Sports Mole brings you live coverage of this evening's League Two playoff semi-final first leg between Bradford City and Burton Albion.
By Barney Corkhill, Assistant Editor Filed: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 18:45 UK
Last Updated: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 11:05 UK
Burton Albion drew first blood in their League Two playoff semi-final against Bradford City this evening, beating the Bantams 3-2 at Valley Parade.
Calvin Zola opened the scoring with a thunderous header before doubling his personal tally with a fine curling strike soon after.
Bradford were awarded a penalty after Damien McCrory handled inside the box, and Nahki Wells sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot to make it 2-1.
Burton soon restored their two-goal lead, however, as Robbie Weir converted from close range just before half time.
Garry Thompson smashed Bradford back to within one goal in the second half to set up a finely balanced second leg on Sunday.
You can read how it all unfolded with Sports Mole's live play-by-play coverage below.
9.45pmRight, that's it from me tonight. Thank you for joining Sports Mole for what as an enthralling start to the Football League playoffs. It is Burton who are smiling tonight, but will they be as happy in after the second leg on Sunday. Make sure to join us for that and plenty more live football over the next few days but, for now, it's goodbye from me!
9.43pmThere are no last-minute heroics from Bradford as a superb 90 minutes of football comes to an end. It is Burton Albion who have taken the advantage into Sunday's second leg, but Thompson's second half strike means that Bradford are still in his one. Burton must be favourites now, but the Bantams will still be optimistic of their chances.
90+4 minBradford float a long ball into the area and Tomlinson comes a long way to get it. He is almost on the edge of his own box when he gets a punch on it, but it is a solid one as he clears it back into the Bradford half.
90+3 minUPDATE: It's all over in the other League Two playoff semi-final first leg and Northampton will take a 1-0 lead into the second leg against Cheltenham.
90+2 minCHANCE! Big chance for Bradford in added time! A low cross into the box makes it all the way to Hanson, but the big striker can get nowhere near enough on his shot. We've seen quite a few complete mis-kicks from Bradford this evening, and a couple of them have been real chances.
90 minSix minutes of added time have been signalled by the fourth official, plenty of time for another goal!
89 minBURTON ALBION SUB: Burton respond with a change of their own as Drury comes on to take MacDonald's place.
88 minBRADFORD SUB: Alan Connell - Bradford's closest thing to a super-sub this season - comes on in the closing stages to replace Wells. Can he find a dramatic late equaliser here?
86 minMcCrory now dives in on Darby, catching him on the back of the ankle but the ref decides to keep his cards in his pocket on this occasion. McCrory is a lucky boy, he could have easily picked up a second yellow there.
84 minYELLOW CARD! MacDonald lunges in on Reid and deservedly picks up a yellow card. There could perhaps be a case for a red card there as it was late and high, and Parkinson certainly agrees that he should be off. He and Rowett are having a bit of a verbal tussle on the sidelines now.
83 minThe homes fans have now changed their tact and are cheering their team on instead of jeering their mistakes. A goal can change everything and Bradford are much more likely to succeed with their fans in this mood than the one they were in 10 minutes ago.
81 minBradford have just under 10 minutes to find an equaliser here. Thompson's goal has given them a lifeline, but they will feel much more confident of their chances of reaching Wembley if they can get another one tonight.
79 minYELLOW CARD! This may not be the first caution Burton pick up for time wasting tonight. McCrory takes too long over a free kick for the ref's liking and enters his notebook.
77 minOFF THE BAR! This is really end to end stuff here! A cross finds MacDonald at the back post and he takes a touch before firing his effort towards the far corner, but it deflects off the top of the bar on its way out. This match has exploded yet again!
76 minSAVE! Wells tries to replicate Thompson's strike and he almost does it. His effort doesn't have as much power on it but Tomlinson is back-peddling when he collects it and almost takes it over his own goal-line.
74 minBradford are right back in this one! That is a huge goal from Thompson, and it is another fine strike. Thompson picks the ball up on the right before cutting inside onto his left foot and smashing his shot goalwards from just outside the box. Tomlinson may be slightly unsighted as he doesn't react until late, but the power of the strike was such that he may not have been able to do anything about it anyway. Fine goal.
72 minCHANCE! Big chance for Wells to pull his side back into this one! Burton fail to clear their lines from the corner and Wells finds himself completely unmarked to the left of the six yard box. He tries to hit the ball first time on the turn, but completly misses it and the chance goes begging. It wasn't the easiest opportunity, but if Bradford wanted it to fall to anyone it would have been Wells.
