Match verdict: Bradford City 1 Doncaster Rovers 2 - Curtis Main bashes Bantams in ‘smash and grab’

Reece Wabara equalises for Doncaster
Reece Wabara equalises for Doncaster

It was labelled as a ‘smash and grab’ victory, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Doncaster have been criticised for not being able to ‘win ugly’ in this division, and although it wasn’t a classic performance by any standards against Bradford City on Saturday afternoon, it was an all-important three points.

It’s a result that ends a winless run of three League One games for the South Yorkshire side. It’s a Yorkshire derby result that breeds confidence and it’s a platform for Paul Dickov to work from.

Cantley Park will surely be a far happier place to train at this week, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

When Jon Stead expertly lashed in the Bantams’ opener deep into stoppage time, it rang an all too familiar feeling.

It was the same feeling experienced during Rovers’ away trip to Walsall when James Baxendale fired in minutes before the half time whistle.

But this time around, rather than succumbing to two further goals like Doncaster did at the Banks’s Stadium, Rovers clubbed together as a determined display saw them carve out the unlikeliest of victories considering how the game was going.

The difference? You could say it was Sam Johnstone returning between the sticks.

The 21-year-old Manchester United loanee perplexed a Bradford frontline as Phil Parkinson’s men continued to probe without reward.

That’s not to say Jed Steer wasn’t a strong performer during his three month loan spell from Aston Villa, but Johnstone was an incredible force at the back for Rovers and complemented by the organisational skills of Andy Butler.

Doncaster may just be tapping into something with a spine of Johnstone, Butler, Richie Wellens and Curtis Main/Nathan Tyson.

It was a spine which provided a dogged second half display as Rovers turned around their own fortunes with strikes from Reece Wabara and Main.

Dickov lined up his favoured 4-4-2 for the trip to the Coral Windows Stadium with Johnstone the only change alongside James Coppinger who took the place of Harry Forrester in midfield.

The visitors boasted experience, leadership, pace and power.

However, Bradford had a point to prove and a barren run of four league games without a win to overcome.

And between the pair, City looked the more likely suitor for the three points as they burst out of the blocks early doors.

It took just three minutes for Johnstone to be called into action, pushing away a fine effort to his right.

Rovers responded via Wellens who unleashed a rasping shot with his right boot which had Bradford’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford pulling off a similar save to Johnstone’s.

It was a strong period of play for the hosts as they had a penalty appeal waved away and a double effort from Filipe Morais blocked by Johnstone and Paul Keegan respectively.

City were in the ascendancy and looked to be winning things in midfield, utilising Billy Knott to good effect.

The midfielder was employed to sit just in front of his back four and stifle any Rovers attacks - a tactic Dickov has often used this season with Marc De Val.

Knott’s presence allowed Morais, Mark Yeates and Andy Halliday to push forward as Rovers struggled to get into their stride despite seeing an Andrew Davies sliced clearance nearly end up in the back of his own net.

City should have gone ahead when Stead created good space for himself but dragged a 34th minute effort wide.

Johnstone later flew across his goal to claw away a header from his own player, Luke McCullough, as the Bantams continued their onslaught.

A game-changing moment came deep into the first half when a tangle with Morais left Evina planted on the floor before being stretchered off.

Dickov dipped into his reserves to bring on Liam Wakefield, at right-back, as Wabara switched to the left flank.

Minutes after that reshuffle, City struck.

It came via the boot of Stead who rifled home his team’s stoppage time killer blow.

Dark echoes of the dour display at Walsall must’ve been ringing in Dickov’s ears who back then lamented Rovers’ inability to focus for a full 45 minutes as Doncaster momentarily collapsed again, this time at Valley Parade.

Another save came from Johnstone as City flashed a cross across the box to no avail. Rovers clung on as the half time whistle sounded.

Things looked to be turning around for the visiting outfit when Luke McCullough sent a header just wide and Forrester came on to inject pace and urgency into Doncaster’s attacks.

Moments after the attacking midfielder’s arrival, Rovers restored parity.

Wakefield and Wabara combined to see the latter force home for 1-1 in the 59th minute.

City were left shell-shocked - a factor which Rovers eventually pounced upon.

As time ticked on, tempers reached boiling point when a heated scuffle ensued following a needless push from Wellens on James Meredith.

However, play managed to resume and Yeates tried his luck against Johnstone. Again the shot-stopper denied the opposition, punching away the chance and in turn giving Doncaster the initiative.

And the away side took that by the scruff of the neck when Forrester and Wellens linked up and fed in goal-hungry Main.

He lashed in past Pickford’s left-hand, stunning the hosts into an early submission.

There was still 21 minutes to claw something back from the game but City looked to have the wind taken out of their sails as they saw a few late chances thwarted by the brilliance of Johnstone.

And Doncaster really did smash Bradford’s hopes to grab the victory for a huge three points in Yorkshire.