Branch winner gives Robbo perfect debut

Bradford City 3 Millwall 2
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The Independent Online

It did not take long for Bryan Robson to become reacquainted with the emotional roller-coaster of football management as Bradford City provided the former Middlesbrough chief with a dramatic winning return to the front line at Valley Parade last night.

Trailing 2-0 at half-time and second best by some distance to Dennis Wise's Millwall, Bradford underwent a character transformation during the interval and stormed back to overturn the scoreline in heart-stopping fashion to give those supporters who resisted the temptation to watch on television on an inhospitable evening a rewarding trip out. The winner from substitute Michael Branch came in stoppage time.

Millwall's comfortable half-time advantage was punishment fully deserved for Bradford, whose performance to that point had lacked any of the qualities for which Robson was renowned as a player. A poor second to almost every loose ball, there seemed to be no energy or commitment about them.

As early as the fifth minute, an unopposed run and shot from Peter Sweeney sounded a warning. Bradford failed to heed it, however, and Millwall soon realised the possibilities on offer.

After 19 minutes, they were in front. Five minutes later the lead was doubled. As Dennis Wise and Robson's old England chum, Ray Wilkins, shared a celebratory jig a few feet away, the former Manchester United captain must have wondered why he had wanted to come back.

A sloppy mistake by the centre-back Jason Gavin allowed wing Aboubacar Fofana to cross and the consequence, after goalkeeper Alan Combe had saved valiantly from Nick Chadwick, was a tap-in for Tim Cahill. Then, Chadwick found the space to connect with Cahill's lay-off and tuck the sweetest of strikes into the top left-hand corner.

But how things changed when the players re-emerged. The sense of purpose so conspicuously absent in the opening 45 minutes was restored.

Indeed, after Andy Gray had turned a Dean Windass cross narrowly wide, it took only seven minutes for Danny Cadamarteri, a half-time substitute, to give the home side a foothold, cutting in from the left and sidestepping two challenges before drilling home a right-foot shot with which goalkeeper Tony Warner made contact but could not keep out.

Now Millwall's composure looked suspect and Bradford, with words of encouragement bellowed from the dug-out, swept forward in pursuit of another goal. To Robson's delight, it came in the 69th minute, full-back Paul Heckingbotham winning possession on the left to set up Gray, who mimicked Cadamarteri in darting sideways past static defenders before slotting a shot beyond Warner's reach.

The new man in charge would undoubtedly have been satisfied with that after such a dreadful first half but there was more drama to come as the fourth official held up his board to signal stoppage time. Beating Millwall's attempted offside trap as on-loan Gareth Farrelly threaded a through-ball along the right, Branch ran clear and kept his nerve to chip the ball past Warner and make Robson's night.