70 minBradford have a decent spell of possession as Burton remain watertight at the back. The hosts are forced to turn back time after time until they finally find a way down the right. The low cross comes in to Wells, whose shot it blocked behind for a corner.
68 minReid spins out of a tackle and has his legs swept from beneath him. The ref immediately blows for a foul, but Reid has already got back up and raced off down the wing, only to be called back for the initial foul, much to the home fans' displeasure.
66 minBURTON ALBION SUB: Calvin Zola will not get a chance to complete his hat-trick, but he can be very happy with his contribution today. He makes way for Billy Kee, who is more than capable of finding the back of the net himself.
64 minCHANCE! That is how quickly these matches can change! Bradford, having survived a penalty claim, go straight up the other end and probably should have reduced the deficit. A poor headed beackpass allows Wells through on goal, but the striker doesn't make his mind up quickly enough, allowing the keeper to make a save. The ball bounces out to the edge of the area where Thompson is waiting, but his volley just eludes Wells and goes wide. Big chance.
62 minPENALTY SHOUT! This decision does go the way of Bradford as Maghoma races into the box and tumbles over the outstretched leg of McArdle. Burton want a penalty, but the referee correctly waves it away.
60 minThe home fans are getting increasingly frustrated now. They are unhappy at the officials and unhappy at their team too. They would not have anticipated being two goals down after an hour of this match and they'll know as well as any that if they don't score then the tie could be over tonight.
58 minSHOT! McGrath does well to find space to shoot from around 25 yards out, but his low effort is fairly comfortable for the Bradford keeper to push away.
57 minBRADFORD SUBS: Phil Parkinson makes a double change as he looks to spark his side into action. The men he turns to are Kyel Reid, who replaces Will Atkinson, and Nathan Doyle, who comes on for Richard Ravenhill.
56 minWells is getting increasingly frustrated at the moment as the ball just isn't falling for him. He and Hanson have not had a very big impact on this match from open play so far.
54 minHanson wins a rare header in the air and immediately looks for Wels, but this time the defence have dropped off, which puts them in a good position to clear it away.
52 minBradford are struggling to find their way into this second half and it is Burton who have started the better side. The hosts need to gain a foothold sooner rather than later if they are to mount a comeback.
51 minAtkinson is back on the field now and Bradford are back up to their full complement.
49 minMacDonald hangs a long ball up to the far post and everyone in the ground can see Zola bounding towards it. The two defenders have their backs to him, however, and only see him as he rises higher than them to head a few yards wide. He probably should have done better there, Zola.
48 minSHOT! Maghoma lines the free kick up, but it isn't one to pop in the scrapbook as he sends it high over the bar. He looked to be taking the Cristiano Ronaldo/Gareth Bale approach to that free kick but, needless to say, it didn't quite reach those standards.
47 minAtkinson has been trying to hide a cut on his nose but the referee eventually spots it and sends him off the field to get treatment. Bradford momentarily have just 10 men on the field, and Burton have a free kick in a dangerous position.
45 minKICKOFF: Back at Valley Parade, Bradford get us back underway here. Phil Parkinson sent his side out very early, and his words will still be ringing in their ears I'm sure.
8.52pmUPDATE: It is still 1-0 to Northampton in the other League Two playoff semi-final first leg. They are leading Cheltenham at the break.
8.50pmBurton have got their tactics spot on at the moment. Hanson is enjoying very little succes in the aerial battle as he is challenging at least two, and sometimes three, defenders in the air every single time. Without his flick-ons, Wells is struggling to use his pace to get behind, and Bradford have not created enough going forward.
8.48pmBradford, meanwhile, face a huge 45 minutes now, perhaps even rivalling the importance of some of their League Cup matches this season. I think they need at least two more goals to stand a chance of going through as Burton are very strong at home. The way this match has gone so far, they will be pretty confident that they can do exactly that, but it won't be easy.
8.46pmBurton manager Gary Rowett is already out on the touchline ahead of the second half. He is obviously happy with the way this match has transpired so far, and I suppose it doesn't take long to say "more of the same, please". He would have gone into this one willingly accpeting a draw, but he finds his side in a commanding position now and, if they can maintain or even extended the two-goal lead, they will have one foot in the playoff final.
8.44pmThe penalty also created controversy of its own. It was definitely a spot kick, but McCrory should have been sent off. He, in effect, saved the ball with his hands and the ref should have given him his marching orders for denying a goalscoring opportunity with a deliberate handball.
