Bradford City came back to Wembley with a vengeance. Three months after being walloped by Swansea City in the Capital One Cup final, the Bantams returned to the scene of that pain and spanked Northampton Town to win promotion to League One. Phil Parkinson did not care that his team's dominance meant the play-off final was devoid of the sort of drama that makes the format so popular, as first-half goals by James Hanson, Rory McArdle and Nahki Wells made the outcome obvious long before the referee confirmed a triumphant end to a memorable Bradford season.
The exertions of reaching February's cup final, when the Bantams endured a 5-0 battering, had almost cost Bradford a place in the play-offs but Parkinson's team rallied sufficiently towards the end of the regular season to creep into seventh spot in League Two, three points behind Northampton. Parkinson felt the hoopla surrounding the achievement in beating three Premier League teams en route to that final had contributed to the size of their defeat against Swansea and he was determined to ensure there was no repeat.
"The media attention, the new suits, the worry about getting tickets for everyone, that drained the lads last time so we took that away this time and just said we are here to finish a job," Parkinson said. "It worked." It certainly did, as Bradford immediately set about doing to Northampton what Swansea had done to them, establishing their superiority from the outset. The Cobblers, by contrast, were overawed by the occasion and nervy defending helped Bradford into a lead that they never looked like relinquishing.
Aidy Boothroyd watched aghast as his team played like a shoddy imitation of the side who had kept nine clean sheets in their previous 15 matches. The goals followed a similar simple pattern, with Northampton defenders conspicuous by their passivity as crosses flew from one side of the penalty area to the other before being pinged back into the centre and struck into the net.
Hanson plundered the first goal in the 15th minute after a cross from the left by Kyel Reid was retrieved on the right by Garry Thompson, who clipped the ball towards the back post, where Hanson leapt above Clarke Carlisle to nod into the net. Carlisle may be the chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association but Northampton's defence seemed rudderless four minutes later, when Nathan Doyle collected another ball from the left and crossed it for McArdle to head in at the near post. Northampton's ragged nerves were compounded and their defending deteriorated further. Wells took advantage in the 28th minute, slotting a close-range volley into the net after Thompson headed another Reid delivery back across goal.
"I thought Bradford's visit here earlier in the season ,when they got beaten, would work in our favour but it didn't," said Boothroyd. "They started much better than we did and we were like a rabbit in the headlights for the first 30 minutes. I don't think there are too many of the lads that can say they have shown a true reflection of what we've been about."
The first-half toll would have been ever heavier if not for the Northampton goalkeeper, Lee Nicholls, who blocked a Wells shot from four yards after a long throw-in by Stephen Darby and later tipped a header by Reid over the bar after another Darby throw-in was allowed to bounce on the edge of the six-yard box. At the other end, Northampton did not manage a shot on target.
Unless Boothroyd had a magic wand, it was difficult to see what the manager could do at half-time to conjure a comeback by his team. Nicholls had to react smartly again early in the second period to stop Hanson making it 4-0.
Northampton improved in the second half but Bradford defended diligently and could have increased their lead on the break. Ultimately, the Bradford goalkeeper, Jon McLaughlin, barely had a save to make. Both these clubs came perilously close to relegation last season but as they watched their Bradford counterparts rejoicing, Northampton supporters in a crowd of nearly 48,000 must have found it hard to take consolation. Last time Bradford fans were here they left acclaiming their team's guts. This time they got the glory, too.