towards the bottom corner, only for Chris Elliott to be equal to it with a very good save.
His opposite number, Bradford captain Taylor, then had work to do himself, closing down Will Hadfield’s burst into the area, before he reacted brilliantly to save from Justin Donawa after he found himself in behind and bearing down on goal.
The second half started in a similarly even fashion, with Hadfield’s volley well blocked by Moran in the only chance before Avenue took the lead.
A long ball was well held up by Avenue substitute Joseph Chidyausiku and Isaac Marriott play a brilliant ball through to Headley, who took it in his stride before prodding past Elliott and into the bottom corner.
Moments later, Taylor had to be at his absolute best as a Darlington corner was headed onto the inside of the post and the Bradford goalkeeper acrobatically beat the effort away from goal.
Darlington continued to build pressure but with little in the way of goalmouth action until the 82nd minute, when a long ball found Campbell but his powerful effort was well kept out by the legs of Taylor.
Bradford managed to get themselves up the other end of the pitch, but Hurst’s cross was volleyed over by an offside Myron Gibbons.
As a board signalling six minutes of added time went up, Taylor did well to beat away Rivers’ cross before Hadfield’s effort was charged down by Hurst.
Campbell saw a shot deflected just wide before his 20-yard strike flew past Taylor but thumped back out off the upright.
The goalkeeper then did brilliantly to react and get down as Louis Laing got a prodded effort towards goal which looked to have wrong-footed Taylor.
But then as the clock ticked towards full time, the referee pointed to the spot as a cross dropped and a Darlington man looked to be crowded out, though the decision looked soft.
Up stepped Thompson, but his low effort towards the bottom corner went wide off the outside of the post – with a possible touch from Taylor on its way.
The full time whistle was finally blown to give Avenue their first win of the season in dramatic circumstances after a brilliant team performance which deserves a lot of credit.
Darlington: Elliott, Atkinson, Watson, Bascome (Holness 71), Laing, Galbraith (c, Heaton 32), Rivers, Hatfield, Campbell, Thompson, Donawa (O’Neill 59)
Subs not used: Bell, Wheatley
Booked: Hadfield (70)
Bradford (Park Avenue): Taylor (c), Lund (Chidyausiku 46), Calder, Wood, Moran, Digbeu, Dockerty (Hedley 66), Marriott, Knight (Gibbons 74), Hurst, Headley
Subs not used: Bennett, Orlando-Young
Goal: Headley (60)
Booked: Headley (41), Taylor (64), Hedley (76), Hurst (78), Calder (90+4)
Referee: Dean Hulme
Next Up: AFC Telford United (H) | Saturday 31st August, 3pm kick-off