8.42pmThere was plenty of controversy to mull over in that half too. Zola's second goal came from an offside position while Burton had a defender off the field when Bradford won the penalty due to what looked like an elbow - albeit accidental - from Hanson.
8.40pmIt was Calvin Zola who broke the deadlock with a trademark header, and the big striker doubled his personal tally with a superb second, showing skill with the ball at his feet to take it past McArdle and fire into the far corner. Wells restored hope for the hosts when he converted a penalty, but Weir's strike just before the break has put Burton right back in the driving seat of this tie.
8.38pmWell, well, well what a half of football that was. It was a slow burner at first but when it got started it was a joy to behold. Burton take a 3-1 lead into the break, and they will understandably be delighted with that scoreline. Bradford will still be optimistic over their chances in the second half, but they will need at least a draw in this first leg to stand much of a chance in the second leg considering Burton's home record.
45+2 minSHOT! Zola holds the ball up well before laying it off to Maghoma, who carries the ball into the Bradford half before scuffing a tame shot wide from about 25 yards out.
45 minWe will have three minutes of added time here at Valley Parade.
44 minBurton restore their two-goal lead, and what a hammer blow that could be to Bradford just before half time! MacDonald is released down the right by a fine ball over the top and he supplies a good cut-back to Weir in the middle of the box. It isn't the easiest of finishes for the midfielder, but he makes good contact to smash his first-time shot past the keeper.
42 minIncidentally, in the build-up to that Bradford goal, Burton's Holness was shown a yellow card. He had to go off the field for treatment when the free kick that ultimately supplied the goal went in, which could explain the poor marking from the visitors.
40 minBradford have already come from 2-0 down to beat Burton here this season, winning 3-2 in extra time in the League Cup. There will be no extra time today, but the omens are there for Bradford.
39 minSo, after a slow start this match is turning into a real cup tie now. Burton could have wrapped the tie up shortly before Bradford's goal, but now the hosts will be confident of snatching at least a draw from this one.
37 minThat is a huge goal for Bradford! The penalty all came from a messy piece of play in which a Hanson air shot actually allowed Thompson to fire at goal. His shot was blocked by McCrory, who dove across to save it as if he was playing in goal! The referee isn't sure, but the linesman flags for the penalty and rightly so. McCrory is very lucky to stay on the pitch after that handball as it looked quite deliberate. Wells steps up to the spot kick and sends the keeper the wrong way, nestling his shot into the bottom left corner. Game on!
34 minCHANCE! This game has really livened up now! Burton should be 3-0 up and that could very well have been tie over. A nice move releases McGrath in on goal inside the box and he really should score but McLaughlan is out quickly to make a fine save.
32 minCHANCE! Bradford have another chance, but this one is all of Burton's making. Tomlinson inexplicably comes for the ball at the near post from a corner and gets nowhere near it. It is cleared as far as the edge of the area and hit back into the box but a Burton player slices it towards his own goal where Wells is waiting, but he can't turn it in.
30 minCHANCE! Bradford almost reply immediately! A free kick is whipped into the box and McArdle ghosts in just in front of the keeper. All he needs to do is get the slightest of touches on the ball but he misses it completely and Tomlinson collects at the second attempt.
28 minThings have just got even better for Burton, and that is some strike from Zola. His first goal showcased his aerial ability, but he proves here that he can be just as dangerous with the ball at his feet. He lines up McArdle on the left side of the area before producing a flurry of step-overs, shifting the ball onto his left foot and curling a quite brilliant strike into the far right corner. You can't fault the goal, but Zola did look offside when he got the ball. Big call from the linesman not to put his flag up.
27 minMeanwhile, back at Valley Parade, Bradford have a rare effort on goal but again it is never going to trouble the keeper. A corner is met by McArdle at the near post, but his is moving away from goal when he connects with it so his header goes well wide.
26 minUPDATE! There has also been a goal in the other playoff semi-final, where Roy O'Donovan has given Northampton a 1-0 lead over Cheltenham.
24 minAll of a sudden, things are looking very rosy for Burton. Given their poor away form and impressive home form, they would regard a draw in this match as a good result. Now, with the lead, they are in the enviable position of being able to concede and it not being too important. Even better for the visitors, Bradford are finding it hard to break through their back five at the moment.
22 minThat is exactly what Burton would have wanted, and the two most likely candidates provide it. Maghoma lines his man up on the left before stealing a yard and whipping a fine cross into the box. Zola had been lumbering his way into the area for a while but came to life when he saw the ball coming his way, losing his marker before powering a header past a helpless keeper. Good goal, but a man of Zola's size should not have that much room in the box.
