Capital One Cup: Bradford City's Dream Run Continues with Upset of Villa
On Tuesday night, two clubs from opposite ends of the English footballing spectrum met at Valley Parade.
English Premier League side Aston Villa, who have played in every single season of the league since its inception in 1992, took on Bradford City, a club from the fourth tier of the English footballing pyramid who spent two years in the top flight towards the turn of the century.
While Villa has played season after season in the top flight, Bradford have been searching for a beacon of hope after three relegations in the past decade—a spell that began with their exit from the EPL after the 2000-01 season.
Fast forward over a decade from the last time the two clubs met to Tuesday's match in the semifinals of the Cup.
Bradford pulled off the unthinkable in the quarterfinal round as they defeated mighty Arsenal on penalties.
The overflowing joy from defeating one of the giants of English football was quashed just a week later when the Bantams were knocked out of the FA Cup in a second-round replay by Brentford of League One.
After their disappointing FA Cup loss, all eyes were on Tuesday's match with Aston Villa, a match that presented the Bantams with yet another chance to defy the odds and take down a member of the EPL.
The match began with a fluent pace and with the visiting Villains in possession.
Then, in the 19th minute, the improbable of the eighth-placed club in League Two began to become a reality again.
Nahki Wells barely beat Villa's offside trap and was able to knock home a goal that sent all 22,000-plus fans at Valley Parade into an uproar.
Will Bradford City Advance to Capital One Cup Final?
After Wells' goal, the belief began to grow in not only the supporters in the stands, but more importantly into the players on the pitch.
The one player who laid it all on the line more than any other Bradford City player Tuesday night was goalkeeper Matt Duke.
Duke, a 35-year-old journeyman goalkeeper, became the rallying point for the success of the Bantams.
With every Aston Villa attack came the possibility of the club from the top flight finally taking the lead, something that they thought would be theirs all night.
With every shot on goal from the attacking talents in the Villa starting 11, a lineup which included Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke, Duke came up with a save that seemed more spectacular than the last one he made.
Overall, Duke made 12 saves for the League Two side on Tuesday night.
Not even experienced top-flight goalscorer Darren Bent could come off of the bench and break the lock that Duke had on the Bradford City goal.
With every second passing by and with every spectacular save by Duke in the books, the upset of the club from Birmingham continued to seem even more plausible.
A one goal lead would surely not be enough for the Bantams to hold on to when they enter Villa Park in a fortnight's time, and that concern was washed away in the 77th minute.
Just as Villa were beginning to believe that they could salvage the tie and come out of Valley Parade with a tie, Rory McArdle's head connected with the cross into the penalty area by Gary Jones, and the Bradford City fans and players were overcome with a joy for a second time.
McArdle's goal was nearly followed by another Bantams goal as James Hanson's diving header hit the top of the crossbar just two minutes later.
However, the celebratory manner of the fans who packed Valley Parade Tuesday night was turned into a nerve-racking final seven minutes after Andreas Weimann scored for the visitors.
Those nerves were not around for long as Bantams defender Carl McHugh soared through the Villa defense, or lack there of, and pounded a header home in the 88th minute.
The biggest uproar of the night from the ground in West Yorkshire came when referee Howard Webb blew the final whistle.
Bradford City will now take a two-goal advantage into Villa Park on January 22, when the two clubs play in the second leg of the semifinal.
The minnows from League Two are now just 90 minutes from accomplishing the impossible, playing in a cup final at the holy grail of English football, Wembley Stadium.
Whether or not the Bantams finish off their miracle run to Wembley is yet to be seen, but they are in a very comfortable position to make the final step towards a dream final in London on February 24.
Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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