Wigan Athletic 0
Bradford City 0
Bradford City win 4-2 on penalties
Tuesday 30 October, 2012
By Jason McKeown
Wow. What can you say such a fantastic evening that deserves its prominent placing in Bradford City’s history? When Matt Duke blocked Jordi Gomez’s spot kick to confirm a shootout success for the League Two side, there were unbridled scenes of joy both on the pitch and in amongst the packed away end at the opposite side of the ground. A moment of unadulterated pleasure that emphatically reminds you of why you bother with all this football supporting malarkey in the first place.
Jubilation, triumph, euphoria. Wow.
When in the ninth minute of this game Wigan found the back of the net, for a split second you resigned yourself to an evening where doom-laded predictions of a weakened City side enduring a heavy beating would come to pass. But the linesman quickly put up his flag to cut short home celebrations, and remarkably the ball did not cross the line again until, 111 minutes later, Nathan Doyle was slotting home the Bantams’ first penalty in the shootout. And, after six consecutive successes when it has come to penalties, we all knew which way the script was heading when it had reached this point.
Sure, Wigan dominated much of this last 16 tie, but they hardly impressed considering they were facing a City side three divisions below. The Premier League outfit had been expected to take the tie seriously and talked a good game in the build up, but manager Roberto Martinez’s decision to make nine changes ultimately backfired as his reserve players offered minimal reasons for retaining their place in the team.
Indeed in the first half you could argue that City had the better of the game for a 25-minute spell leading up to the interval. Will Atkinson and Nathan Doyle had started the match well in the centre of the park and, with Zavon Hines looking back to being the exciting winger of early season, the visitors began to come forward with increased frequency.
Attacking the end where 5,000+ City fans were causing an almighty racket, we were treated to another up close view of the effectiveness of the James Hanson and Nahki Wells strike partnership, which caused the home defence all manner of problems. Hanson once again ran himself into the ground over the course of the evening, winning high balls and flick ons that he often had no right to do. But tonight, it was strike partner Wells who stole the show with a hugely impressive – if not untypical – display that left his marker looking distinctly uncomfortable.
In the rise and rise of the Bermudian, this was another landmark occasion of sorts where Wells demonstrated that he will soon be playing at a much higher level than League Two – with or without the Bantams. His movement, his first touch, his pace, his awareness; Nahki caused no end of problems, as he proved that he can perform on the bigger stage.
And as the players went in at half time to loud roars of approval, you began to question why we were so worried in the first place. “I’d be happy with a 3-0 defeat” I stated before kick off, as chatter was dominated by the subject of Luke Oliver being out for the rest of the season. With a makeshift back four and patched up midfield, it seemed impossible to predict anything but a thrashing.
Yet that makeshift back four were outstanding. Carl McHugh has stepped up from the bench at Burton on Saturday to put in two hugely commendable displays that suggest Phil Parkinson may not have to venture too far into the loan market to cover for Oliver. Only McHugh’s age (19) counts against him in terms of whether you could trust him to perform week in week out at this stage of his career, but the early signs are the Irishman has a bright future at City. He and Rory McArdle were outstanding in keeping Wigan at bay, and needed to be at their best during the second half in particular as home pressure grew.
In front of them, Doyle was relishing the battle of protecting his defence and stood out as a true warrior. Gary Jones came off the bench in the second half to bolster this solidity, though does still look a little rusty and was wasteful in the pass. Atkinson was pushed out wide where he was less impressive (but an improvement on a once again disappointing Garry Thompson), but City attacks became more limited after Wells was withdrawn for what looked to be an injury and replacement Alan Connell struggled to get into the game.
It was backs to the walls, but City almost snatched it late on. Hines broke free from his own half with no one available for the pass. He twisted and turned his marker, charged into the box and saw his low shot blocked by Al Habsi. That was a rare away attack, as Wigan – inspired by substitute Shaun Maloney who impressed greatly – continued to press. It was commendable that Martinez’s side stayed true to their passing principles right to the end, but their attempts to engineer crosses from out wide were hampered by solid displays from Stephen Darby and James Meredith.
Cue extra time, which saw Wigan’s dominance grow further – over the evening they would have 22 shots on goal to City’s 7 – but the Bantams continued to hold firm. Last ditch blocks, superbly timed tackles, impressive positional discipline. They were some genuine scares, not least when – five minutes from time – Gomez broke clear on goal and somehow squeezed his shot wide of Duke’s post when it seemed easier to score. But for all that effort, work rate and endeavour, City had earned their shot at penalties.
The first two for each side were successfully converted – Doyle and Jones for City – before Darby scored for City and Maloney sent Wigan’s third high into the empty stand behind Duke’s goal. Connell then netted, meaning Wigan had to score to stay in the game. Then came Duke’s save from what must be said was a poor Gomez penalty. City’s veteran goalkeeper was in excellent form tonight and deserved the moment of glory of having his teammates pile on top of him.
The scenes of celebration will live in the memory for a long, long time. For an evening where you expect so little, a heroic defeat in extra time or on penalties would probably not have felt too painful. But we got even more than that, and incredibly we are in the last eight of the League Cup with Leeds United, Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa definitely in the hat too, and the added possibility of facing one from Chelsea/Man United, Norwich/Tottenham or Liverpool/Swansea.
You’d like to think that – after the last three rounds did not quite serve up the dream tie that the luck of the draw could have delivered – we’re going to get something lucrative and exciting when the quarter final draw is made late Wednesday evening. But whatever happens next, to get this far in the competition and the way in which we have gone about it provides us with so much heart and confidence to take into the battles ahead. I mean, our injury-hit, patched up side has just knocked a Premier League side out of the League Cup. It feels good writing that.
There’s a growing feeling that Parkinson has built something really special this season and that something spectacular can be achieved between now and May – and beating Wigan in their own backyard is an almightily impressive warm up act.
City: Duke, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith, Thompson (Gary Jones 56), Atkinson, Doyle, Hines (Baker 101), Hanson, Wells (Connell 65)
Not used: McLaughlin, Brown, Bass, Swain