Cambridge United displayed a real fighting spirit to take a point away from Valley Parade with a 0-0 draw despite playing against League Two favourites Bradford City with ten men for much of the second half.
Liam O’Neil’s slightly controversial dismissal around the hour mark looked to have given the U’s an uphill battle, but they were more than a match for the challenge and saw out the game unscathed with a professional and dogged performance to equal their positive play throughout.
Eager to begin on the right foot, Colin Calderwood’s men who lined up with a flat 4-4-2 were quick to make a positive start in the game and their strong early organisation quieted down a raucous crowd at Valley Parade as they looked the brighter of the two sides.
The U’s opened up the first opportunities in front of goal on 16 minutes when Luke Hannant flashed a cross from the left in towards Andrew Dallas, but the striker was beaten to the ball by a fraction as he looked to pull the trigger. United recycled the loose ball cleverly though with neat interlinking play on the edge of the area from Paul Lewis and Reggie Lambe before Dallas sidefooted a shot that was saved low to the left of Richard O’Donnell.
Dan Jones delivered a series of excellent crosses into the Bradford area during the opening quarter of the match, and George Taft was unfortunate not to benefit as he directed a volley from an acute angle that clattered the outside netting as the U’s continued to look strong.
James Vaughan quickly reminded United of the quality the hosts possessed though, when moments after sailing the Bantams first effort over the bar from 18 yards he produced an exquisite overhead kick that clipped Mitov’s cross bar with the U’s keeper stranded.
As the half neared the break, the Bantams took a firmer grip of possession but the U’s limited them to just one further chance at goal when Kelvin Mellor produced a defence splitting cross between Taylor and Taft which Vaughan attacked but mis-timed as his header bounced off the turf and away from the target.
An unchanged United side after the break continued to compete well initially with Luke Hannant first getting a shot away on goal five minutes into the second half, before turning provider soon after with a chipped cross that picked the head of Ibehre who was unable to generate enough power to beat O’Donnell.
The U’s took a major blow though when Liam O’Neil received a straight red card on 62 minutes for a cynical foul on Clayton Donaldson as the Bantams man looked to break on the U’s. It looked a harsh decision from referee Ollie Yates especially considering there looked to have been a clear foul on Dan Jones seconds earlier.
Bradford substitute Danny Devine fired a mid-range effort that beat Mitov’s far post, and the Bulgarian was called into action to catch an awkward effort by Jordan Gibson as the U’s worked hard to protect their position in the match.
Colin Calderwood introduced Maris, Smith and Dunk to try and rectify United’s one man deficit.
The pressure increased towards the closing stages for United, who showed tremendous endeavour to reduce the Bantams chances to test Mitov. Aside from a brave save at the feet of Donaldson and a flash shot across goal by Sean Scannell inside the final ten minutes, the United keeper remained comfortable between the U’s posts as Calderwood’s men held out for a point on the opening day.
Bradford City: O’Donnell, Mellor, Richards-Everton, O’Connor, Doyle (Scannell, 75 mins), Donaldson, Vaughan, Palmer, Gibson, Anderson (Devine, 63 mins), Henley (Longridge, 79 mins)
Bookings: Vaughan, Donaldson,
Cambridge United: Mitov, Knoyle, Taylor, Taft, Jones (Dunk, 67 mins), Lambe (Maris, 67 mins), Lewis, O’Neil, Hannant, Dallas (Smith, 63 mins), Ibehre
Bookings: O’Neil (Red)