A glorious 22c day at Blackwell Meadow saw Bradford (Park Avenue) slide to a disappointing 1-0 defeat, placing themselves under pressure to retain their play-off position heading into Mondays now critical home clash against York.
Avenue were without Danny Lowe who picked up an injury last week which saw Mark Bower name Alex Hurst and Danny East to start the match, placing Jamie Spencer on the bench.
Kit Elliot and Romal Palmer for the hosts showed industry and pace early on down the left edge with Palmer through on-goal after 4 minutes only to be called offside.
Lewis Knight responded soon after when a Darlington error saw him one on one with ‘keeper Jake Turner, however Knights shot at the stopper was well saved.
Moments later Knight again ghosted into the right edge of the Darlington area playing a neat cross in, only for the initial shot to be saved and Knights follow up shot deflected, a hand ball shout from the visitors wasn’t given any credence by the officials.
Playing without pressure, Darlington showed flair on 11 minutes when some lovely build up work on the right by Wilson Kneeshaw and Luke Trotman saw a driven shot just wide of Charlie Andrews far post.
A free kick followed minutes later from 40 yards out which was met by a free Shane Killock at the back post however his volley was snatched at and sailed well over the bar- setting a worrying trend for Avenue that was set to continue throughout a frustrating first half.
Wilson Kneeshaw for the hosts was ever present and was brought down in a dangerous position at the edge of the area on the 15 minute mark, with the resulting free kick by captain Galbraith clearing the wall but straight at young Avenue Custodian Andrew, who saw it well held.
The game settled without any clear chances for either team until the first corner of the match was won for Avenue by Lewis Knight on the right. Nicky Clee’s delivery was good with Conor Branson failing to get a touch on the header, however the ball found Lewis Knight at the top of the box who in turn found an unmarked Jake Beesley whose header was well saved at the near post by Turner. The resulting corner was well taken and defused by Turner and again Avenue returned to their half without anything to show from a clear cut scoring chance.
After 25 minutes Bradford had worked 5 legitimate chances in one on one situations, clear headers or unmarked volleys at the back post without capitalising on any.
At the other end Darlington continued to probe with ambitious technical passing and endeavour building chances but failing to mount a genuine chance on goal with the Avenue backline holding and communicating well.
On the half hour mark another Darlington right side attack into the Avenue box saw a Dangerous free ball find an unmarked Wilson Kneeshaw, who was only foiled in his shot on goal by a desperate last man tackle by Romoney Crichlow Noble who athletically got a foot on the ball to clear the danger for his side.
Shortly after, a follow-up header sailed narrowly wide of the far post to deny the hosts the opener.
On 35 minutes Jordan Nicholson for the hosts showed his class with a searching run only for the resulting cross to be well handled by Andrew.
The match saw a lift in class on 39 minutes when a Lewis knight effort from the right side curled towards the top right corner off his left boot only for Turner to get a hand to push it out for a corner with a great save.
Beesley worked hard all half and forged chances for the visitors, however frustratingly the second phase ball from his head or touch was often quickly collected by a fast Darlington mid field who were bettering BPA in terms of hold up play and retaining possession for long periods in the first half.
On 45 minutes Danny east was lucky not to be booked after Kneeshaw turned him well only to be brought down in a cynical foul by East, however the officials deemed a warning adequate and the half ended without a booking for either side.
Possession appeared relatively even for the first 45 minute period however chances certainly fell more often for the visitors who continued the trend of recent weeks by failing to capitalise.
The second half got off to lively start with some nice build up play by Branson, Clee, and East finding a free Lewis Knight on the right in the Darlington box with his strike beating the ‘Keeper only for a clearance off the line by Darlington captain Galbraith denying the visitors a dream start to the half.
On 52 minutes Nick Clee was forced off with a groin injury replaced by Jamie Spencer. Soon after, Crichlow Noble and Hurst worked well down the left side to create two good deliveries into the area.
After play restarted a strong shot from Kneeshaw was well saved by Andrew at the other end down to his left and safely regathered to deny the hosts their best chance in the match to date.
Kneeshaw was brought down in a late challenge just into the Avenue half by Havern who was first to go into the book as BPA looked susceptible on the break from the pacey Darlington attack. Kneeshaw was forced to leave the pitch as a result of the challenge in a blow for the hosts as he had been a stand out, troubling Avenue considerably.
