FOR five minutes, everything was going so well. Bradford then woke up and United slipped into a slumber that would cost them three points.
Joss Labadie had Plainmoor bouncing with the opening goal in the third minute but as soon as Rory McArdle headed an equaliser moments later, the Bantams were on top and thoroughly deserved their 3-1 win.
Garry Thompson added the second on 18 minutes and half-time hope was quickly extinguished by a James Hanson header straight after the interval.
United manager Alan Knill made two changes from the side beaten in the closing minutes at Northampton on Good Friday. Tom Cruise returned from suspension to replace Kevin Nicholson at left-back and Billy Bodin was preferred to Jordan Chapell on the left wing.
Bradford boss Phil Parkinson opted for just one alteration from the team that battled back to draw 2-2 at home to Southend on Friday. Nahki Wells was handed a starting shirt ahead of Zavon Hines, who joined former Gull Alan Connell on the visiting bench.
The game was just three minutes old when United made their now traditional flying start and it was once again down to the incredible determination of a marauding Labadie from midfield.
Cruise was the catalyst, floating in a cross from the left for Ryan Jarvis. A Bradford foot poked the ball clear to Labadie, who saw his fist shot blocked but immediately latched on to the rebound and steered a lovely finish past the stranded Jon McLaughlin.
The visitors naturally looked for a swift response and the Gulls were grateful for a Gary Jones volley ricocheting off a Bantam back and flying narrowly wide of Michael Poke’s goal.
United were not so lucky from the next attack, however, as a drifting free-kick from Jones picked out the unmarked McArdle’s dart to the near-post and he cushioned a clever header beyond Poke to nestle neatly in the far corner.
Playing with the strong breeze in their backs, Bradford took momentum from the equaliser, although a 35-yard drive from Thompson fizzing inches over was ambitious in the extreme.
After the blinding start, the Gulls had lost their way and a simple pass out of the Bradford defence allowed Wells to attack Brian Saah. United’s centre-back held up the speedy Bermudan for as long as he could and the final shot was a stabbed effort beyond the far post.
There was a frustrating inevitability about Bradford’s second goal. The move started with Hanson competing with Poke for a lumped pass forward and Thompson was perfectly positioned to smash the loose ball into the bottom corner.
It was a very disappointing goal to concede and Poke’s afternoon was complete seconds later, as he was forced out of the action with a rib injury to be replaced by Martin Rice in a massive test for the second-choice stopper.
Labadie sought to change the tide with a curling free-kick but the save was comfortable for McLaughlin. Rice then stood up to his first challenge, parrying a wickedly swerving shot from Jones before pouncing on the ball.
United won a free-kick on the left and a stinging delivery from Cruise was looped in the air by Jarvis. McLaughlin failed to generate any power on his punched clearance but Saah was unable to keep his left-foot volley down with the goal gaping.
It was a terrific chance on a bitter day, with the Bantams mastering the conditions far better than the Yellows. Even with only 30 minutes on the clock, Knill must have been plotting his half-time chat and the plan to revive a sluggish display.
The height of Hanson was a growing concern for the home defence, although Saah showed his equal to the task with a terrific headed clearance under severe pressure from the giant centre-forward.
United ended the half with a drilled cross from Cruise picking out Jarvis but Andrew Davies made enough of a challenge to soften the header, and Bodin was unable to reach the loose ball.
All the half-time talk sadly went out the window within two minutes of the restart, as a marvellous cross from the right by Thompson was ideal for Hanson to head past a hopelessly exposed Rice, and the Gulls were now in deep trouble.
It could have been worse when Wells got the wrong side of Angus MacDonald from a looped pass over the top and United’s young defender was perhaps fortunate referee Rob Lewis ignored a nudge in the striker’s back. The Bradford wave remained relentless and Rice next needed quick feet to backpedal and clutch a steered header from Wells.
A shivering Easter crowd desperately tried to lift the team and Knill understandably shuffled his pack by introducing Chapell for Jarvis. Something drastic was required to alter the pattern but the Bantams simply looked the hungrier team.
The final change from the Yellow bench saw Bodin withdrawn for Lloyd Macklin and he soon won a corner, delivered by Cruise to the back post but Rene Howe was unable to get above his man for a header on goal.
United then worked a decent move between Labadie and Mansell in the left channel, culminating in a pass inside for Howe to spear a left-foot drive narrowly over. Not earth shattering, but better.
Bradford obviously took offence, racing up the other end to conjure a chance for Kyel Reid and Rice did well to claw the shot away. MacDonald then produced a tremendous block to thwart Thompson and Saah completed the harried clearance.
Will Atkinson replaced Wells for the final five minutes, while the Yellows kept pouring forward in the hope of late drama. Joe Oastler had a skidding drive sent wide and the whistle blew on a difficult day at Plainmoor.
Gulls [4-4-2]: 1 Michael Poke [13 Martin Rice 21]; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 16 Angus MacDonald, 21 Thomas Cruise; 8 Ryan Jarvis [25 Jordan Chapell], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 24 Joss Labadie, 15 Billy Bodin [14 Lloyd Macklin 73]; 9 Rene Howe, 26 Elliot Benyon. Substitutes [not used]: 3 Kevin Nicholson, 4 Aaron Downes, 20 Nathan Craig, 23 Ashley Yeoman.
Booked: Jarvis 49
Bradford [4-4-2]: 1 Jon McLaughlin; 2 Stephen Darby, 5 Andrew Davies, 23 Rory McArdle, 3 James Meredith; 11 Garry Thompson, 4 Ricky Ravenhill, 18 Gary Jones [capt], 7 Kyel Reid; 9 James Hanson, 21 Nahki Wells [14 Will Atkinson 86]. Substitutes [not used]: 12 Matt Duke [GK], 16 Carl McHugh, 17 Alan Connell, 20 Zavon Hines, 22 Michael Nelson, 24 Nathan Doyle.
Booked: Ravenhill 43
Referee: Rob Lewis
Attendance: 2,569 [246 away].