Bradford City’s 4-3 semi-final aggregate win over Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup is what many a football fan was holding out for. It’s the underdog story on stilts, a dream about to reach its awakening.
In sweeping aside Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and now Villa, Bradford have created an amazing cup run to take them to Wembley. There, they’ll face either Swansea, currently leading after the first leg, or a ridiculously talented Chelsea side not reaching the heights their highly-paid squad would suggest. For a true football story, most neutrals are hoping that the South Wales outfit will be making another trip to London in the final to take on a Yorkshire side with absolutely no confidence problems.
Aston Villa are exhibiting similar deficiencies to Chelsea, albeit exhibiting them at the other end of the Premier League table. They have a decent squad of players, particularly with a rotated frontline of Christian Benteke, Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor, but they just aren’t clicking and they sure aren’t winning. When manager Paul Lambert declared his side to be favourites going into the second leg of the cup semi, I scoffed. Sure, they’re going up against a League Two side slightly off the promotion boil, but a woeful first leg performance and a run of form that has seen them slip into the relegation zone speaks volumes. And so it did as Bradford fought back from a first half hammering to take the advantage and propel themselves into further stardom.
It could have been very different. With Andreas Weimann scoring in the last few minutes, Villa needed only one more goal to take the tie into extra time. Bradford had already made key substitutes that suggested they had already won but they were forced to defend against a barrage with time running out. Shay Given strolled forward, Weimann continued to pepper the box, but Villa lost all width and, seemingly, all conviction. Instead of getting more tense, the result seemed to be assured as Villa’s confidence slid and clearances became a doddle. If this Villa side can’t rally themselves in a cup semi-final against a fourth division side, they’re not going to have the steel needed to fight for top division safety.
This was Bradford’s night. Come the 24th February, Bradford will be (roughly) ninety minutes away from a place in the Europa League. Almost certainly a very short-lived one, but one that will do (and already has done) wonders for their finances. If Swansea qualify for the final, then all the better. Two hugely worthy teams fighting for the plaudits they deserve. It’s what football’s all about.