Mark Bower made his first unforced change on 61 minutes replacing the industrious Hurst with Oli Johnson.
A Spencer error gave Andrew a task on 62 minutes with the young keeper summing up the situation well and racing out of this box to clear the danger, receiving applause from the senior Branson. Soon after, Oli Johnson found yards of space down the right to press all the way to the by-line before a nice cross was met by Lewis Knight, who in similar fashion to Killocks chance in the first half, volleyed well over the bar.
Bransons cross on the 65th minute found Danny East in the air who was also unable to get clear contact and get an effort on target.
East surrendered possession easily on the halfway soon after with Darlington breaking and shooting just wide of Andrews post. Keane Lewis-Potter was Bowers final substitution on 67 minutes with Danny East making way as the hosts began to work well into the match and take the upper hand.
Darlington’ best chance of the half came on 68 minutes when a searching run and cross from the right forced a great block from Mark Ross and Charlie Andrew got a hand to finish the save.
Keane Lewis Potter’s first touch up the middle saw him find Oli Johnson on the right whose cross was blocked for a corner however nothing came of the set piece.
Lewis-Potter featured again soon after, forcing a corner after turning his man and driving into the right edge of the area.
Darlington worked into the half on 75 minutes and began to force the issue with added possession and chances.
On 80 minutes Stephen Thompson found space on the right to drive a strong shot low to the right and he lifted in confidence and work rate with every touch.
On 81 minutes Luca Havern allowed Thompson time at the top of the area and the Darlington Striker needed no second invitation with a quality strike into the top right hand corner despite Charlie Andrews best efforts to take the lead 1-0.
A free kick from the kick off saw Lewis Knights Delivery met by Conor Branson with a free header which flew into the side netting.
The second half from Avenue might be best summed up by a comical passage of play on the 85th minute when Oli Johnson, with few options, passed back to Conor Branson, only for Bransons attempted long pass only able to find Johnsons stationary backside.
Possession and the impetus all turned Darlingtons way after the goal with Avenue appearing flat and devoid of ideas.
Thompson was again allowed space for a free shot only for a deflection to see it sail just wide on 86 minutes.
Thompson and Trotman again worked a dangerous move down the right with only young Keane Lewis-Potter tracking back able to diffuse the attack in the box before working it out of danger nicely.
4 minutes of injury time saw Conor Branson have one of the few attempts on goal by the visitors in the second half ,with a half volley rising over the bar.
A near certain second goal late in the match was thwarted by Crichlow Noble making a superb tackle in the box on a breakaway Harvey Saunders.
In the end though it was Thompsons goal that proved the winner with a wasteful first half again coming back to haunt an Avenue side who disappointed in a flat second half despite promising displays from Knight, Hurst and Romoney Crichlow Noble.
Charlie Andrew was again strong in goal and Lewis-Potter challenged Darlington in his cameo, however it was a case of déjà vu for the Avenue with glaring chances failing to find the target, mostly in the first half costing them the 3 points today.
Speaking after the match Mark Bower rued the missed chances in the first half saying:
“This time of the season, the first goal is always going to be vital and for the 3rd game in the row we missed chance after chance… We’ve just to be more ruthless”
Nicky Clee is in severe doubt for Mondays season defining match at Horsfall as Bradford Park Avenue host York in a must win fixture to keep the season alive.
The Teams :-
Bradford Park Avenue
- Charlie Andrew
- Mark Ross
- Romoney Crichlow –Noble
- Alex Hurst
- Shane Killock
- Gianluca Havern
- Lewis Knight
- Conor Branson
- Jake Beesley
- Danny East
- Nick Clee
12 Ryan Toulson
- Adam Nowakowksi
14 Jamie Spencer
15.Keane Lewis Potter
- Oli Johnson
- Jake Turner
- Luke Trotman
- Ben Jackson
- Omar Holness
- Simon Ainge
- Terry Galbraith
- Jordan Nicholson
- Romal Palmer
- Kit Elliott
- Wilson KneeShaw
- Stepehn Thompson
- Tom Elliott
- Johnny Maddison
- Osagi Bascone
- Jonny Burn
- Harvey Saunders