They were the team everyone wanted; the gimme; the free pass straight to Wembley.
Aston Villa have even guaranteed a seat at the Capital One Cup final with every half-season ticket sold.
Only Bradford City, the supposed patsies in the last four, did not read the script. Suddenly there genuinely are four contenders for those two elusive spots in the competition’s February 24 showpiece.
Stuart McCall is convinced Villa would have jumped for joy when they avoided the other Premier League survivors and were paired with the Bantams.
They may not be feeling quite so giddy going into the home leg and trailing 3-1.
McCall said: “Whoever got Bradford City in the semi-final draw would have been telling their family and friends ‘we’re at Wembley’. That’s natural.
“I’m not sure Aston Villa are thinking that at the moment.
“I’d hoped City would get Villa beforehand as well but only because of their inexperience.
“Watching the start of the first leg and seeing Villa’s front four, I feared it could be a long night if they got the first goal. But behind them you’ve got two very young central midfielders and four young ones at the back.
“As much as Villa could have scored more at Valley Parade, so could City. TV were saying Villa this, Villa that but there was Nahki’s breakaway and two headers from James that could have gone in as well.”
McCall makes no attempt to hide his excitement about City’s giant-killing prowess. He also believed Phil Parkinson got his tactics spot on in the first leg.
He is wondering now how the Bantams boss will approach the more wide open spaces of Villa Park.
“Being on a tighter pitch, it’s slightly easier to defend. Villa Park is quite wide and it will be interesting to see what Phil does.
“It’s going to be a really fine balancing act between having enough to create problems because you know where Villa are weak but also being sound and strong defensively.
“I’m normally more optimistic and attack-minded but you’ve got to be wary of the talent Villa have got in the final third. Going away for 90 minutes and not conceding two goals will be tough so City must use the pace in their team and the counter-attack aspect.
“The expectation will still be on Villa but Bradford can look at two things: the inexperience of the home side and the knowledge that they can create opportunities against them.
“Villa will naturally get chances with the quality of players they’ve got. But Bradford also have good ones in their ranks, as we’ve already seen.
“The first goal will be huge. If Bradford were to get it, that would create unbelievable pressure.
“When Villa got back to 2-1 at Valley Parade, it was like putting a pin in a cushion but then came that great header from (Carl) McHugh.
“That evened things out and there’s a belief with everyone now that City can go through, especially with 6,500 away fans making themselves heard down there.”
McCall has experienced his own personal highs and lows at Villa Park.
He was in that City side beaten by Villa in a promotion showdown on May Day 1988, letting David Platt slip away to bury the decisive header.
But Villa Park was also where McCall played an instrumental role when Scotland beat Switzerland in Euro ’96.
“And there was the Simod Cup game in the same season that Villa beat us in the league. We smashed them 5-0 and I ran the show!”
Villa Park on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 could now become a red-letter day for the club that he will always be tied to. Motherwell boss McCall imagines Parkinson must be pinching himself at the prospect.
“I listened to Phil before the game and he was saying the same things I did when we played Panathinaikos in the Champions’ League at the start of the season.
“It was a case of just trying to get a draw at least to take the tie into the second leg. You want to keep it alive.
“I’m sure Phil never imagined in his wildest dreams Bradford would go there with a two-goal lead.
“Would you rather go to Wembley or get promoted?
“At the beginning of every season, it’s all about City finishing top three and that is still the aim.
“Now with the confidence and belief in the squad from the run in the cup, allied with the readies that has brought in, the opportunity is really there.
“It’s been a heck of a 12 years since the club dropped out of the Premier League. It’s great we’ve finally got something good to enjoy.”