Bradford's dream close to realisation
Bradford 3 Aston Villa 1:These are the moments when Bradford City – skint in League Two, on a journey that has taken them close to financial ruin and fielding a side here that cost the grand total of €9200 – are close to giving English football one of the great cup stories of the modern era.
Phil Parkinson’s side played with spirit, togetherness and enough belief that they could make Aston Villa the third Premier League club they have eliminated from the Capital One Cup that nobody should be too convinced about the chances of their opponents overturning the deficit in the return leg a week next Tuesday.
Semblance of hope
Andreas Weimann’s 82nd-minute goal gives Paul Lambert’s team a semblance of hope but that does not change the fact it was an ignominious night for the top-flight team and the most remarkable aspect was that the damage might have been even more grievous.
There were times, inevitably, when Villa got on top but there were also moments when they were pinned into their own half. Villa, in short, were abysmal from the moment Nakhi Wells made himself an unlikely hero with the first goal.
Wells, a 22-year-old Bermuda international, began his career at the wonderfully named Dandy Town Hornets as well as the Bermuda Hogges before Carlisle gave him his chance in English football two years ago.
He joined Bradford six months later and, on this evidence, it is easy to understand why there are Championship clubs monitoring him closely.
He was lucky in one respect because there was certainly a sprinkle of good fortune attached to the way the ball ricocheted into his path from Zavon Hines’s deflected shot. The ball had reached Hines from a half-cleared corner and the deflection was kind, to say the least.
Matthew Lowton was playing Wells onside and the forward controlled the ball, then turned his shot past Shay Given with the kind of composure that belied the fact he was playing the biggest match of his life.
The goal had several effects. First, it soothed Bradford’s nerves on the back of a slightly anxious start. It also lifted an already excitable crowd and, drained Villa of confidence.
Suddenly it was Lambert’s side who looked anxious, displaying the kind of shortcomings that were so evident over their Christmas programme.
For the remainder of the first half the Premier League’s fifth-from-bottom side were probably just grateful that they made it to the interval without it becoming even more of an ordeal.
Given saved a shot from the lively Hines and shortly afterwards Fabian Delph turned away James Hanson’s header from the goalline. Hanson then had a headed chance that bounced over Given’s bar. Villa were shellshocked and their opponents seemed to sense it.
Frame of mind
Villa had actually begun the game in positive mood. Christian Benteke had three chances inside the opening 15 minutes, including two misdirected free headers from corners.
Lambert brought on Darren Bent but he, too, was culpable. After 70 minutes N’Zogbia fired in a 20-yard shot that came back off Duke, spinning into the air only for Bent to head it over an exposed net.
What a costly miss it was. After 77 minutes Gary Jones’s corner came back to him courtesy of more lax defending. His cross was whipped in and Rory McArdle flashed his header past Given to make it 2-0. Astonishingly, Hanson then headed against the crossbar before Weimann ran on to Benteke’s flick to give Villa some hope.
It was shortlived. With two minutes to play, from a Jones corner, Carl McHugh powered in a header to round off a brilliant night for a club that must have thought these sort of occasions were strictly out of reach.
BRADFORD: Duke, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Good, Hines (Turgott 65), Gary Jones, Doyle, Atkinson, Wells, Hanson. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Ravenhill, Reid, Ritchie Jones, Hannah, Connell. Booked: McHugh.
ASTON VILLA: Given, Lowton, Clark, Baker, Bennett, Agbonlahor (Bent 57), Delph, Bannan, N’Zogbia, Benteke, Weimann, Bent (Burke 85). Subs not used: Guzan, Ireland, Stevens, Lichaj, Carruthers. Booked: N’Zogbia, Delph.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).