19 minO'Connor tries to steal a few too many yards from a throw-in and the ref eventually has enough of it, penalising the full-back and giving the throw to the hosts. Youd don't see that too often, but it is strong refereeing by Mr Adcock.
17 minSHOT! We have a rare shot, but it is not one that Zola will remember for a long time! He turns his man about 25 yards out and immediately lets fly from range, only to balloon his effort a long, long way over the bar, much to the derisory delight of the home fans.
16 minIt just isn't happening for either side at the moment. Bradford are arguably on top, but Burton are playing five defenders which is making it hard for the hosts to create anything. You'd have to think that a 0-0 draw would suit the visitors, so it is no surprise that they are trying to keep it as tight as possible.
14 minDespite the ref doing his best to let it flow it is still a scrappy game at the moment. The defences have been very much on top in the opening quarter of an hour or so.
12 minThe referee is trying to let this game flow as much as he can in these early stages, which is good refereeing. There have been a couple of occasions where he could have blown but he has allowed play to continue if there is potential for advantage.
10 minSpeaking of significant aerial presence, it is no surprise that Burton are aiming a lot of high balls towards Zola in these early stages. He is always going to be favourite to win a header and the likes of Maghoma will be looking to race on to any flick-ons.
8 minBradford have had a flurry of corners in the early stages but they haven't been able to create anything with them despite their significant aerial presence.
7 minAs important as Maghoma will be for Burton, Hanson and Wells will be for Bradford. They are an example of the classic big man-little man strike partnership and both do their jobs as well as anyone else in the league.
5 minSHOT! Thompson looks to inject some pace into the match for the home side as he cuts inside from the right. He drills a powerful shot goalwards which looks to be going wide, but Sharps still gets a touch to it to make sure.
3 minMaghoma makes an early burst through the middle of the park before being stopped in his tracks by McArdle. The tackle was a very well-timed one and the Bradford man got plenty of the ball, but the ref still blew for a free kick. Maghoma will be vital for Burton is they are to get anything out of this game today.
2 minIt may well be the case that fatigue plays a part tonight - this is Bradford's 62nd game of the season.
1 minBurton Albion have made a good start to this match, dominating early possession earlier on and throwing some high balls into the box to test the Bradford defence aerially.
0 minKICKOFF: We're underway in this League Two playoff semi-final first leg as Burton kick us off. A big 90 minutes awaits both sides.
7.45pmWe're edging ever closer to kickoff here as Bradford look to make a return to Wembley this season. Nothing will be decided tonight of course, the two will meet in the second leg on Sunday, but the Bantams will be looking to make the most of their home advantage this evening.
7.43pmOur game at Valley Parade is not the only League Two match tonight. Northampton Town take on Cheltenham Town in the other playoff semi-final first leg, and I will keep you updated with all the goals as and when they go in from that match. Alternatively, you can follow the match live with Sports Mole's very own Matt Domm here.
7.37pmTEAM NEWS: As we near kickoff it's about time I brought you some team news from both sides! Hanson and Wells start in attack for Bradford while top-scorer Maghoma and Zola lead the line for Burton, who leave Billy Kee on the bench. Full team news coming right up...
7.35pmPREDICTION: We're 10 minutes from kickoff here at Valley Parade, which means that it is time for my match prediction. Burton can beat anyone in the league on their day, but you can't look past their awful away form. I'll go for a 2-0 win to Bradford.
7.33pmIt is a miracle that Burton have even reached the playoffs looking at that away form, but their home form has been so good that they almost made it into the top three. However, their away record will have to improve tonight otherwise this tie could be over before the second leg even kicks off.
7.31pmUnsurprisingly, they have not exactly been scoring goals for fun on their travels either. They have netted just 22 times and conceded 42 - the second worst away defence in the league - to amass a goal difference of -20, the lowest away goal difference in League Two.
7.29pmThey lost 11 of those 23 regular season matches, drawing seven and winning just five - the joint-second worst number of away wins in the league.
7.27pmOnly four teams - Plymouth, Northampton, Torquay and Barnet - have a worse away record than Burton this season. Gary Rowett's men have picked up just 22 points from their 23 games on their travels, a tally even lower than bottom-of-the-table Aldershot.
7.25pmBurton Albion, meanwhile, have relied heavily on their home form this season and their away form is pretty dire. Certainly, if they could have even slightly improved their form on their travels then they would already be enjoying the status of a League One club next season.
