A disappointing day at the office saw Bradford City Women slump to a 4-1 defeat at home to league leaders Stoke City on Sunday afternoon.
The Potters showed the class and confidence they have gainedfrom their early season form with a top quality away performance, which saw them clinically take their chances despite the Bantams dominating.
A penalty gave them a 1-0 lead at the break, whilst an unstoppable free-kick made it two shortly after the restart.
Bradford, pushing for something to get them back into the game, were suspect on the counter in the second half, and, after having a goal disallowed themselves, they conceded a third just after the hour.
The hosts never gave up the fight and continued to push their opponents at the back, but before they grabbed a late consolation through Danielle Whitham, Stoke added a fourth to round things off and keep their place at the top of the table – now with a comfortable four point lead.
Despite what the scoreline may suggest, Bradford were the better team in the first half, and were unfortunate to go in at the break a goal down.
They started well in particular, with Chantelle O’Hara bursting forward inside two minutes, dodging a couple of challenges from her opponents, but her eventual shot was straight at the goalkeeper.
Still, her urgency in the opening moments spurred her teammates on, with Olivia Thackray again forcing the opposing ‘keeper into a stop early on, whilst the defence kept on top of any threats posed by Stoke at the other end.
Carey Huegett was the next to hit the target, this time from a free-kick, but again it was a comfortable stop for the visitors’ number one.
Though they were yet to get into the game, Stoke took the lead on the 20 minute mark from the spot. Paige Crosby’s late challenge gave them the chance to break the deadlock from 12 yards, and they did exactly that, emphatically converting the penalty.
However, Bradford should have had a spot-kick of their own 15 minutes later, new signing Abbie McIver, who was making her full debut following a switch from Sheffield FC, blatantly pushed to the ground in the area, only for the referee to wave away appeals as the half came to a close with the Bantams frustratingly a goal down.
This frustration doubled within seven minutes of the restart, Stoke sending a free-kick from 30 yards right into the top corner to make it 2-0, again with them yet to really show why they are top of the table at this early stage.
The away side would grow into the game later in the second half, but City continued to battle and remained the better team for the most part, with them thinking they had halved the deficit within 60 seconds of seeing it doubled.
However, the linesman’s flag went up to deny the hosts, McIver judged to be offside when she ran onto Huegett’sthrough ball and neatly finished for what she initially thought was her first Bradford goal.
Sarah Danby, already with three goals to her name so far this season, looked to get her team on the scoresheet instead with an effort from distance, but her 25-yard strike flew just over the bar as the game neared the hour mark.
As we passed the hour mark though, Stoke would make it three, this time with a swift and clinical counter attack. The visitors broke down the right with pace before drilling a cross into the area which was guided into the back of the net by the head of their striker, making it 3-0 with 25 minutes remaining.
Bradford persisted despite the scoreline, Danby again looking to make something happen as her powerful effort hit the target, with no one anticipating the rebound as the Stoke defence managed to scramble the loose ball clear.
The away side still looked dangerous on the break though, with Alarna Fuller making a good save as she deputised in between the sticks to deny the opposition a fourth. The resulting corner, however, would beat her, a Bradford defender unfortunately flicking the delivery into the back of her own net with only 10 minutes left to play.
Whitham bagged the Bantams a fantastic consolation in stoppage time, a long distance strike with her weaker left foot destined for the top corner as soon as it left her boot, adding some respectability to the scoreline and giving the hosts something for their efforts on a tough afternoon.
Currently enduring an erratic run of form, Bradford will look to get back on track with a victory in the cup on Sunday, travelling to Norton & Stockton in search of a win.
Photos: Alex Daniel