Promotion candidates cancel each other out
An Ipswich Town defence that had conceded only 19 League goals this season faced up to a big test at Bradford City today.
The fourth in the Nationwide First Division table visitors were up against a second-placed home side that paraded the division's sharpest strike force.
Million pound summer signing from Port Vale, Lee Mills, was on 20 with his partner Robbie Blake on 12.
George Burley's Blues were unchanged from a match at Valley Parade that saw them bidding for a League double, having won 1-0 against Bradford at Portman Road on a Tuesday night in early September.
Matt Holland was passed fit before kick off after a sore back problem and Ipswich were determined to build on their last two results, a 1-0 home win over Port Vale and a 3-0 triumph at Bury last Saturday.
Today's game was a 'six pointer' at the top of the table and the sides took the field on a pleasantly mild mid February afternoon with the sun shining.
Blow by blow
Town kicked off towards the Hollywell Ash Lane end of Valley Parade and they were playing with their usual 5-3-2 formation against a home team operating with a flat back four. The visitors we in their blue and white with Bradford in their usual orange and amber striped shirts and black shorts.
Tanner, continuing to deputise for the suspended Thetis made a good early challenge to rob Blake and then Johnson the Town striker who has not scored for 10 games, took a long throw from the left which was a really special one. It went high into the air and home defenders were relieved when keeper Walsh got on the end of it.
Dyer, on duty with the full England squad in mid week, then tried to pick out Johnson, but Moore got there first.
In the fourth minute though there was excitement for the home fans when Bradford came close to scoring. Lawrence put McCall through with a ball down the inside right channel and he had just Wright to beat. The Town defence had been well caught out, but Wright, along with Dyer on England's senior squad duty this week, pulled out all the stops as he palmed McCall's shot away.
The Town keeper certainly saved his side, but a minute later Bradford were going close again. This time centre half Westwood got forward to unleash a left foot shot that was just wide of the far post.
Bradford had certainly started in a lively fashion but Town got upfield with Venus firstly trying to send Johnson away and then sending a ball for Harewood to chase. On each occasion the Town strikers were squeezed out by Bradford defenders.
Town skipper Mowbray, trying to instil more confidence into his defence, headed confidently away towards Clapham in the eighth minute and then Beagrie went past Tanner on a run down the left to whip over a cross that was just too high for Lawrence.
After 17 minutes right winger Lawrence was having a go himself. The powerful number seven burst past Town defenders but was denied by the diving Wright just as he was about to shoot.
On the 20th minute during a break for some treatment to Bradford's Lawrence, the Town manager Burley and coach Houston called over strikers Johnson and Harewood to the dug out for a bit of a chat. There was much pointing and gesturing, all in a good natured manner, before the strike pair went back into action.
Lawrence had recovered well from his injury and he burst again down the right. But Venus, who have started the match so confidently for Town, stopped him in his tracks.
Dyer came to life on the right of the Town midfield. He dummied past defenders before sending over a lovely ball to Venus on the left. Clapham then got in on the action and was fouled by Wright. Venus then pumped over the free-kick from just outside the penalty area. Harewood brought the ball down but blasted his shot over the bar.
Town had been knocking the ball around much better after an opening during which time they had to defend quite stoutly. More and more confidence was coming in to their play and in the 32nd minute Wilnis made ground down the right to bring out an excellent stop from Walsh. The Dutch wing back let fly with a right foot volley but Walsh managed to dive and keep it out.
Play then switched to the other end and Beagrie crossed from the left for Mills to plant a firm header that Wright took to his chest. Then, as Town went forward again Johnson turned to fire over the bar.
Mowbray did well in the 36th minute. Lawrence cut in from the right on one of his runs, but the 35-year-old man in the number five shirt for Town put the block on the Bradford's speed merchant.
Venus pumped forward a long ball for Johnson to chase and it stretched the home defence. Johnson made ground before firing in a left foot shot that Walsh dropped to his knees to stop. It was end-to-end stuff, an exciting game with the crowd enjoying it.
Town keeper Wright pumped forward one of his cracking dead ball kicks with his left foot and Johnson headed on. Harewood was on to it but seemed to dwell on the ball too much and Moore came away to build another attack for Bradford.
Mowbray was annoyed with himself when he tried to clear the ball up field with a long effort only for it to fly up into the air, but there was no danger and then there was a halt in proceedings when linesman Brittain of Doncaster had to be replaced by reserve official Brabin of Bolton. Brittain limped off looking as though he had pulled a muscle.
