The Hatters crossed the Pennines for a first meeting with the in-form ‘Bantams’ of Bradford City in just under a dozen years, and finally broke their travelling-points duck with a single-goal win in front of the highest League Two attendance for 2022/23 thus far.
For the third successive League Two match, County went in at half-time with a one-goal lead – courtesy, on this occasion, of captain Paddy Madden’s penalty – and it was a case of third time lucky, as, having gone on to drop two home points against Walsall and all three at Northampton, the advantage was preserved in the second half for what was also a first triumph in BD8 for 21 years.
County took to the field on a sunny autumnal afternoon in front of an 18,000-plus crowd, and showing three changes from the starting line-up that faced Walsall in SK3 a week earlier. New defender Calum MacDonald, whose arrival at Edgeley Park had only been announced in the morning, went straight into the side for his debut, while Myles Hippolyte and Antoni Sarcevic were also recalled – in place of Mark Kitching, Connor Evans (who was named among the substitutes) and injured former Bantam Ollie Crankshaw.
The visitors boasted no ex-Hatters among their number – although did feature, in goalkeeper Harry Lewis, the grandson of County’s legendary Number One, the late Ken Mulhearn, who had enjoyed three magnificent seasons at EP that culminated in the Hatters’ 1966/67 Fourth Division title-win, before his move up the road to don the gloves for top-flight champions-in-waiting, Manchester City.
Lewis was called into action with just over a minute on the clock, as he dived to keep out a low shot from Sarcevic who had been fed by Kyle Wootton – and the home ‘keeper then smothered an effort from the latter Hatter a couple of minutes later.
At the other end immediately afterwards, the hosts – unbeaten in seven league matches – went close through Harry Chapman, who struck County’s crossbar from just inside the area. And the lively start to the game continued as Madden’s shot was parried by Lewis into the path of Hippolyte – who slotted home, only to be flagged offside.
Madden and Hippolyte combined again around the quarter-hour mark, as the skipper headed across the area from a corner for ‘Hippo’ – who fired wide of the right post. And a Sarcevic free-kick from the left found Ryan Johnson for a header that landed on the top netting.
The end-to end fare next saw Vit Jaros, at full stretch, palm an angled effort by Chapman from the right beyond the far post. But just as the hosts appeared to be getting into their stride, County earned a penalty, after Sarcevic was upended by Timi Odusina, and Madden stepped up to send Lewis the wrong way from the spot and give County the lead with 25 minutes on the clock.
The half witnessed few clear-cut chances following the goal, although the contest lost little of its passion for all that – including around the dugouts, where County assistant Clint Hill and his Bradford counterpart each received a yellow card in the aftermath of a brief on-field skirmish five minutes before the break.
HALF-TIME: Bradford City 0, County 1 (Madden (penalty), 25).
Upon the resumption, Bradford made a double-substitution that included the introduction of striker Vadaine Oliver. But it was his partner up front, and the division’s second-top scorer, Andy Cook who executed the first attempt of the new half, as he headed over Brad Halliday’s cross from the right.
A booking for Bantams’ boss Mark Hughes brought the staff card-count of three level with the number shown to players – before a chipped free-kick from the left by Tyreik Wright found substitute Yann Songo’o, who stabbed his shot just wide of the far upright.
A County replacement went even closer, after Ash Palmer connected with a MacDonald cross from the left and saw his header brilliantly palmed away by Lewis. Ryan Croasdale then drilled a shot from distance beyond the left post, before half a dozen minutes of added time were announced to stir up further the febrile atmosphere late on.
But the Hatters saw them out to ensure that they, and more than 1,600 happy travelling fans, returned home with maximum points.
FULL-TIME: Bradford City 0, County 1 (Madden (penalty), 25).
Team (4-2-2-2): Jaros; Collar, Horsfall, R. Johnson, MacDonald (Hussey, 85); Camps, Croasdale; Sarcevic (Palmer, 48), Hippolyte (Evans, 85); Madden (Capt.) (Wright, 81), Wootton.
[Debut for Calum MacDonald, with a unique SCAN (Stockport County Appearance Number) of 1441.]
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Brown, Jennings.
Booked: Horsfall, Hippolyte.
Attendance: 18,615 (1,679 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.