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City victory will help to exorcise ghosts of ’88, says Hendrie
The crucial promotion clash against Villa turned out to be John Hendrie’s final league appearance for City
Memories of 1988 will come flooding back when City and Aston Villa lock horns again in front of a full house tomorrow.
While the Bantams are making their first-ever appearance in the last four of the League Cup, big occasions against Villa are nothing new.
For many will recall the May Day Bank Holiday 25 years ago when the sides squared off at Villa Park with promotion to the top flight as the prize.
Millwall won the Second Division that year, inspired by the strike partnership of Tony Cascarino and Teddy Sheringham and the muscle of Terry Hurlock and Keith “Rhino” Stevens – the fearsome defender who terrified City winger Mark Ellis.
Terry Dolan’s Bantams were among four sides scrapping it out for the second automatic spot along with Villa, Middlesbrough and Blackburn.
The tension could not have been higher when City arrived in Birmingham for the penultimate league match.
The visitors were in the box seat, four wins in five lifting them into second – two points ahead of Middlesbrough, three from Villa, four off Blackburn. Another victory could have clinched it.
Villa had already won 4-2 at Valley Parade in November, an occasion marred for John Hendrie by some insensitive remarks by Graham Taylor.
In Hendrie’s eyes, Taylor had “rubbed a lot of Bradford fans the wrong way” by stating that the club were living off the sympathy of the public because of the fire three years earlier. “It didn’t need to be said.”
Villa’s imperious away form was not matched on home soil and City fancied their chances in the May sunshine.
“We were a good side and with a fantastic team spirit,” said Hendrie. “They had been European champions only seven years earlier and were a massive club but that didn’t worry us.
“The atmosphere was tremendous because there was so much at stake. Both sides were in form and it was like a winner takes all.” Hendrie had the first sight of goal, spinning on the edge of the six-yard box but firing just over Nigel Spink’s bar.
But then, midway through the first half, came the decisive moment. Right back Kevin Gage swung a cross into the City penalty area and David Platt slipped from Stuart McCall’s attentions to head into the corner of the net.
Hendrie said: “He took the goal very well, running deep from midfield, which was to become his trademark. He was just coming to prominence then but would score a lot more like that.
“A draw would have done us but we just came up short. They went up on the back of that result.”
City could still have made it but blew up again the following week at home to Ipswich. Then defeat in the play-offs to Middlesbrough forced the break-up of the side, with Hendrie and McCall both on their way.
The “nearly” season, as it has become known with the fans, still rankles with the Scot to this day.
“It was such a great opportunity for us and such a thin line that stopped us. Ultimately it was down to the size of the squad, or the lack of, that cost us.
“Doley wanted Keith Curle and Andy Townsend before the transfer deadline and if we’d got them, we’d have had the strength in depth to see it through. They would have helped us get over the line.
“It was a tiny squad, it would be laughable nowadays. Nobody would have coped with it so it’s remarkable we did as well as we did.”
Villa Park proved to be Hendrie’s final league appearance in a City shirt, ending a run of 173 consecutive games.
A red card in the 2-2 draw at Manchester City the week before meant he was banned for the 3-2 loss to Ipswich on the final day.
Hendrie was sent off for two bookings, the second a highly dubious one for a challenge on City keeper Mike Stowell.
“He went down like a sack of spuds. I never touched him.”
Stockton referee Ken Lupton decided otherwise – a ruling that would rumble on when the pair met again in the north east during Hendrie’s six years playing for Middlesbrough.
Hendrie added: “I’d bump into Ken watching the Boro, supporting the Boro and wearing red and white at games.
“And he’d sent me off when we were against the Boro in the race for promotion. It didn’t seem right.”
But Hendrie feels the present City side are facing Villa at just the right moment.
With confidence brittle after several heavy Premier League beatings over the holiday period, he believes the underdogs can make life very uncomfortable at Valley Parade.
“Villa have not got a lot of experience there. They’ve got injuries to the likes of Bent, Agbonlahor and Dunne and when things aren’t going well, you need the older heads to calm the younger ones down.
“They’ve taken a couple of drubbings recently and psychologically that will play into Bradford’s hands. The City lads will be thinking that they’ve got past Wigan and Arsenal and these aren’t any better.
“Villa are obviously hot favourites over the two legs but it’s perfect for City to be at home first.
“It could have been a bit of an after-event at Valley Parade if City had been well beaten down there. But now both teams will start on a level playing field so it’s going to be such an exciting occasion for the supporters.
“Once again the boys have absolutely nothing to lose, just like the last two rounds.
“Who would have given them a prayer against Arsenal? If you played that Arsenal team 50 times, they would probably win 49 of them but it was just one of those nights.
“Now there’s only one team standing between Bradford and Wembley – and two from Europe!
“It’s incredible really and they have won many fans up and down the country already. It’s going to be another cracking night tomorrow and there’s everything to play for.”