Bradford City 3 Cheltenham Town 1: Match analysis
CHELTENHAM Town's plan to frustrate the largest fanbase in League Two appeared to be working a treat until the fourth minute of injury time at the end of the first half.
They led through acting skipper Marlon Pack's confidently taken 29th-minute penalty, but it all turned sour when a Sido Jombati inexplicably handled the ball in the box from a prone position after being beaten by Craig Forsyth.
Nahki Wells levelled from the spot to make it 1-1 at the break and Cheltenham had failed to do what they did at Valley Parade last year: score early and then shut out the home side.
It was a niggly and stop-start opening 45 minutes, which in some ways had worked in Cheltenham's advantage.
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But the disapproving roar of nearly 10,000 home supporters greeting every decision that went against them did appear to influence referee Brendan Malone when he failed to award a second penalty to Cheltenham shortly before Wells' leveller.
Jermaine McGlashan, who had been tripped by Andrew Davies for the first penalty, darted around two defenders after a sparkling run which started near the halfway line.
He appeared to have been brought down again, but Cheltenham's appeals were waved away and within the blink of an eye Bradford were level.
Brown could do nothing about Wells' spot-kick, despite guessing correctly and diving to his left.
He had produced a fine save in the 27th minute to push away a powerful header from James Hanson after Wells' cross.
Hanson's aerial strength along with the considerable threat of centre-halves Davies and Luke Oliver were a constant menace to Cheltenham's defence, but Steve Elliott and Keith Lowe coped admirably for the majority of the first half.
The only blot on Wells' copybook was an unconvincing attempt to win himself a penalty, going down theatrically after being brushed by Russ Penn.
Wells nodded a cross from debutant Forsyth narrowly wide in the first minute of the second half, with Brown a spectator, but Cheltenham played their best football in the second half.
Elliott reached a corner from Billy Jones, but he could not control his header and Bradford goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin was not called into serious action.
Midfielder Nathan Doyle was almost gifted a free run on goal by Elliott in the 55th minute after the big defender took too long on the ball and was caught in possession.
But just as Lowe had at Wimbledon a week earlier, Elliott recovered to make a perfectly-timed challenge on Doyle and avert the danger.
Bradford took the lead in the 68th minute when substitute Zavon Hines, who left-back Billy Jones was probably relieved did not start the game, won a header at the far post and Wells ghosted in to prod past Brown from close range.
Hanson drew an excellent reaction save from Brown, but Bradford scored the best goal of the match in the 83rd minute to put the game beyond Cheltenham's reach
A slick passing move was finished off by left-back James Meredith, who unleashed a fearsome drive inside Brown's near post.
It was the killer blow after Cheltenham had looked capable of hitting back for at least a point, working the ball into promising positions several times only for the final ball or shot to be erratic.
From this evidence Bradford look capable of challenging for promotion this season, but once again it was an individual error that swung the match in their favour and cost Cheltenham so dear.
Bradford City: J McLaughlin; R McArdle, A Davies, L Oliver, J Meredith; G Thompson (W Atkinson 62), R Ravenhill, N Doyle, C Forsyth (Z Hines 62); N Wells, J Hanson. Subs not used: M Duke, S Darby, R Jones, C McHugh, A Connell.
Cheltenham Town: S Brown; S Jombati, K Lowe, S Elliott, B Jones; J McGlashan, M Pack, R Penn (S Harrad 73), D Carter, K Mohamed (S Deering 87); C Zebroski (D Duffy 87). Subs not used: C Roberts, J Goulding, B Graham,D Andrew.
REFEREE: B Malone.
ATTENDANCE: 9,648 (131 away).
STAR MAN: Jermaine McGlashan.