You thought it couldn’t possibly get any better for Bradford City than hosting Arsenal in a domestic cup quarter-final: a packed home crowd, an evening back in the spotlight, a big pay-day for a club that has been on its knees financially for far too long.
Patronising it might have been, but that was about as much as anyone realistically expected Bradford to get from the night. Arsenal were putting out as good as a full-strength side, after all.
Yet here we are three weeks later talking about an even more momentous day for Bradford City – a League Cup semi-final against former European Cup winners Aston Villa and for everybody connected with the League Two side, especially their long-suffering fans, this is the stuff dreams are made of.
Despite a decent record over the last couple of years in the League Cup and Football League Trophy, the idea that Bradford could reach a major domestic semi-final was laughable at the start of the season and it is to the eternal credit of manager Phil Parkinson and his players that the nigh-on impossible has been achieved.
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It hasn’t been an easy route to this point, either: as well as that famous penalty shoot-out victory over Arsenal, Premier League Wigan Athletic, Championship Watford and Notts County of League One have all been defeated en route to this two-legged semi-final and Bradford fully deserve their place in the last four.
In amongst all the fall-out from the quarter-final – namely that Arsenal woefully underperformed – it was largely forgotten that City were excellent for the entire 120 minutes and they will need a repeat performance if they are to reach a Wembley final at the expense of Aston Villa.
You would think that Bradford need a result to take back to Villa Park to stand any chance and the bookies at bwin don’t fancy their chances.
Villa are odds-on favourites at 18/25 to win at Valley Parade, with the draw at 27/10 and City a 18/5 chance to gain a vital lead, and I must admit I have a sneaky feeling that Bradford can get a result on Tuesday night.
Paul Lambert has found the going tough since knocking out his old club Norwich City in the last round.
A win at Liverpool has been largely forgotten after a nightmare Christmas that saw Villa take one point from 12 and let in 17 goals in four matches and you never know what you are going to get from Villa these days, such is the inexperience in their ranks.
Strangely enough, both sides have found results hard to come by since the quarter-final, as Bradford have also won just once in the league since the Arsenal match, but that is more understandable and with all eyes on Tuesday night, there will be no underperformance from Parkinson’s side.
In fact, they are likely to play above themselves and I am going to have a go on the 21/10 that Bradford avoid defeat. Part of this is down to the way they dealt with Arsenal and the hostile atmosphere the fans managed to create in the tight ground that night.
That atmosphere is something that Villa’s young stars will not have yet experienced and I do fear that they may freeze in the face of such frenzy, while playing a team they are expected to beat brings its own pressures, too.
Villa are far too erratic to be backing at odds-on away from home against any opposition and I think a highly motivated Bradford side – who are a decent outfit as well, don’t forget – can go into the second leg with something to hold on to.