Bradford took a slender lead in their Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final as they beat Carlisle 1-0.
Jamie Walker’s early strike was enough for the Bantams to take a first-leg win at the University of Bradford Stadium.
They will take the edge into the second leg at Brunton Park next Saturday, with both sides still in with a real shout of reaching the final at Wembley, where they will face Salford or Stockport.
Bradford prevail in front of a record crowd
Played out in front of 20,575 fans, the most ever to attend a fourth-tier play-off semi-final, it was Bradford who took the lead on 18 minutes.
It was all a bit route one, but incredibly effectively done as Andy Cook cushioned a header into the path of Scott Banks, and his smart touch reached Walker, who did the rest with a touch into the box before thumping one past Tomas Holy.
Carlisle worked their way back into the game, and had a glorious opportunity to level on 76 minutes as Jack Armer’s peach of a cross found Ryan Edmondson free in the middle, but somehow he could only head over the bar.
It would be their final opportunity, and they will now have to find a way to turn the tie around at home next weekend.
Analysis: Carlisle will take positives; Bradford got joy from direct style
Courtney Sweetman-Kirk on Sky Sports Football:
“I was impressed with the way Carlisle reacted, they had a lot more impetus in that second half. That chance from Ryan Edmondson – he has to score that, it’s as simple as that.
“When he came on, they looked better and had two focal points up front with him and Kristian Dennis. Carlisle will take some positives out of that to take back to the other leg, but Bradford have done 50 per cent of the job.”
Jamie Mackie on Sky Sports Football:
“We can see from this season you can hardly separate the two sides. Carlisle finished above them with goals scored in the table.
“It was a clash of styles on paper, but Bradford got a lot of joy being a little bit more direct then you’ve seen them this season. They usually like to dominate possession a little bit more.
“But that is the play-offs. It can become a little bit scrappy, but it was a good game to watch. Both teams played to a good tempo and it wasn’t quite as cagey as some of the other ties we’ve seen so far.”
Simpson proud despite defeat
Carlisle manager Paul Simpson on Sky Sports Football:
“I’m unbelievably proud of what the players have done out there tonight. This is a tough place to come and they’re a good side.
“I thought we were a bit nervous and their goal seemed to settle us. I thought we were outstanding. I don’t know how many chances we’ve had, maybe four, five or six really good ones.
“I thought we showed fantastic energy and good composure. It’s set up nicely now for the second leg. We have to go and produce that same level of performance, but with a finish at the end of it.”
Player of the Match: Scott Banks
Bradford’s Scott Banks on Sky Sports Football:
“They’ve been really tough opponents in all the games we’ve played them in this season. We’re delighted to go in 1-0. They’re a good outfit and have been really strong this season. We know we have to go again next week.
“We wanted to add a couple more tonight, but unfortunately we didn’t so it’s a bit disappointing. But ultimately we’re in the lead and we carry on.”
Saturday 20th May 2:45pm
Kick off 3:00pm
The second leg will be played at Carlisle’s Brunton Park home at 3pm on Saturday May 20, live on Sky Sports Football.
There, the teams will battle it out for a place in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final, which will take place at Wembley Stadium at 1.30pm on Sunday May 28.