Former Bantams player Ian Nolan shares his horrible history of League Cup semi-final at Villa Park

Ian Nolan cuts a forlorn figure after missing the decisive penalty for Tranmere in their sudden death shoot-out against Aston Villa in the semi-final of the 1994 League Cup at Villa Park

Ian Nolan cuts a forlorn figure after missing the decisive penalty for Tranmere in their sudden death shoot-out against Aston Villa in the semi-final of the 1994 League Cup at Villa Park

First published in Sport Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Bradford City Reporter

Anyone who thinks that City have already got one foot in the Capital One Cup final needs a history lesson.

Aston Villa have proved the past masters at turning round a half-time deficit in the semi-finals – and 3-1 is certainly not a problem. Just ask Ian Nolan.

The former Northern Ireland defender, who played for City during their ill-fated second term in the Premiership, knows all too well about the dangers of believing the job is done after the first leg.

Nolan was a member of the Tranmere Rovers side which faced Villa at the same stage of the competition in 1994.

Tranmere, like the Bantams, had deservedly won the home game 3-1 and headed to Villa Park full of confidence.

It was to end in heartbreak as Villa won by the same score and then edged past Rovers in sudden-death penalties.

Ian Nolan

You go down there with a two-goal cushion but if Villa were to score early then it’s going to be a long time to hold on

And it was Nolan who missed the decisive spot-kick as Mark Bosnich correctly guessed to his left to claim his third save of the shoot-out.

So there is nobody better qualified to warn the Bantams about the size of the task awaiting them at Villa Park tomorrow.

“Seeing Bradford win 3-1 brought back a lot of memories for me about the Tranmere game,” said Nolan. “We took that lead down there and fancied our chances but it showed that wasn’t good enough.

“We never thought we were in the final already, the coaching staff and manager Johnny King wouldn’t allow it.

“But we thought among ourselves that we had been worthy winners in the first game. Unfortunately Villa got a late consolation on the night, which shouldn’t have been allowed, and that got them back in the tie.

“There was a fantastic atmosphere at Villa Park and we knew it was going to be hard. At least Bradford are used to playing in front of big crowds in the cup – at Tranmere we used to get 6,000 or 7,000 and all of a sudden were were live on TV on a Sunday afternoon with 40,000 there.

“It was a massive difference and took us a while to get used to. Obviously the experienced ones like John Aldridge and Pat Nevin didn’t have a problem but for some of the younger ones it was quite overwhelming.”

There was a sense of injustice about Tranmere’s cruel defeat – the players felt that Bosnich should not have still been on the field.

“Aldo had taken the ball round him during the game and Bosnich hauled him down. The ref gave the penalty, which we scored, but he should have shown a red card as well and that came back to haunt us.”

Nolan made 27 appearances for City after being signed by Chris Hutchings during the “six weeks of madness” in the summer of 2000. He made his debut in the Intertoto Cup against Waalwijk.

He left Valley Parade for Wigan after City were relegated but retired from the game two years later.

But Nolan, now 42, still follows their progress thanks to family connections and is well aware of the club’s prowess from penalties. Should tomorrow’s game head the same way as Tranmere did, he predicts a very different outcome.

“Bradford have got a bit of history over the penalty-kick situations and have gone a long time unbeaten. They’ll certainly fancy their chances if it goes that far and why not?

“They’ve been terrific to get this far and just shown that anything can happen in the cups.

“I’ve got family who are Bradford supporters and they’ve been giving me phone calls on a round-by-round basis.

“They will be full of confidence after playing so well in the first leg but it’s still going to be very difficult. You go down there with a two-goal cushion but if Villa were to score early then it’s going to be a long time to hold on.”

For Nolan, an away goal is a must if City are to complete arguably the biggest semi-final upset in the history of any domestic cup.

Rather than sitting back and hoping to absorb Villa pressure, he is urging them to be positive and try to carry on from where they left off a fortnight ago.

“The best form of defence is attack. Bradford have got to get at Villa when they can and look to score again.

“It was only a few weeks ago that Villa came to Anfield and beat Liverpool 3-1. That’s what they are capable of doing.

“Since then, they’ve taken a bit of a dip in form but I’m sure Paul Lambert will have all the young kids up for it.

“The crowd have got a part to play and the longer Bradford can maintain their two-goal advantage then the home fans might get on the backs of the Villa players.”

With cup favourites Chelsea also struggling after losing 2-0 to Swansea at Stamford Bridge, Nolan can sense this could be the year of the underdog.

“Bradford have certainly got a good chance of going to Wembley now and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them facing Swansea.

“Chelsea have got it all to do as well and Swansea are a good side at home.

“It’s an exciting prospect for some of the younger players in the Bradford team. This sort of occasion might never come again in their careers.

“They will be thinking this is our one and only chance to do this.

“I actually fancy Bradford to do it. I’m not overconfident of what I’ve seen of Aston Villa, having watched them get thrashed recently by Chelsea and Spurs and then losing at Valley Parade.

“Although they’ve got some good young players, they’ve got a lot to learn, especially in the Premier League. It’s not going to be easy for Bradford tomorrow but it will be just as hard for Villa.”

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