FREEWEBS REPORTS FROM MANOR PARK -
An equalising goal on half time from Steve Oleksewycz is not enough, as Avenue lose to a second half Nuneaton strike.
Bradford's dismal away form continued at promotion-chasing Nuneaton where they slid to an eleventh successive defeat. Yet it could have been different after Steve Oleksewycz's 14th goal of the season had levelled the scores. But a mistake by Tony Lennon soon handed the initiative back to the home side who then held on to clinch a place in the top three.
Avenue were unchanged at Manor Park with manager Carl Shutt keeping faith with the squad which took a point against Hinckley in midweek.
Nuneaton, meanwhile, went into the game knowing that a victory would ensure them a play-off place and keep alive their outside chance of the title.
In front of Borough's third highest crowd of the season, Avenue were soon on the rack and Matty Collins got in a free header which flashed just over. Minutes later Gez Murphy sold Jason Wray a dummy on the right to whip over a cross which Dean Jones was forced to clear over the bar.
All this pressure finally lead to Borough taking a 14th-minute lead. Stuart Whittaker went on a mazy run down the left and his cross into the goalmouth found COLLINS who forced the ball into the net following a scramble by the near post.It was an untidy goal and Avenue's defence was clearly at fault.
The goal settled Borough and they visibly dropped down a gear. But Andy Britton was forced to race out of his area to kick the ball clear when Murphy threatened to nip through the middle. Avenue's first attempt on goal came in the 23rd minute when Danny Ryan tested Darren Acton from inside the area, but his shot was tame and the keeper was untroubled. Then, on the half hour, Oleksewycz fired in an angled shot after finding space on the far edge of the box, but again Acton saved with ease.
Sean McClare was having his best game so far for Avenue and on 35 minutes he saw his shot blocked following a free-kick awarded just outside the area. Borough responded with a 25-yard drive from Michael Love who picked up a punched clearance from Britton to send the ball a couple of yards wide. After 43 minutes Lennon was handed a yellow card for persistent fouling, the caution coming after the player had twice been lectured earlier in the game.
Borough were handed a wake-up call on the stroke of half time when Avenue grabbed an equaliser. A raid down the middle was halted right on the edge of the area when Neil Moore handled the ball. Surprisingly the player escaped a card, but justice was seen to be done when OLEKSEWYCZ sent the free-kick round the "wall" and inside Acton's left-hand post. Avenue threatened again in stoppage time when Andy Quinn crossed in from the right and Terry Angus was forced to divert the ball over the bar from six yards.
Avenue made a confident start to the second half and on 51 minutes a Peter Naylor free-kick from 20 yards had Acton diving across his goal but the ball flew a yard wide.
But all the good work was undone on 55 minutes when a mistake enabled Borough to regain the lead. Another Avenue attack was about to take shape when Lennon was caught in possession just inside the Borough half. The ball was quickly despatched to Collins who raced away down the right. An inside pass found Martin Reeves who crossed into the box where Brian QUAILEY had arrived unmarked and his looping header beat Britton on its way to the top corner of the net.
Borough made a couple of changes with Michael Frew replacing Murphy and then Brian McGorry for Collins who received some generous applause from the Manor Park faithful.
After 73 minutes Ryan got through but Acton was swifly out of his goal to clear for a throw-in. The throw found McClare whose shot from inside the area was blocked.
With five minutes remaining Avenue made a double change with Carl Shutt and Tom Curle coming on for Tom Greaves and Danny Walsh.
Avenue hadn't given up the hope of taking a point and from an 88th minute corner Shutt was lectured by the referee after an unfair challenge in the goalmouth.
But the game ended in controversy. In the final minute of normal time Quailey got through and beat Britton with a fierce shot which struck the inside of the goal frame. The ball came down and appeared to be well over the line before Britton cleared. The home players raced over to celebrate with Quailey, but the referee allowed play to continue. And when a foul eventually halted matters in the Avenue half the official was surrounded by angry Borough players arguing that a goal had been scored. To his credit the referee went to consult his assistant who advised his colleague that there had not been a goal. The final whistle wasn't long in coming and three stewards escorted the referee off the pitch.
It was Avenue's 20th defeat by the odd goal this season, a statistic which clearly shows what a fine line there is between success and failure. And while the defence has coped fairly well with the demands of Nationwide North, the attack, which has mustered a paltry 37 goals in 40 outings, has been found wanting.
Nuneaton Borough: Acton, Oddy, Love, Reeves, Moore, Angus, Collins (McGorry 72), Noon, Murphy (Frew 64), Quailey, Whittaker. Subs: Wilkin, Fitzpatrick, Godwin.
Bradford (PA): Britton, Quinn, Naylor, Walsh (Curle 85), Jones, Wray, Lennon, McClare, Greaves (Shutt 85), Oleksewycz, Ryan. Subs: Coubrough, Clayton, Mumbly.
Referee: I A Dudley (Mansfield)