Bradford hold off Villa advances to book their dream ticket to Wembley
English League Cup semi-final, second leg: Aston Villa 2 Bradford City 1:For Aston Villa, it will be remembered as one of the more harrowing nights of their history. For Bradford, 10th in League Two, bucket-collection skint a few years back, it is difficult to imagine how they could possibly top this moment. Unless they go to Wembley and actually win the damn thing.
Paul Lambert’s side, fourth from bottom of the Premier League, must now go to Millwall in the FA Cup on Friday, with another giant-killing possible.
It may take a long time before this once-mighty club, former European Cup winners, get over losing a two-leg semi-final against a side 62 places below them in the order of English football.
Nothing, however, should distract from the story of Bradford’s achievement.
Phil Parkinson’s side looked like they might be overwhelmed once Christian Benteke volleyed in the first goal midway through a first half of near incessant pressure.
Instead, they can look forward to meeting Swansea City or Chelsea at Wembley on February 24th, courtesy of a 55th-minute header from James Hanson, a striker who was stacking shelves in a Co-op supermarket two years ago.
Villa were 3-1 behind from the first leg and their ordeal might have been even more unbearable if the same player had not missed an easier chance shortly afterwards.
Bradford substitute Garry Thompson curled a shot against the crossbar soon after Lambert had brought on Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann to leave the home side with four forwards. Weimann instigated one last onslaught when he went round Matt Duke in the 89th minute but Villa’s ignominy was soon confirmed.
Villa had begun the game as if still affronted by the indignities that engulfed them at Valley Parade.
Very quickly, it became apparent it was going to be a tremendously difficult, often backs-to-the-wall night for the side with the first-leg lead.
Villa’s passing in the forward positions was crisp and penetrative and, if they were running short of confidence, there was little evidence of it.
Charles N’Zogbia was an elusive opponent, always wanting the ball and willing to run at the Bradford defence. Stephen Ireland and Fabian Delph pushed forward from midfield.
Quick and alert
Benteke was quick and alert, making sure he got to the ball first, then jutting out of those tree-trunk legs to meet the cross on the volley. This time Duke was hopelessly exposed as the ball flashed past him.
Yet Bradford’s prowess from set pieces – coupled with Villa’s inability to deal with balls into their penalty area – has been a feature of both games.
After 53 minutes, Zavon Hines’s persistence on the right wing won a corner. The first one was cleared for another corner. The second, delivered with great expertise by Gary Jones, picked out Hanson. At €9,000, this was Bradford’s most expensive player eluding his marker, Ron Vlaar, and scoring with a thumping header.
For Bradford, that goal might be priceless.