By Luke Lockwood
There are 11 men who will forever be associated with the most memorable night in Bradford City’s history. 11 men who are suddenly in the national spotlight. These players have performed what some will go as far as calling a miracle. How are you supposed to rate something so extraordinary and unexpected?
Rating players on last night’s performance offers great deal of difficulty, because they were playing a side who – on paper – should have torn them apart.
Somewhat unfairly when rating players out of 10, you take into account their ability and levels of expectations you have for that player. For example, Gary Jones has been that consistently brilliant for Bradford this year, and you expect those high standards week after week. Then suddenly he will have a slightly under par week and you become far more critical of him because he is not reaching the high standards he has set himself.
In League Two we have these set expectations: James Hanson should bully centre halves, Nahki Wells should tear them apart with his pace and skill, Jones and Nathan Doyle should dominate in midfield. If they don’t, we think they have underperformed, but against these Premier League sides they are against a far superior footballer and these levels of expectations don’t apply.
It would be easy to give every player 9s and 10s last night, because they overcame all the odds and went way beyond our levels of expectations – but is that a fair assessment? The task of judging these players on last night’s performance truly is impossible.
Matt Duke – 9
Possibly the story of the League Cup so far, Duke’s Bradford career looked over last year when he was loaned out to Northampton. Then following the Crawley brawl he was summoned back to save us in our relegation battle. At the time, the Crawley fall out looked like it would have disastrous consequences but maybe everything does happen for a reason.
Last night Duke was an assured, calm, experienced head amongst a nervous young side. He pulled off a number of excellent saves to deny Villa and calmed everyone down, as the rest of the side played kick and rush football. He couldn’t do anything about the goal but one of the few faults in his game is deciding when to come off his line. This indecision was evident on a couple of occasions last night and was possibly partly to blame for the second goal.
Stephen Darby – 8
Darby keeps impressing me more and more – his place at right back might be in doubt when Andrew Davies returns (pushing Rory McArdle over to right back), which would be such a shame. Very willing to get forward and support his winger, but at the same time very aware of when he should stay back – Darby’s reading of the game is probably his strongest quality.
Rory McArdle – 7
The outstanding performer of our League Cup run so far, but last night was his weakest game yet. Possibly at fault in the build up to the second goal and struggled to cope with Benteke’s prowess in the air for the majority of the evening – letting him slip far too easily for the first goal. However, marking Benteke was probably the most difficult job of all City players and the way the Belgian international attacks the ball in the air is quite frightening – fortunately for Bradford he appears to have a head like a 50 pence piece!
Until the ball was put into the box he coped fantastically well and because of the task at hand I really struggled to rate his performance. McArdle sums up everything that has been good about Bradford this year: commitment, desire and a winning mentality. He has been the man who is making the last ditch tackle or getting someone else out of jail throughout the rounds and, without him, we would not have made it this far.
Carl McHugh – 8
The rise of the young Irishman has been quite outstanding and when Parkinson first brought him in I’m sure he felt it would be an education season with a limited amount of playing time. Well he has learnt a lot but he’s had to learn fast. Has filled the boots of Davies and Oliver superbly and has a sense of composure that belies his years. This was again evident last night.
Curtis Good – 7
In the first half last night, one of the players we missed most last night was Meredith, a natural full back. Atkinson was often outnumbered on the left hand side and running around tirelessly. Good – naturally a centre half – seemed to be playing too close to McHugh, although this could have been part of Parkinson’s tactics. We struggled to cope with Villa’s widemen and the right hand side is where the majority of their threat came from. On the other hand, Good seemed to fair much better in the second half and improved as the game wore on.
Zavon Hines – 8
Another excellent performance, despite Villa’s attempts to double up on him. What frustrates me most about Zavon is that his best performances appear to come in the League Cup, but he can’t reproduce this in the league. Not quite as impressive as he was in the first leg, but then he received a lot more attention from the Villa defenders this time!
Gary Jones – 8
Like Curtis Good, Jones improved the longer the game went on and it is remarkable how a man of his age can keep going. He appeared to be guilty of rushing things in the first half, but the captain really shone when his team needed him most.
Nathan Doyle – 7
Doyle appears to be the player who suffers the most when it comes to the League Cup. When playing in the league everything seems so effortless for him and his superior ability shines through. He dictates tempo and constantly appears to be receiving the ball, shifting it on and looking for the return. However, when he plays against sides from the top league he is no longer superior in terms of ability and has to adapt his game. We require more hustle and bustle from him; he’s a big lad and needs to put his weight around a little more.
Last night he had less time on the ball than he is used to in League Two, and the game was played at a much quicker pace. He took time to adapt – however, like many others he came good in the second half and showed his quality.
Will Atkinson – 7
As discussed Will suffered from not having a natural left back behind him. A lot is made of City wingers providing protection for their full backs but this should be a two way thing and – at times – he was playing almost as a left back. Probably another who the nerves got the better of in the first half and often gave a sloppy pass away when City had the opportunity to counter and retain possession – but he looked a lot more comfortable in the second half.
Nakhi Wells – 7
Nakhi was kept quiet for the majority of the game by Villa’s defence but he always remained a threat that meant they couldn’t relax and push on too much. The fact that they were wary of the problems he could cause if given the opportunity made things easier for his teammates, and he almost equalised with City’s best effort in the first half. If he is one day to step up to this kind of level he will have to find another dimension to his game. Fortunately with Wembley on the horizon he is very unlikely to leave before the summer and hopefully – if we get promoted – we can hold onto him even longer.
James Hanson – 10
Goal scorer, man of the match and simply outstanding. Hopefully the goal gives him the confidence to regain his form in the league, but all those who have been criticising him recently should look at his opposite number Benteke. Considered one of the best prospects in the Premier League, in two legs against us he has had numerous fantastic opportunities but repeatedly failed. The Villa fans still think he’s fantastic and he is probably paid and worth 10 times more than Hanson.
James scored the all important goal, ran himself into the ground and put his big frame about. He was also playing with a broken toe requiring an injection before kick off.
Team – 10
The one performance better than Hanson; at times players made mistakes, rushed passes and let the nerves get the better of them but they worked so hard for each other and the commitment and desire was evident for all to see. This team will forever be remembered fondly amongst City fans and many other neutrals across the country.