Aston Villa v Bradford City: Wembley hero Mark Stallard has fingers crossed Bantams can emulate the class of '96

Goalscorers Mark Stallard and Des Hamilton show off the Second Division play-off final trophy after victory over Notts County at Wembley in 1996

Goalscorers Mark Stallard and Des Hamilton show off the Second Division play-off final trophy after victory over Notts County at Wembley in 1996

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

Mention Mark Stallard’s name to any City fan and it will instantly conjure up one very special image.

Richard Huxford’s pass from the right, the flick-on by substitute Ian Ormondroyd and there is Stallard on the edge of the six-yard box to cushion a volley home.

Stallard scored 13 goals during 14 months with the Bantams but it was the one at Wembley that ensured a permanent place in Valley Parade affections.

Already leading Notts County in the 1996 Second Division play-off final thanks to a mazy dribble and finish from teenager Des Hamilton early on, Stallard’s goal 15 minutes from time guaranteed the victory for Chris Kamara’s team.

After 93 years of waiting, Bradford City’s first appearance at Wembley had ended in glory. They have not been back at England’s national home since.

Seventeen years on, Phil Parkinson’s class of 2013 are tantalisingly closer than ever – just one game at Villa Park away.

It’s the stuff of dreams for City. They would never, ever have expected to get as far as this and can they take that one extra step and put the cherry on top of the cake?

Mark Stallard

Stallard has pinched himself at their progress through the Capital One Cup just as much as any supporter.

He said: “Look at the teams that Bradford have beaten. Anyone can produce a big performance as a one off but to do it three times is just fantastic.

“To almost beat Arsenal in 90 minutes is no fluke. Then to play as well as they did in the first leg – unbelievable.

“I kept thinking that Aston Villa would come back at any minute but Bradford kept on going. The manager summed it up when he said that scoring three goals against a Premier League team is no mean feat.

“It’s only half-time in the tie and admittedly they are still second favourites. Many people will think that Villa can turn it round from 3-1 down at their place.

“There’s no way, shape or form that Villa will underestimate their opponents. If they did that at Valley Parade in any way, there’s no chance of that happening now.

“Villa will not want to be known as the ones who got knocked out in the semi-finals by a team from League Two. They will be bang up for it.

“But they are also a fairly inexperienced side and will be under a lot of pressure now. Can they deal with it?

“From Bradford’s point of view, it’s an absolutely no lose situation. Even now, nobody is really expecting them to get through to the final so fingers crossed they can pull it off.”

City’s fairytale journey has captured the imagination of the whole country. Stallard believes the competition – much derided in the past by the attitude of the top clubs – could not have wished for a more persuasive advert.

“It’s what the Capital One Cup needs. You couldn’t have two better second legs for the TV companies.

“It’s just like the other semi-final when you expected Swansea to get turned over at Stamford Bridge. Now Chelsea are going to have to have a real go to try and pull it back.

“The League Cup has always been seen as the lesser competition with the top teams never playing their strongest sides. But this has really generated the interest in it once more.

“There’s still a European place at the end of it for the winner. Don’t tell anyone that it doesn’t matter.

“Ask Arsene Wenger. A massive club like Arsenal haven’t won any silverware since 2005 – you’re not telling me they wouldn’t take a Capital One Cup right now.

“It’s the stuff of dreams for Bradford. They would never, ever have expected to get as far as this and can they take that one extra step and put the cherry on top of the cake?”

Stallard can understand why City’s results in League Two have taken a little dip amid the cup exploits. Something has to give.

But he believes the momentum they have generated can be turned into points towards winning promotion.

“Obviously they want this to translate into their league form.

“The cup run has been great for the club and raising their profile and, of course, the bank balance. But it can be counter-productive in the sense that it puts extra pressure on them in the league.

“They’ve shown how well they can perform against Villa and Arsenal and people will wonder why they can’t do the same against the likes of Accrington or Rochdale. But I’m sure the lads will be desperate to put that right and get out of the division.”

For now, all roads point to Birmingham and the potential night of destiny tomorrow.

The chance to emulate the 1996 side and return to Wembley beckons.

Stallard admitted: “It’s hard not to but you don’t want to tempt fate by talking about it too much. Let’s try not to get carried away.

“A Premier League side at home to one from three divisions below them should be able to beat them by a couple of goals. That would be the logical outcome.

“It’s going to take another monumental effort from Bradford to hold Villa off. But they have shown they are capable of doing that on three previous occasions – so there’s no reason why they can’t do it once more.

“Going down to Wembley for a League One play-off final with 30,000 Bradford fans behind you was phenomenal. That was something I will never forget.

“Just imagine going there in the final of one of the premier cup competitions – that would be second to none for everybody involved with the club.

“Those lads are playing for the chance to wear the Bradford shirt at Wembley. Who knows, maybe even take it into Europe!

“We didn’t quite get that far, although the club did pay for us to go to Magaluf – which was very, very good from what I can remember ...”

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