BANTAMS DEFY THE ODDS AND PROGRESS TO WEMBLEY WITH HISTORIC VICTORY
They all said that it was impossible. They all said that we'd succumb to the occasion. They all said that the Arsenal victory was a fluke.
Then again, Bradford City have never complied with expectation.
Bradford went into the second leg with something to defend. They’d acquired a 3-1 lead at Valley Parade on what was a very memorable night and were just 90 minutes away from making history. For the long-suffering City fans who have winced as their team have plummeted down the divisions, it was just spectacular.
In typical City fashion, though, they didn’t make it easy for themselves.
The Bantams rivalled Villa in the opening minutes, with Wells and Hanson driving towards the goal to test the Premier League defence. However, Paul Lambert’s side were soon on the counter: Benteke poked his header marginally wide of the post.
From then on, we knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy night.
The early threat seemed to have unnerved Bradford somewhat, and Villa charged up in numbers. Nzogbia’s pinpoint cross was met by a Villa player, but the subsequent header flew over the bar. Just moments later, Duke was equal to Benteke’s effort.
23 minutes in, it happened. And it wasn’t nice.
The forward play from Villa pushed the Bradford defence back, congesting the box. Benteke escaped from his marker and flicked the ball into the net. Paul Lambert sprung to life on the touchline, punching the air.
He believed that the comeback was on.
Villa continued to pile on the pressure, but City resisted. Some brave defending from McArdle, McHugh and Good saved Bradford’s bacon, and Atkinson and Wells pulled back to ease some of the strain. Duke, again, was on fine form, denying Stephen Ireland by getting just his fingertips to the ball.
It was nearly the end of the first half, and Bradford had broken: Wells’ powerful shot just flew wide of the post. Villa were no stranger to the Bermudan’s prominence in front of goal, and this served as a reminder that the League 2 team could provide a potent attacking threat.
Half time came, and it couldn’t come quick enough. We couldn’t defend for the remaining 45 minutes. We needed to regain composure.
And regain composure, we did.
The Bantams began to get bodies forward and string passes together. Zavon Hines’ superb sprint up the wing won a corner, and, as Villa know all too well, Bradford are lethal from set pieces.
It was the visitor’s chance to capitalise, and they did not waste it. A Gary Jones cross oozed textbook perfection, finding a lively Hanson, and the ball rattled the back of the net. A thunderous header, it was the perfect way for Hanson to silence his critics and end his lengthy goal-drought.
Bradford nearly made it a second after Nathan Doyle’s ball reached Hanson, but the forward jumped wide. City had bounced back and were charging forward in numbers.
Parkinson swapped Nahki Wells for Garry Thompson. His tactic involved clearing the ball for it to be picked up by Darby and the Arsenal hero, who both showed incredible attacking flair to sprint forward and create chances. It could have easily been 2; Thompson rattled the crossbar.
With just a minute of normal time left, Andres Weimman slotted home to give Villa a final prayer of progression. But this was City’s night. That minor setback wasn’t going to change things.
After the Arsenal game, we began to hope. As the four minutes ticked away, we began to believe. And, as the final whistle blew, we began the most exciting celebrations that have graced Bradford City in a long time.
We’d done it. We were going to Wembley.
For years, I’d watched my team plummet to the depths of the fourth division, fighting to stay up after losing game after game. I’d seen Peter Taylor’s side fall woefully below expectation, and the club that I love teeter on the verge of administration.
Now, Parkinson is taking us to Wembley.
Mission impossible? Not for the Bradford boys.