Bradford City Women rounded off their preparations for the new season with a double header down South at the weekend, returning with a defeat and a win ahead of the big kick off on Sunday afternoon.
Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 Bradford City, Saturday 8 August
The first of City's two opponents at the weekend came in the form of a tough Brighton and Hove Albion side who finished second in the FA Women's Southern Premier League last season, just three points behind eventual winners Portsmouth, who lost to Sheffield FC in the end-of-season play-off for promotion to FA WSL 2.
Played on a 4G surface in the evening of Saturday 8th, City took a slender lead in at half time thanks to Charlotte Stuart's long distance effort. However, Brighton were the quickest out of the blocks in the first half, albeit without the conviction needed as they failed to capitalise on a couple of sloppy errors by the away side's defence.
Bradford had a decent chance when Hannah Campbell's good work resulted in Jess Graham just missing the target after 16 minutes, but the hosts continued to be the better side early on when another opportunity went begging, this one also failing to test the keeper.
It was City who ended the half strongly, and they made their good spell count as Stuart sent a 35 yard rocket into the roof of the net with 42 minutes on the clock, shortly after Rosie McDonnell threatened on the counter, only to see her effort deflected wide of the mark.
Having dominated the majority of the first period, Brighton will have felt aggrieved to go in at the break a goal down, but they did not spent much time feeling sorry for themselves, again being sharp from the off in the second half as Bradford had to scramble a corner clear before 'keeper Chloe Precious was tested for just the second time, albeit only having to make a comfortable save.
Yet, within nine minutes of the restart, Brighton were level as City sat off their opponents, allowing one to easily drift through midfield before striking home from 20 yards out. They could have made it 2-1 only two minutes later too as miscommunication by the Bantams allowed their opposition to break, but a marvellous last ditch tackle by captain Faye Boshell rescued the visitors in a vulnerable few minutes.
Aqsa Mushtaq looked to put City back into the lead with 14 minutes to play, going on a determined run but seeing her strike fly off target, and instead it was Brighton who took the victory with an 82nd minute winner, a goal worthy of winning the game too as their player emphatically found the back of the net from 20 yards.
Bradford put on a hard-working performance against a very well organised Brighton side, but they struggled to get used to the 4G surface, whereas their opponents adapted much better and were the better team on the day, though not by miles, with the scoreline fairly reflecting the game.
Luton Town 3-5 Bradford City, Sunday 9th August
Less than 24 hours after losing to Brighton, City faced Luton Town in their final pre-season game. Luton are situated in the division below the Bantams, but were sure to present a tough task, especially with the visitors having only finished playing Brighton 18 hours before this game kicked off. As a result, the game would give City a real test of their fitness ahead of their first league game in exactly a week's time.
City's fatigue shone in the first half though, with Luton taking a 2-0 lead in at the break after a sluggish start by their opposition. The hosts were creating chances as early as the second minute, but Bradford were very much in the game, coming close a number of times themselves in the lively opening exchanges.
Mushtaq came within inches of giving her side the lead after seven minutes, only to be denied by the post, whilst the rebound saw Campbell have an effort cleared off the line before Alarna Fuller's header flashed just wide of the goal. Yet, Luton also hit the woodwork early on, seeing a strike crash against the crossbar from range with 11 minutes on the clock.
Campbell was played through on goal moments later, but was unable to convert, whilst Paige Crosby was the next player to be thwarted by the frame of the goal, the City defender letting one fly from 25 yards but failing to find the back of the net by the smallest of margins. However, with the crossbar still shaking at one end, Luton took the lead at the other, executing a swift counter attack to devastating effect when they broke the deadlock on 23 minutes.
On the stroke of half time, the hosts doubled this lead too, City again falling victim to a quick breakaway in between Olivia Thackray and McDonnell having chances to open their side's account for the day.
However, a stern half-time team talk did the trick as the Bantams came out looking much sharper, substitute Abi Lee hitting the target from 25 yards within minutes of the restart. Graham came close with a header shortly after as a goal looked to be on the way, and it was, with Campbell's cross the source as McDonnell halved the deficit from six yards out.
The young winger thought she had netted her brace and an equaliser just three minutes later too, but the assistant referee's flag was there to deny her as played was stopped for offside, and following this Luton would restore their two goal advantage from the spot after City failed to clear their lines effectively.
With just over 20 minutes to go, Bradford needed at least three goals to end their pre-season campaign on a high, and they were keen to get the job done, Chantelle O'Hara producing a brilliant 30 yard effort on the 70 minute mark to ease the task. From here, it was all City, with Lee having another shot saved before Mushtaq went on one of her pacey runs down the wing only for her final effort to be scuffed into the 'keeper's arms.
The inevitable equaliser would come though with 13 minutes to go, O'Hara turning provider this time as her free-kick was converted by Stuart, who scored in the previous game against Brighton. Bradford didn't stop here either, eager to take a win back up North as Stuart netted her brace just seven minutes after scoring her first, this time connecting with a corner to make it 4-3 with six minutes remaining.
The icing on the cake came in the 86th minute, City ensuring victory thanks to an own goal as Graham's cross was unfortunately knocked into the back of her own net by a Luton defender, the final score reading 5-3 to the Bantams.
A spirited second half performance had saved City after their tired legs were on show in the first 45 minutes, with some clinical finishing and positive, promising play producing five goals after the break to give the team a real confidence boost heading into the new season.
Bradford will host Sporting Club Albion on Sunday 16 August with a 2PM kick off, the fixture having been reversed after originally being down as an away game for the Bantams. The match will take place at Eccleshill United Football Club.