City 3, Northampton 3
(aet – City win 4-2 on penalties)
Just what can you say about this latest cup triumph? These spot-kick dramas – and the inevitable victory – are almost becoming run of the mill for the never-say-die Bantams.
But even by the extraordinary standards of recent cup nail-biters, last night’s win and eighth straight shoot-out success had it all and more.
The Arsenal game may have dominated every Valley Parade conversation in the past couple of days. But this FA Cup win over Northampton deserves to steal the limelight.
Watched by a sub-3,000 crowd, City gave it everything in a topsy-turvy encounter. They saw victory snatched away in the last minute of normal time, rescued it in the last minute of extra-time – and then saw it off in the spot-kick finale that is always their time.
Phil Parkinson freshened it up once again with half a dozen changes, including a first home start for Scott Brown. The youngster had made a polished debut in the game at Sixfields ten days earlier.
There was no Garry Thompson, the latest victim of the bug that has been sweeping the club. But Northampton were also suffering similarly.
Aidy Boothroyd had to field a very youthful midfield on his return to home soil after Chris Hackett was ruled out ill. And Adebayo Akinfenwa travelled up separately because he was feeling under the weather.
But the visitors had the first sniff of goal as Rory McArdle struggled to deal with a through ball and Ishmel Demontagnac poked it wide.
Jon McLaughlin, back in City’s goal, comfortably dealt with a low drive from Lewis Wilson. Then Henoc Mukendi had a crack as Northampton started as brightly as their luminous lime change kit.
James Hanson sent an overhead kick into the deserted TL Dallas Stand before Northampton should have gone ahead after 21 minutes, Clive Platt nodding a free header over the bar from Lewis Wilson’s cross.
McLaughlin came to McArdle’s rescue after the centre half trod on the ball, allowing Demontagnac to race through. The keeper was straight out to save well with his legs.
City were having an uncomfortable time and it took a further downturn when Hines had to hobble off just before the half-hour mark.
But the home side rode the blow – and went in front five minutes later. Hanson was the provider, laying a ball off for Will Atkinson to sweep home from eight yards. It was the midfielder’s second goal of the season – both in the FA Cup against the Cobblers.
City could have been celebrating double joy when substitute Adam Baker, on after Hines departed with a damaged ankle, looked to be through on goal.
But Joe Widdowson wrestled the ball back from the youngster just inside the box as Parkinson screamed for a penalty. The left back would surely have seen red as well for a professional foul.
To throw salt in the wound, Northampton then levelled two minutes before the break after Ricky Ravenhill was adjudged to have brought down Demontagnac at the other end. It looked a soft one but the winger picked himself up to drive a confident penalty into the roof of the net.
City nearly paid at the start of the second half when slips by Brown and then Carl McHugh presented an offside-looking Emyr Huws with a free shot from the angle of the box. But his connection was horrible and it screwed well wide.
Atkinson was having another good game and a neat interchange with Alan Connell inside the Northampton penalty area teed up the former Swindon man for a well-struck effort that cannoned away off Kelvin Langmead.
Demontagnac was making the most of his recall in place of Akinfenwa and whistled one just over after being picked out by a raking pass from Widdowson.
City hearts were briefly in mouths when Demontagnac then went tumbling over Ravenhill’s outstretched leg. It looked like referee Mick Russell had the whistle to his lips but he gave nothing.
Atkinson and Connell combined again in response to create a chance for Hanson, then Huws rattled one wide for the Cobblers.
Boothroyd unleashed Akinfenwa as another extra-time beckoned but City almost snatched a second goal when Baker’s header was blocked in front the line by Widdowson.
The breakthrough did arrive with a minute to go – and it involved the same two players. Baker’s shot from James Meredith’s cross was handled by the defender and Wells dispatched the penalty.
But there was more drama to follow in stoppage time as Meredith failed to cut out Akinfenwa’s pass and Platt drove in a last-gasp equaliser.
It was only Platt’s second goal of the season – but he was thwarted when looking to add a third in extra-time by a fine save from McLaughlin.
Hanson, another striker in need of a score, had the chance to end his recent drought but he thrashed Ravenhill’s pass against an advertising board.
But the big man had to revert to an emergency defensive role for the second period after Meredith went off with an injured hip. The Aussie typically tried to stay on but Parkinson, wary of losing another key man, was having none of it.
So with all three subs used, City had to play the last 15 minutes a man down – and lasted only four of them before Northampton skipper Langmead curled home from 15 yards.
At that stage, everything looked up. But nobody had told the Bantams and McHugh nodded home with literally the final touch in the added minute at the end.
So off to penalties and, despite Wells missing the opener, City reigned 4-2 thanks to McLaughlin’s save from Danny East and a truly woeful effort by Langmead.