The magic of the cup

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Millwall 3

McDonald 36, Fuller 63+83

Bradford City 3

Knott 6+76, Nelson 70(OG)

Saturday 3 January, 2015

Written by Mark Danylczuk (images by Mike Holdsworth)

So close. But it was not to be. Instead the Bantams will have to settle for a deserved third round FA Cup replay back at Valley Parade, after a quite astonishing game at the Den.

Full of commitment, bravery, desire and attacking prowess, both sides fought it out to claim a place in round four, but the draw was about a fair result. The Bradford City faithful who made it down to south east London on a cold January afternoon were rewarded with a six goal thriller in which we were reminded of how fun it can be to watch City in the Cup.

City made two enforced changes from the team which beat Notts County last week. In came keeper Ben Williams for the cup tied Jordan Pickford, and defender Alan Sheehan for the injured Andrew Davies. Barely had the game settled when City took the early lead. It was from Sheehan’s corner that James Hanson provided the knockdown for Billy Knott to fire home from close range.

Most fans could barely believe the early goal, slightly more so as the goal was at the opposite end of the pitch to the fans and it was difficult to the see the strike in the goalmouth scramble. It was good work down the right from Andy Halliday which produced the corner. The on loan Scot was to have probably his finest game in a City shirt as he contributed more in his wing play than we have seen in most games.

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The expected Millwall onslaught followed as the home side sought a way back into the game. The well-travelled Ricardo Fuller was proving a threat for Millwall and had two chances within a number of minutes. He firstly dragged a shot wide in the area in the twelfth minute and had a disallowed goal ruled out shortly after.

Along with fellow Aussie striker Scott McDonald and nippy winger Lee Martin, the home attacking line began to dominate. City were continuing to be exposed down the right side, Millwall doubling up on Stephen Darby through McDonald, Fuller and left back Matthew Griggs.

The Bantams had a great chance to double the lead in the 25th minute when a Sheehan free kick from inside his own half was flicked on by Hanson and Halliday volleyed just over from close range. The continuing pressure on the City right contributed to the equaliser as a ball in from the Millwall left was glanced home by Scott McDonald at the near post. City responded well and a Filipe Morais shot went just wide before the interval as the half closed out.

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The second half began as the first ended with continuing Millwall pressure. City were not helping themselves by seemingly adopting a more defensive mentality, in particular Gary Liddle with a number of sideways and backward passes, inviting the pressure onto the City defence. The passing became more panicky and Bradford struggled to retain possession. It was Morais who was caught out in midfield for Millwall’s second goal; the resulting attack left McDonald to square for Fuller to tap the ball home and send the home side into the lead.

Then it all changed. 2012-13 cup run memories déjà vu.

Suddenly, the Bantams became invigorated and adopted a more attacking and passing-style approach through the middle diamond. Knott became more influential pulling the strings and, out of nothing, came the City equaliser. Hanson hit a shot which deflected, looping off the underside of the crossbar and then off defender Sid Nelson and into the net.

Millwall were stunned and City continued this wonderful attacking interplay, with the increasingly impressive Morais  proving a handful with his trickery on the right wing. It has been known that the likes of Championship sides Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday are interested in the Portuguese winger, and he seems destined for a higher level. It will be interesting to see if City can hold onto him.

It was Morais who then provided the cross, after good work with Darby on the right, for Knott to tuck the ball home superbly with a sweet volley inside the box. It felt like Aston Villa away circa 2013 all over again; similar upper stand view with the killer goals in front of the City faithful. The crowd response was electric and one of the most vocal experienced for a long time. A (minor) cup upset was on the cards. It still wouldn’t probably headline Match of the Day but it would be an upset all the same.

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But it was ultimately one substitution which changed the game in Millwall’s favour. Straight after the goal Jason Kennedy was brought on for Halliday, seemingly in an attempt to shut up shop and keep it tight for the remainder of the game. And it was Kennedy’s failure to track and tackle winger Magaye Gueye, whose pacy run enabled him to pass the ball inside to Martin, and across to Fuller, to convert his second and the game’s sixth goal. 3-3.

And so the game finished. Disappointment in not holding out for the win, but great credit in coming back from a losing position at 2-1 down. Many plus points can be drawn from the second half, with the attacking, shorter passing approach of the diamond proving effective when coupled with the increased wide play. With Stead and Hanson up front, the long ball approach is a useful weapon; but a mixing up of the styles seems to suit City better, adapting as needed.

The unbeaten run goes on and City can look forward to being in the hat for Monday’s fourth round draw. A favourable pairing against one of the Premier League big guns could provide a tasty replay, with all to play for; in what has become a nice side chapter to the main story of City’s League One promotion push.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith, Morais, Liddle, Knott (McBurnie 90), Halliday (Kennedy 77), Hanson, Stead (Zoko 89)

Not used: Urwin, Wright, Routis, Mottley-Henry

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