7.23pmBradford aren't exactly renowned for scoring shedloads of goals at home, netting just 34 times in those 23 ganes, but their defensive record is amongst the best in the league. They have only conceded 21 goals at home this season, a record that only Northampton and Cheltenham can beat.
7.21pmThe Bantams had the sixth best home record during the regular season, picking up 41 points from 23 games. They are notoriously hard to beat in front of their own fans, only losing six homes matches in the league this season, winning 12 and drawing the remaining five.
7.19pmBack to the Coral Windows Stadium (Valley Parade to you and me), and Bradford will be looking to make the most of their home advantage this evening. Arsenal and Aston Villa will testify as to how hard it is to win here, and Burton Albion will be up against it.
7.17pmMoving away from tonight's match briefly, there was sad news for another League Two side today as Aldershot Town officially entered administration. The news came just five days after they were relegated from the football league, finishing bottom of League Two.
7.15pmThe visitors amassed nine points from their final four games of the season, with their only loss coming against Bradford, while the Bantams only managed to win one of their last four games of the season, picking up just five points.
7.13pmDespite the disappointment of just missing out on automatic promotion, Burton are in slightly better form that their hosts today over the last four games.
7.11pmEven more impressively, Burton won eight of those 12 matches, drawing the remaining two to put themselves in a very strong position. However, a run of four games without a win, culminating in that 7-1 loss to Port Vale, really damaged their automatic promotion bid.
7.09pmIt was a relatively poor end to the season for Burton, who were in sparkling form for much of 2013. They lost their New Year's Day match but, after that, tasted defeat on just two more occasions in their next 12 matches.
7.07pmAnother hugely damaging result for Burton came against promotion rivals Port Vale just over a month ago. Burton would have been in pole position to finish second with a win in that game, but they fell to a 7-1 thumping. Port Vale went on to clinch the final automatic promotion spot ahead of Burton by just two points.
7.05pmIronically, that loss to Bradford in the penultimate game of the season could prove to be the most important of both sides' seasons. A win for Burton Albion in that match would have seen them promoted to League One by now, but they must now play another three games if they want to be the fourth promoted team from League Two.
7.03pmTurning our attention to Burton Albion, they looked set for automatic promotion for a long time this season. Missing out by one spot is almost even harder to take than missing out by 10, especially considering how it was in their hands going into the closing stages of the season.
7.01pmHowever, despite their form taking a turn for the worse during their cup run, I'm sure if you asked Phil Parkinson he would take the trip to Wembley every time. It is not often a League Two side gets to play in a major cup final, and although they could well return to the national stadium via the playoffs this season, that League Cup run will be talked about for years to come. Should they manage to get past Burton Albion and make a second trip to Wembley in one season, it would have been a hugely successful season for the Bantams.
6.59pmBradford clinched a playoff place in the penultimate game of the season with a 1-0 win against - you guessed it - Burton Albion. It's amazing how football always throws up these sub-plots!
6.57pmIf you compare that with their form since the final, the difference is clear to see. They have played 15 matches since their Wembley disappointment and have only tasted defeat twice in the league during that time. They picked up maximum points on six occasions and drew seven times to sneak into the final playoff place.
6.55pmBetween beating Arsenal on penalties and the final against Swansea, Bradford played 10 league matches, winning just two of those. They also drew three and lost five, which had a big impact on their league position at the time.
6.53pmThere was a feeling around the club that such an impressive cup run was having an impact on their league form, and it is hard to argue with that when looking at the results from that time.
6.51pmIncidentally, Bradford played today's opponents during their run to the League Cup final, winning 3-2 after extra time to set up a match against Wigan in the next round. The Bantams showed exactly what they could do against some of the biggest names in English football and, if they can raise their game to that level again tonight, then they must be favourites to win.
6.49pmWhen looking at Bradford's season, however, there is only one place to start. Their League Cup run this season will go down in history as one of the best example of the 'magic of the cup' even if such a tag is more synonymous with the FA Cup. The League Two side reached the final of the competition, beating the likes of Aston Villa and Arsenal along the way. They couldn't quite manage a happy ending to their cup fairytale, losing 5-0 to Swansea in the final, but making it to Wembley was a massive achievement that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
6.47pmWe'll start by looking at the hosts today, and there is no doubt that Bradford have had a season full of ups and downs. At one point they looked certain to miss out on the playoffs, but manager Phil Parkinson has managed to sneak his side in the back door and they will be looking to end the season on a huge high.
6.45pmGood evening! Thank you for joining Sports Mole for what promises to be a whole-hearted encounter between Bradford City and Burton Albion as the race to League One via the playoffs begins!