Bradford City 3
Wells 83 + 90, Darby 115
Burton Albion 2
Kee 18, Webster 29
Tuesday 25 September, 2012
By Jason McKeown
Bradford City are into the last 16 of a competition they cannot conceivably win. But perhaps more significantly, they have laid down the biggest indication to date that they are going to be celebrating league success next Spring.
You can take your pick from a long list of admirable qualities that came to the fore as the Bantams came from 2-0 down to edge past Burton via extra time. Character was in abundance; and there were significantly high levels of composure, determination, courage, spirit and belief on display. And when a group of talented footballers – which is what City have in the building – can bring such positive characteristics to the fore, we can only feel excited about how they will be applied over the months ahead.
Promotion winning sides tend to be capable of turning around difficult situations and digging in deep when the going gets tough. Tonight, City climbed off the canvas and fought their way into the hat for Wednesday’s fourth round League Cup draw in memorable fashion. Something special is stirring at BD8; this time it might actually lead to that fabled happy ending.
Quite how City found themselves 2-0 behind tonight was a mystery. Starting the game brightly, with numerous long range efforts on a wet surface forcing some uncomfortable moments for Burton keeper Stuart Tomlinson, it came as a shock when the visitors netted from their first attack, 18 minutes in. Jack Dyer got past James Meredith outwide and cut the ball back for the on running Billy Kee to fire home from the edge of the box, exposing a first half problem of Ricky Ravenhill and Gary Jones failing to provide the back four with the type of cover they normally benefit from.
Eyes were on Ravenhill when it came to finalising blame. Making his first competitive appearance of the season after a nasty pre-season injury at Guiseley, City’s captain failed to press his case for a place in the team as Nathan Doyle’s conservatively central positioning was notably missed. Gary Jones continued to probe forward in now-trademark fashion, but the gap between midfield and defence became so problematic that he too had to fall back and support Ravenhill.
Burton played three across the middle of the park and two of the widest-placed widemen you could imagine, designed to keep Stephen Darby and Meredith on the retreat and looking for help from Zavon Hines and Will Atkinson. And so for a 10 minute period after Burton’s opener, City struggled to win back the ball and maintain their early pressure, culminating in Aaron Webster heading home a corner unmarked despite Jones’ attempt to keep it out – two minutes after the same player missed a similarly-poorly-defended opportunity.
Nevertheless at a moment where claret and amber heads would traditionally drop, the players stood firm. Finally getting to grips with Burton’s system, the home dominance began to grow with numerous chances created and crosses into the box narrowly missing men. In truth the evening’s front two of Garry Thompson and Alan Connell struggled, especially the latter. Thompson took on the James Hanson role and was able to win plenty of headers, but the lack of understanding with Connell was evident.
Yet it was impossible to feel downbeat. At half time I remained highly confident that we would still win the game, and I can’t remember the last time a City half time deficit prompted such little concern. Much of this optimism came from the manner of the first half performance, but it was also built up from the three previous victories and the way we have largely gone about our business this season. This City side are made of stern stuff.
The second half was an onslaught. Burton could barely get out of their own half, and Matt Duke – who didn’t have the best of evenings – was reduced to being a spectator with the rest of us, save for the occasional backpass. An early Connell penalty appeal was somewhat ludicrously turned down and City’s striker booked. Jones fired a free kick just over. On the hour, Phil Parkinson summoned Hanson, Kyel Reid and Nahki Wells from the bench – and the trio would have a telling impact.
Hanson’s arrival pushed Thompson outwide and Atkinson in the centre with Gary Jones, and suddenly it really clicked. Wells produced his most impressive display of the season by playing on the shoulder of the last man and tormenting defenders with his trickery. As for Reid, the goal into the Kop end against Morecambe a week ago has transformed him back into the man we know he can be. Reid roasted his marker time and time again, delivering effective balls into the box.
The ball would not cross the line, but the belief would not drain. At no point did the players resign themselves to defeat, and although Burton deserve praise for their resolute stance against the tide, their players must have been mustering all their mental strength to not look at the Valley Parade scoreboard and realise just how long they still had to hold out for. Over 10 minutes to go, and the pressure they were under was akin to stoppage time of a regular football match.
At last, City scored. Wells broke clear and, from an angle, delivered a devastatingly accurate curling shot into the far hand side of the goal. Seven minutes left. Burton retreated even further back and seemed to have 11 players in their own penalty area. Though they might have sealed the win when substitute Matt Paterson broke clear on the counter attack, only to be denied by Duke.
But finally, an equaliser. One that seemed so inevitable but which you had began to doubt would arrive in time. Another desperate scramble in the box, Hanson attempted an overhead kick that bounced to the opposite side of the penalty area, and there was Wells to stab the ball low into the corner of the net. Cue bedlam inside Valley Parade, as 4,000 City fans gleefully celebrated a richly deserved comeback and the players pilled on top of each other. It was the most hedonistic moment of the season to date. Now to go on and win it.
It all calmed down in extra time, but City continued to shade proceedings and the chanting bounced around the Kop. I’m not knocking people who didn’t rock up tonight, but there is something about these low crowd cup matches that seems so very die-hard; and passionate supporting comes to the fore. I guess if you’re going to fork out £15 for a ticket on a ridiculously rainy West Yorkshire evening, you’re less the type to sit on top of your hands for 120 minutes and moan.
Darby – who impressed me a lot tonight, I genuinely think he has been very unlucky to figure so little this season as he’s done little wrong when I’ve seen him – struck the winner with five minutes to go. An opportunity to shoot from distance was accepted, and a slight nick off a Burton defender wrong footed Tomlinson as the ball crept into the net. The celebrations were less feverish but no less enjoyable. 2-0 down to 3-2 up, that’s the way to go through in the cup.
Burton looked dead on their feet, as Reid continued to rampage forward. A fourth goal looked more likely than an equaliser – Hanson almost getting on the end of a Reid cross and Wells wasting an opportunity for a hat trick – and at full time players and management embraced enthusiastically in front of the Kop.
What a night! And now what an opportunity for City. The cup draw is made on Sky Sports after the Man United vs Newcastle match on Wednesday, and the likelihood of a glamour tie is significant.
Money from it which might support this strong start to the season – or cover any losses that the school situation might have caused – would be welcomed. The prospect of Old Trafford, Anfield and St. James Park to name just a few, would be a great reward for everyone associated with the club. Let’s hope we get a favourable draw, and then quickly focus on Saturday.
Because the bread and butter is what it’s truly all about, and I’d honestly prefer three points against Port Vale than to be booking a day off work to go to Stamford Bridge. But the great thing about these latest cup heroics is that it tells us a lot about the character and resoluteness of the players – the benefits of which will hopefully continue to be evidenced in the League Two table.
City: Duke, Darby, Davies, McArdle, Meredith, Atkinson, Gary Jones, Ravenhill (Reid 61), Hines (Wells 61), Connell (Hanson 61), Thompson
Not used: McLaughlin, Oliver, McHugh, Doyle