Wednesday 17 January 2018

Bradford's Wembley dreams come true as Villa fail to reel in minnows

Aston Villa 2 Bradford 1
(Bradford win 4-3 on aggregate)

Henry Winter

AMID tumultuous scenes, Bradford last night became the first fourth-tier club to reach the League Cup final for 51 years.

By the end, their fans were chanting "ole" and singing about Wembley. Europe could also beckon for a team assembled at a cost of only £7,500.

Phil Parkinson's determined side had already accounted for Premier League teams in Wigan Athletic and Arsenal and never lost belief, even when Christian Benteke scored in the first half.

That put Villa in pole position, but James Hanson's header, again exploiting shocking Villa defending at set-pieces, meant Paul Lambert's men needed two. Andreas Weimann got one of them but it was too little too late.

Villa were very good in the first half but had only one goal to show for their effort. Lambert had called on Villa fans to "help them fight for very ball", ensuring the players demonstrated the commitment so painfully lacking at Valley Parade. Hunting the early goal to drag them back into contention, Villa poured forward. Even before his neat strike, Benteke was a mobile menace. Charles N'Zogbia also started in lively fashion, making good ground down the right, whipping in a cross that Benteke headed wide.

After nine minutes, Gabriel Agbonlahor sent Benteke into the box and the Belgian cut the ball back. Villa fans were on their feet, hope rising. The ball seemed destined for Agbonlahor until Rory McArdle intercepted.

Villa were laying siege to Matt Duke's goal. Carl McHugh cleared hurriedly as Agbonlahor lurked. Still Villa probed for the opener. N'Zogbia crossed from the right but Benteke wasted a free header. Then Fabian Delph stormed forward on a 40-yard run but shot over.

Ciaran Clark was cautioned for fouling Hanson when Stephen Darby had escaped for a far worse challenge on Agbonlahor.

Villa's persistence was rewarded after 24 minutes. Bennett's left foot curled in a cross and there was Benteke, exploiting lax marking by McHugh and McArdle, to propel the ball past Duke. The Holte End breathed a little easier. For a while.

Moments of concern still filtered through Villa's area, some of it self-inflicted. Barry Bannan, who was under pressure from Nahki Wells, broke every rule in the book, and the spine of the rule-book itself, by playing the ball across from the corner-flag into his box.

Shay Given showed great awareness and dexterity to control the speeding ball on his chest and then volley the ball clear.

Villa should have added another before the break but Duke denied Stephen Ireland and then Benteke headed wide. There was a reminder of the need for total concentration as the half closed. Wells curled a left-footed shot just wide.

That reminder was not heeded. Bradford made it 1-1 on the night, 4-2 on aggregate. When Gary Jones curled in a corner, Hanson headed in. "This is the best trip I've ever been on," chanted the Bradford fans.

Needing two goals now, Lambert sent on reinforcements. Darren Bent and Weimann came on, but it was Bradford who went closest to finding another goal when Garry Thompson hit the bar. Then Wells cut in from the left, but his effort was blocked by Ron Vlaar.

Bradford fans were loving it, chanting "que sera, sera, we're going to Wembley". Villa lacked leaders. Bradford believed they could score another. Jones hoisted in another corner, looking again for Hanson but Vlaar managed to head clear. Villa had little shape, the life draining from them. Benteke and Bent led the line, Weimann was on the right, with Agbonlahor on the left but even with all that talent, they could not find a way back into this game. Some of their fans began leaving early.

In the 89th minute, Weimann gave Villa late hope, slotting the ball past Duke. The fourth official then held up the board showing four minutes of injury-time. Yet Bradford ran down the clock, and when Phil Dowd blew his whistle for the final time, Bradford fans raised the roof. Valley Parade's stadium announcer was right. Wembley beckons. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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