It was like he’d never been away. With 50 minutes on the clock, Dayle Southwell collected the ball inside the Bradford Park Avenue penalty area, took a touch to wrong-foot his marker and casually swept the ball into the back of the net.
With no signs of the metatarsal injury which kept him sidelined for the past 10 weeks and seven matches, the Boston United forward was back to doing what he does best, scoring goals.
When Southwell pulled up with a swollen foot during the Pilgrims’ 4-0 victory over Stockport on December 19, his side were in the National League North’s top five and he was the division’s leading goalscorer with 15 to his name.
After tonight’s victory at the Horsfall Stadium, United moved back into the play-off spots - fourth to be exact - and Southwell was still top of the scoring charts, his tally now at 16.
But while the former Grimsby man continues to chase the division’s golden boot, Boston’s win owed much to the determination of Jay Rollins, like Southwell another player returning to the starting XI.
Bradford began the night unbeaten at home in nine matches, stretching as far back as October 14 when Salford City needed extra time to kncok them out of the FA Cup.
But with just 56 seconds on the clock Rollins opened the scoring.
Collecting the ball 20 yards from the hosts’ goal, the winger took a touch and unleashed a dipping drive which beat the outstretched fingertips of Jon Stewart and found the net via the underside of the crossbar.
And when the Park Avenue keeper chased down a long ball into his half five minutes after the re-start, Rollins was there again, outpacing Stewart and offering Southwell an opportunity he was never going to turn down.
At first the rain fell, and then the snow, as the heavy Horsfall Stadium turf began to churn, keeping chances few and far between.
For Boston Southwell’s 25 yarder smashed against the foot of the post and Rollins’ header, conjured up by a shimmy and cross from Lewis Hilliard, went the other side of the crossbar.
For Bradford, Chib Chilaka was offered the home side’s best two chances, but his geography was poor and both efforts were lashed horribly off target.
Indeed, it looked as if Carl Piergianni’s attempted clearance, which brought a good reaction stop from teammate Fabian Spiess, was to be Bradford’s best chance.
That or a close-range header from Lamin Colley, whose lack of pace meant Boston’s number one could comfortably collect.
But all that changed in the 58th minute. As Billy Priestley attempted to usher a ball out for a goal kick the defender and his own captain Stewart became embroiled in a shoving match.
This lack of team harmony seemed to fuel the fire in the hosts, and a series of chances were produced in front of the United goal.
On the hour mark Craig King slotted home from close range to give Bradford hope, and suddenly the hosts found their feet.
Spiess, whose air kick cost his side a goal against Stalybridge Celtic last week, was in inspired form as he twice bravely denied Callum Chipperfield from good positions.
And when the German-born stopper was beaten, Chilaka was inches away from forcing Darren Thornton’s low cross into the net.
In between the waves of attacks, a United break saw John Sands’ first-time effort force a save from Stewart.
But as the full-time whistle blew, United - who have only lost once in seven visits to the Horsfall - claimed three valuable points.
Welcome back Dayle. Welcome back Jay.
BPA: Stewart, Patterson (Ainge 88), Thornton, Turner (Scott 73), Qualter, Priestley, King, Dean, Chilaka, Chippendale, Colley (St Juste 56); Subs (not used): Marshall, Potts.
UNITED: Spiess, Marrs, Garner, Piergianni, McEvoy, Hilliard (Felix 57), Roberts, Ngamvoulou (Burgess 56), Rollins, Southwell (Johnson 74), Sands; Subs (not used): Evans, M. Jones, Felix.
Ref: Scott Oldham.