A CLINICALLY taken free kick by Bradford City substitute Shay McCartan in the closing minutes denied Swindon Town victory over their promotion rivals at the County Ground this afternoon, with the game ending 1-1. 

Town ‘keeper Steven Benda was left with no chance when McCartan’s excellent strike from 25 yards was buried into the hosts’ top left corner.

The goal cancelled out Jerry Yates’ earlier penalty, which put Town a goal up with 10 minutes on the board.

With chasing teams Exeter and Crewe not in action, Town’s lead at the top of the division was stretched to three points.

Wellens made one forced change to the side that beat Plymouth Argyle 1-2 on New Year’s Day. Kaiyne Woolery replaced the ineligible Eoin Doyle.

Referee Darren Drysdale handed out his fair share of free kicks in the game’s opening minutes, some understandable others controversial.

None of that mattered though when Town were awarded a penalty on 10 minutes after Connor Wood’s outstretched arm blocked Isgrove’s inswinging cross from the right.

Jerry Yates, who timed his pass to Isgrove with perfection in the build up to Wood’s handling of the ball, stepped up and leathered a right-footed effort past O’Donnell’s reach to put Town a goal up.

Given Eoin Doyle’s delicate loan situation, the fact both teams are chasing promotion and a buoyed crowd off the back of the two former comments, atmosphere at SN1 was ramped up a notch.

And it led to Jake Reeves committing a dreadful foul on Grant, the former picking up a yellow.

Gary Bowyer’s XI had their first sight on goal with 20 minutes on the clock. Chris Taylor’s effort was a gift, to put it bluntly.

A poor touch by Grant granted City’s forward possession 30 yards from goal. Taylor proceeded to the right side of the D before his effort whistled past Benda’s left post.

A similarly poor touch by Grant five minutes later again handed City a chance to equalise. Nervous movement on the edge of the penalty area ultimately concluded in Henley’s overhit cross from the right bouncing away from danger.

Several close shave clearances by visiting ‘keeper O’Donnell further spurred a vocal Town End on, though Woolery’s late call to offload possession with options available to his left and right rather dampened that energy.

City’s best chance of the half came with 35 minutes on the board. A flicked-on header was guided onto Benda’s left post by a devastated O’Connor.

Town were then dealt a curveball when Fryers was forced off through injury – on came Tom Broadbent who made his first appearances since November 23.

A late challenge by Town’s Rose concluded the half, with the hosts leading by a goal.

Neither team made a change at half time as Town quickly generated the first genuine opportunity of the second.

After possession was surrendered not too far from the half-way line, Yates sent Woolery through on goal. The 24-year-old couldn’t utilise his pace, though, as the backtracking Richards-Everton pulled off an excellent last man tackle in the penalty area.

Woolery was again dispossessed cheaply in the build up to an attacking move as the hour mark passed, and the game hit a rather ugly patch.

Home fans’ hearts would’ve skipped a beat when Grant opted to leave a loose ball in the hope that lurking ‘keeper Benda would retrieve the ball. He didn’t, and James Vaughan almost poached a soft equaliser.

That was the ugliest play got as Bantams’ winger Connolly fooled right-back Hunt to advance to the right byline before Palmer was picked out in the penalty area.

Palmer’s shot was ballooned over Benda’s crossbar, a let off for Town. Frustration grew on the terraces as several calls against Town extended the hosts’ lull, which prompted Michael Doughty to replace a fatigued Jaiyesimi.

The baring backside of a home supporter started the game’s final quarter-of-an-hour - stewards promptly removed the pitch invader from the stadium.

Eight minutes from time, Caddis pulled off a typically no-nonsense and brilliant challenge on the advancing Vaughan who felt pressure from Hunt too.

The half never clicked into gear. But the County Ground’s atmosphere was again turned up entering the final five – largely prompted by referee Drysdale’s call to reverse his decision to award City a throw in following a glance at the linesman’s contrasting flag.

Adam May replaced Isgrove for the final minutes, his first league outing since Town visited Bradford in October.

Shortly after, City substitute McCartan was presented with an opportunity from a free kick 25 yards out. McCartan left Benda with no chance as his curling effort struck the German’s top left corner.

The late drama was added to when Lyden picked up a red card. Full time perhaps came as a relief to both managers.

Town: Benda, Fryers (Broadbent, 41’), Rose ©, Isgrove (May, 86’), Yates, Woolery, Lyden, Hunt, Jaiyesimi, Caddis, Grant.

City: O’Donnell, Richards-Everton, O’Connor, Reeves (Oteh, 58’), Vaughan, Palmer, Connolly, Henley, Wood, Cooke, Taylor (McCartan, 72’).