Villa fans slink into the night as Bradford City prove fairytales really exist (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Aston Villa fans slink into the night as Bradford City prove fairytales really exist
Two contrasting images at the end of a tumultuous evening will endure in the memory as long as the events of the match itself.
The first was of Phil Parkinson and his men being feted by 6,500 ecstatic City supporters in two emotion-filled sections of the North Stand and Doug Ellis Stand.
Parkinson’s heroes greeted one another with high fives and hugs and celebrated like wild men.
The second, equally telling picture was of a largely deserted Villa Park, save for the huge army of travelling supporters, with the thousands of home fans having marched out of the ground in disgust as soon as the final whistle sounded.
It said everything.
“Que sera, sera,” chanted the delirious Bantams followers, who could scarcely believe what they were witnessing.
The greatest night in City’s 110-year history?
You would certainly think so.
Beating Newcastle to win the FA Cup in 1911 will take some topping.
The famous final-day win over Wolves at Molineux in May 1999, which took Paul Jewell’s men into the top fight, will similarly never be forgotten.
Nor will David Wetherall’s winning header against Liverpool 12 months later.
But this was incredible stuff and proof positive that fairytales really do exist.
Take James Hanson.
The City frontman was stacking shelves in Co-op until he was given a chance by his home-town club.
Last night he bulleted home a header that guaranteed him a place in Bantams folklore forever.
Parkinson, patrolling the touchline, produced an imaginary header as Gary Jones flighted over the corner and Hanson did the rest, escaping the attention of Villa skipper Ron Vlaar to plant a firm header into the net.
Cue delirium among the huge and raucous visiting contingent.
Hanson’s 55th-minute equaliser, cancelling out Christian Benteke’s first-half opener, sent life coursing through Parkinson’s team.
Hanson is a great story but this was a richly-deserved team effort from City in their 41st game of a marathon campaign.
And it had to be.
After Villa substitute Andreas Weimann struck in the 89th minute to ensure a fraught finale, the Bantams faced their biggest test of the night.
“There will be four minutes of added time,” said the Villa Park stadium announcer as the end of normal time approached.
Cue one last roar from the Holte End.
Only there was no such meaningful response from Paul Lambert’s young side.
Fourth division teams dumping out Premier League big guns in the semi-final of a major competition doesn’t really happen, does it?
Well, actually it does. And it did.
The cup exploits of Parkinson’s men have done much to promote the city of Bradford in a positive light this season; a season which has already been sweet beyond City’s fondest imaginings in many respects.
Three top-flight sides ushered out of the League Cup and still handily placed to compete for promotion.
That and a Wembley cup final is City’s lot in life this morning.
Throw in the small matter of at least £1million in the bank, allowing the club to clear their debts, and the magnitude of what the Bantams have achieved this year becomes clear.
If this Capital One Cup odyssey has proved anything, aside from the fact that Parkinson has transformed City into a force to be reckoned with, it is that this club have been in the bottom tier for too long.
There is simply too much energy and too much drive around the club for another season in League Two.
The team Parkinson has assembled for the princely sum of £7,500 must have felt as if they were entering a lion’s den as they emerged from the tunnel shortly before kick-off.
A passionate wall of noise by Villa’s flag-waving faithful created the kind of atmosphere unique to English cup football.
Parkinson did not seem fazed in the slightest.
Nor did his players, who gradually steadied themselves after Villa dominated the opening half and led through Benteke’s clinical strike.
A banner hung over the top tier of the famous old stand read ‘Holte End, the 12th man’, and it was hard to argue at times.
In bitterly cold conditions though, City and their supporters were clearly prepared to fight fire with fire.
Even after Benteke, so wasteful at Valley Parade a fortnight earlier, expertly fired Villa head, belief, crucially, never drained from Parkinson’s players.
True, they were forced on to the back foot for long periods and Matt Duke needed to reproduce the kind of form he had shown in the first leg.
But Hanson’s header drew them level on the night and substitute Garry Thompson then smacked a shot against the crossbar.
Villa’s response came from Weimann but it was too little too late.
The scenes on the Villa Park turf at the end told their own story: Bradford City Football Club are going to Wembley.
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