Bradford City 2 Leeds United 1
THROW in the manner of victory, the opposition and an 82-year wait – it’s fair to say that wins don’t come sweeter than this.
Capital One Cup heroics are nothing new at Valley Parade but a derby victory over Leeds here – for the first time since 1932 – can now rank alongside those earlier glory nights.
And how fitting that it should be local lad James Hanson, the only survivor from the last meeting between the neighbours three years ago, who notched the decider.
It was even better because City, who had the advantage of playing with an extra man for an hour, fell behind with only minutes left.
But instead of shrinking, the hosts rose again. Billy Knott levelled with an absolute belter and then Hanson stooped to conquer with a trademark header just one minute 40 seconds later.
With Andrew Davies beginning his recovery following Monday’s operation on his broken left arm, Alan Sheehan lined up in the middle against the club where he made 24 appearances between 2008 and 2010.
James Meredith returned at left back so the back four was the same that kept a clean sheet in the first round at League Two leaders Morecambe.
Ben Williams once again replaced the ineligible Jordan Pickford but the keeper was hardly short of big-match experience, having featured in eight Edinburgh derbies in his recent two years at Hibernian.
Under-fire Leeds head coach Dave Hockaday named a side with ten Englishmen – players he obviously felt would understand the significance of such a tribal fixture. That included a first start in a year for midfielder David Norris.
Matt Smith, another to get a recall, headed wide from the opening corner as the game began to a noisy backdrop.
And that volume cranked up a couple of notches when Luke Murphy went in very late on Gary Liddle to earn an early yellow card. A less lenient ref might have reached for a different colour.
The start was predictably fast and furious with nobody prepared to concede an inch.
But Leeds had settled the better and Sheehan got a crucial touch to take the ball off the toe of Norris in the box before Stephen Warnock fired off target.
There was a worry for City when Mclean suddenly went down needing treatment. But he was able to play on after treatment – and went within a whisker of breaking the deadlock on 17 minutes.
Sheehan whipped a deep free-kick to the far post, where the striker’s stooping header flashed just wide.
City had settled down after a few early nerves and there was little to choose between the sides. Smith was winning his fair share in the air and a flick-on towards Billy Sharp threatened danger but Meredith was alert to it with a solid block.
The Australian was taking every chance to get forward himself – and one such surge ended with a sliding lunge from Murphy. It was a daft challenge to make from a player already in the book – and the red card he could have received earlier duly materialised.
The bookies had tipped City as favourites before kick-off and the odds would have shortened further with Leeds going down to ten men – their fourth sending-off in the opening six games.
City looked to press home that advantage as Mclean drilled a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. Meredith’s return was whacked clear by Leeds skipper Jason Pearce.
Leeds were being pushed deeper and former City loanee Stephen Warnock had to be alert to turn away another Meredith cross fizzed along the six-yard box.
Momentum was with the home side but there was a brief worry approaching half-time after a mistake from Knott. His casual pass back towards Rory McArdle fell short and Sharp nipped in to take possession but Williams smothered the ball securely.
But the onus was on City to deliver the killer blow. They would never have a better chance of ending that long wait for a win over the noisy neighbours.
They went agonisingly close seven minutes into the second period as Meredith again found room out wide.
Liddle’s pass gave him room to cross and Kennedy came charging in to meet it – only to sweep his shot wide from six yards. It looked a great chance for the in-form midfielder.
Parkinson had criticised the quality of City’s crossing in the Peterborough defeat but there was no complaint last night. It just needed someone to finish them.
The City chief was less happy when Sharp caught McArdle as the defender won a header in front of the home dug-out. Both players squared up and then Parkinson briefly got involved with the Leeds striker.
Clarke is still a derby hero with Blackpool fans for a strike against Preston – and he could have etched his name in Valley Parade folklore midway through the half.
Meredith found Mclean in loads of space near the corner of the box and he slid in Clarke. But Taylor got his angles right to thwart the former Crawley man, who held his head in his hands in frustration after the shot was turned away.
That was Mclean’s final involvement as he made way for Oliver McBurnie but Clarke had the bit between his teeth, trying to work Sheehan’s cross past Taylor at the near post.
The keeper got a half-block on it and Pearce completed the clearance off his own line. For all the City pressure, they could not find a way through.
And suddenly Leeds did with a rare counter-attack eight minutes from time as Smith rose to nod home a cross by Norris.
City had to lift themselves and they did – and how. Clarke immediately tested Taylor and from the resulting corner, the ball came out to Knott who screamed a 25-yarder into the roof of the net.
As Valley Parade erupted, things quickly got even better for the Bantams. Liddle bent a cross towards the keeper and Hanson won a test of strength with Taylor to bundle home.
From a goal down to 2-1 up in the space of five minutes – it was a mighty impressive turnaround.
Nine minutes of stoppage time threatened to shred home nerves as sub Dominic Poleon scuffed wide. But nothing was going to spoil this long-awaited Bantams party.