As the match went into time added on, Beagrie sent over another cross from the left only for it to be just too high. And as the match drifted towards the interval Blake tried to turn past Tanner down the Bradford left. Tanner managed to put him off balance and then Wilnis came over to bring the ball away for the Blues.
Both keeper needed to make first half saves but the early one from Wright as McCall struck was particularly crucial. Bradford looked just what they are, a side capable of scoring plenty of goals. Town had ridden their luck at times but they had come forward more and more as the half wore on and it looked a match well in the balance.
Half-time: Bradford 0, Ipswich 0
The second half began with Beagrie whipping over a corner from the left that was easy meat for Wright.
Then, in the 48th minute, Town striker Johnson got his eighth booking of the season and will now get another one match ban in a fortnight. Johnson got on to a ball from Dyer to dart into the penalty area. Moore was with him and there was a bit of a tangle with both men going down. Whether Johnson was booked for the foul or for an alleged dive was debatable. Whatever the reason referee Frankland waved the yellow card and it was caution number eight for the Town number nine.
Beagrie then broke forward again down the left for Bradford to whip over another deep cross. Once again it came to nothing but the 32-year-old wing man showed once more what a tricky customer he still is.
In the 50th minute Wright again showed what a cracking keeper he is. Bradford striker Blake latched on to a pass from McCall and let fly with a firm right foot shot that Wright dived to stop. The Town keeper made it look easy as he kept hold of the ball cleanly.
Johnson found Harewood on the right and the Town number 10's cross came off Westwood to go for a corner. Clapham took the flag kick but it was not a good one. The ball sailed over the danger zone and also over the head of Johnson who was positioned just past the far post.
Mowbray weighed in with a terrific challenge to stop Mills in full flight. The 20-goal Bradford man was shaping to shoot at the end of a run just as Mowbray put in his thunderous challenge.
Mowbray's challenge was perfectly fair, but the referee felt the one by Wilnis on Beagrie soon after was not. Wilnis duly went into the notebook.
Johnson flicked on a long ball for Harewood to chase but it came to nothing then there was disappointment for Town when Holland had a goal disallowed. Magilton and Harewood combined to find Johnson. The Town number nine then crossed for Holland to side foot in. But the linesman's flag had been up for sometime for what looked like an off side decision against Harewood.
In the 61st minute Town boss Burley decided to make his first substitution of the game. Naylor, who in the last reserve game, a 4-1 win at Millwall, had scored a hat-trick, came on to take the place of Harewood.
Town got their third booking of the match and indeed of the second half. Magilton, who today finishes his first month on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, was issued the yellow card for tripping McCall.
From the free-kick McCall lofted the ball to just inside the penalty area where Mills craned his neck to get in a header. It was a powerful effort by the Bradford number nine but it was meat and drink to England's third choice goalkeeper Wright. The 21-year-old went to his left to catch hold of the ball with all the confidence in the world.
Town's midfield anchor man Magilton robbed Blake effectively to break up a Bradford attack and then in the 73rd minute Clapham slipped up with his pass and the home team were creating danger. McCall latched on to Clapham's wayward pass to feed Blake. Mills got on the act and Mowbray had to break it up with one of his typical timely interceptions.
Beagrie crossed again from the left for Bradford and Lawrence went wide with a near post header. Then Wilnis did well for his team when he stopped Beagrie in full flight on one of his runs.
Bradford struck the crossbar in the 83rd minute. The ever lively Beagrie poked the ball forward down the inside left channel for Blake. The 12 goal front runner made ground before letting fly with a venomous rising right foot drive that smacked against the crossbar. The bar was shaking for quite a while. It really was a cracking effort.
With six minutes remaining Wright did his stuff for Town again. Beagrie weaved his way in from the left to let fly with his trusted left foot. It was an awkward shot to deal with but Wright was well up to it. He dropped to his knees to catch hold of the ball cleanly.
Venus had pumped forward so many effective balls with his left foot. In the 87th minute he weighed in with another and Johnson turned in a bid to go past Moore. But the big Bradford number five reacted quickly and slid in with a tackle that sent the ball away from the Town striker's feet.
With two minutes remaining of normal time Mills turned to fire just over the bar and then Bradford made their first substitution of the game when Blake went off to be replaced by Rankin.
Tanner came close to getting a winner for Town on the 90 minute mark. Johnson sent over one of his long throws from the left and the unmarked Tanner came steaming in to get in a header that Walsh had to jump to catch just underneath the crossbar.
In time added on there was another scare for Bradford when Johnson latched on to a threw ball after a slip by Moore. He raced through on goal and got in a shot that came off the keeper's knee.
Result: Bradford 0, Ipswich 0