Fleetwood Town slipped to defeat at Valley Parade and will now need to embrace the spirit of Uwe Rosler’s former foes Yeovil if they are to come back and nab a place at Wembley.
The Glovers are the only team in the last five seasons to have overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit in the League One play-offs as they bounced back from losing at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane to win 2-0 at home in the 2012-13 season.
Uwe Rosler will know all about that, given it was his Brentford side that lost to the comeback kings in the final at Wembley, and now Town will bid to beat the odds and fight back from this 1-0 defeat in a cauldron of noise at a jam-packed Valley Parade.
Fleetwood boss Rosler made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Port Vale on the final day as ex-Bantam Devante Cole, midfielder Markus Schwabl and skipper Nathan Pond came in. Cian Bolger was injured (ankle), with George Glendon and Ash Hunter moving to the bench.
Town won the toss and their decision to swap ends was met with hostility by the home faithful. Town tried to take the sting out by forcing their hosts to attack the kop first and an empty stand in the second.
But despite that initial rumble, the Bantams made an electric start as the fans built a wall of noise and an intimidating atmosphere as they upped the volume every time Bradford bombed forward in their numbers.
The atmosphere was fiery and it boiled over on to the pitch just minutes into the game ,with some early handbags from Bobby Grant and Tony McMahon.
Skipper Nathan Pond had to be on his guard from the off and the Town captain, who is gunning for his seventh promotion with the club, was up to the challenge as he just stopped Billy Clarke running one-on-one by poking the ball to keeper Alex Cairns.
David Ball got in at the back stick after Grant had flicked on a Conor McLaughlin cross but he could not get his effort on target from an impossible angle.
Nicky Law’s long-range strike was just tipped round the post by Cairns at full stretch and a Grant mistake in his own box led to a chance for Charlie Wyke, but he rocketed the ball straight at Cairns.
Bradford had dominated but Town managed to keep them out and Ball nearly gave Fleetwood the lead. Ex-Blackpool man Colin Doyle’s scuffed clearance fell on a plate to the striker but his deft chip fell on to the roof of the net.
But it was still all City as Rosler’s men set out to reach half-time with the score still 0-0. They played the press and lived on the counter.
They nearly did not succeed as another Clarke effort crashed into the right post and trickled to safety.
Fleetwood got more of a foothold on the game as the half drew to a close, with Rosler taking off Schwabl, who had picked up a booking after a number of rash fouls, and introducing Glendon.
But once again Fleetwood took a battering from the Bantams in the opening stages, with Josh Cullen’s free-kick forcing Cairns into a fingertip save.
Town once again played on the counter, with Amari’i Bell releasing Cole round the back as he sprinted into the box, but his effort cannoned back off Doyle on to the striker and out for a goal-kick.
Clarke’s cross into the mix was blasted over by Romain Vincelot as Bradford continued to force the issue.
Rosler switched things up in the 65th minute as he rotated his strikers and sent on the fresh legs of Ash Hunter.
It was a move Stuart McCall used too as a battle of minds took place on the touchline, with Bradford sending on Jordy Hiwula, the man who did the early damage in a Highbury clash which Town turned around to win 2-1.
Hiwula posed a new threat to Town with his pace and nimble feet, and he found a pocket of space in the box before squaring the ball to Wyke in the six-yard box. However, his effort was smothered by Cairns.
It was Hiwula’s pressing that forced Pond to divert the ball out and Bradford took the lead from the subsequent set-piece as McMahon’s corner from the right was met by an unstoppable McArdle header.
Bradford continued to throw bodies forward – but it’s all back to Highbury with only a 1-0 deficit.
Bradford: Doyle, Meredith, Law (Dieng, 88) Vincelot, Marshall, Wyke, Clarke (Hiwula, 69), Cullen, Knight-Percival, McArdle, McMahon. Subs not used: Sattelmaier, Darby, Penney, Gilliead, Kilgallon.
Fleetwood: Cairns, McLaughlin, Eastham, Pond, Davies, Bell, Dempsey, Schwabl (Glendon, 46), Grant, Cole (Hunter, 65), Ball (Burns, 81). Subs not used: Neal, Brannagan, Davis, Nirennold.
Referee: Oliver Langford
Attendance: 15196 (Fleetwood 559)