Bradford have beaten three Premier League teams to reach the final. That is heroically bonkers. And if they show the same organisation, commitment and flashes of flair that they have done so far, then Swansea or Chelsea will have a proper match on their hands.
Bradford are on their way to Wembley!
And they richly deserve it! That was a fabulous second-half performance by the League Two side, on top of a superb first-leg display. They've made history. And Villa could well be Premier League history if they don't recover from this and produce more coherent performances over the rest of the season. What better way to compose yourself than going to Millwall on Friday night ...
Delph booked for a silly tackle on Thompson down near Villa's corner flag. Bradford take it quickly ... and win a corner. You can bet they won't be flinging this into the box.
"Amateurish is the only description for this," storns Andy Whittock. "A sunday league manager would hesitate to send on 5 strikers, with no one to give them the ball and no one to win it back." No one to give them the ball other than anyone who can welly it 70 yards forward. That's Villa's tactic now and it's making for spellbinding tension ...
There will be four more minutes. At least.
GOAL! Villa 2-1 Bradford (agg: 3-4) (Weimann 89)
Oooh, Bradford nerves are jangling now! Bent flicked on a punt from Given, and Weimann latched on to it and rounded the keeper to give Villa renwed hope!
Ed Cella won't be the only person asking this: "Does Lambert get the sack from this? If you can't beat a League Two side at home in a semifinal how could he possibly keep them up?"
Lusty olés from the Bradford throngs as their team lord it over the Premier Leaguers. This will do nothing for Villa's attempt to remain Premier Leaguers.
CORNER PROPERLY DEFENDED! (Vlaar 85)
Corner to Bradford following another bold break-away. They deserve this. The corner and the imminent victory. Villa already look crestfallen.
Nzogbia booked for treading on Doyle. Not acceptable.
This is quite a failure by Villa. Since the introduction of Bent there have looked disjointed and even amateurish. Benteke, who was winning everything in the air in the first half, has barely even had a cross in his general direction since then.
Bradford corner. The two centrebacks have stayed back. Can Villa actually defend this one? Yes, they can.
Villa go long again. Villa are offside again. Bradford are comfortable ...
Ireland goes long for Bent. But Agbonlahor had strayed offside so Bradford can relieve the pressure. "I find this harder to digest than Tesco burgers," splutters Villa fan Padraig O'Connor.
Agbonlahor skitters down the left before his cross is headed clear. Well, not quite clear, but to Delph about 25 yards out. Which is as good as clear. Delph proves the point by tonking wide.
Ben Foster said after the derby at the weekend that Villa tend to all crowd to one side of the pitch and leave themselves very vulnerable to counter-attacks: that last Bradford attack was a prime example of just that.
So close from Bradford! Following a flowing move, Darby careered down the right and then played an astute low ball to Thompson on the edge of the Villa box. The midfielder steered it first time past Given ... and onto the crossbar!
Villa are not looking especially dangerous. They're full of gusto but no real method or menace at the moment.
Parkinson is solidifying his team further, as he must: Hines off, Thompson on.
Lambert is going for it, as he must: Bennett off, Weimann on.
Delph tries his luck from 20 yards. His luck is out. About 20 yards out.
Lowton scurries in from the right and slips the ball through to Bent, who swivels swiftly and fires the ball a cross the face of goal. Ireland beats McArdle to it and sidefoots it ... just wide!
Bradford are pressing and harrying Villa constantly. When I say harrying, I don't mean shooting from helicopters, obviously.
Bradford could have wrapped it up right there! Doyle delivered a sumptuous cross from the right and Hanson was waiting all on his lonesome, six yards from goal .... but he mis-timed his jump and nodded wide! Actually, in fairness to Hason, it seems that Clark got a tiny but significant touch to the cross as it was making its way to the forward.
Look who Paul Lambert is turning to in his hour of need: substitution: Bannan off, Darren Bent on.
Bennett serves up a delicious ball from the left ... but no Villan was on hand to turn it into the net from close range. "So, for half of the last 12 years Bradford were above the Swans in the league; and Swansea could only lose and draw against Villa in the Premiership this season," notes Glyn Thomas. "That makes Swansea the official underdogs out of the four semi-finalists."
Villa fans will already know this but others might not: their set-pieces feebleness predates Lambert's arrival. They conceded more than anyone else in the Premier League last season (25), and are on course to do that again this season (they've conceded 15, more than anyone except Wigan, who's conceded the same amount). All three of Bradford's goal in the first leg originated in corners too.
GOAL! Villa 1-1 Bradford (agg: 2-4) (Hanson 55)
Hones won a corner for Bradford and, predictably, Vilal failed to defend it! Vlaar failed to cut out a superb delivery and Hanson sent a magnificent header into the net from seven yards! The miracle is on!
"I'm a Villa fan, I think Benteke is a top striker in the making but I can't help but wonder what his goals vs Gilt Edged Misses is," confesses Mike Brown. "He seems to miss an awful lot." Finishing has long been his weakness. But I think it's fair to say that many of the chances he misses wouldn't even have become chances for inferior strikers. He can make so-so passes look pin-perfect.
Hines nicks the ball off Bennett and then sprints down the right and towards the box. But two defenders converge on him to stop his meddling. Villa quickly resume attacking.
The snow is starting in Birmingham. We're not into orange ball territory yet but word is it's going to get heavy. "Ah, come on, now, Joanne Beasley<"| groans Matt Dony. "At least two of those 'mediocre's' could be upgraded to 'alright'. Fair's fair."
Freekick to Villa in a promising position. About 28 yards out, a little to the right. Vlaar fancies it. Vlaar, it turns out, is horribly misguided.
A cross for the right seeks Benteke, who again beats the defenders to it ... and again fails to direct his header on target. This time his connection was all wrong and his effort trickled miles wide.
The second half is in motion. I will now count the seconds until Bradford get a touch. Thirty-three, as it turned out, with Good whacking the ball out of his own area.
"In the spirit of fairness, I charted Villa's performance over the last 10 years," chirps Joanne Beasley. "Here it is:
That was rollicking good fun. The game's on a knife edge. You get the feeling that Bradford are going to have to defend and goalkeep like champions if they're to survive this Villa onslaught. Of course, Villa may just wilt as they did at the Hawthorns on Saturday. "Birmingham city beat claret & blue West Ham in the semi final on the way to winning the thing," recalls Bromsgrove Bluenose. "Time for another BCFC to do the same!"
That would have set a furious bantam among the pigeons! Wells received the ball on the right, headed for the box and then let fly from 20 yards .... it whizzed past Given ... and inches past the far post!
Villa stream forward yet again. Ireland clips a lovely cross to the back post. McArdle fails to clear but is spared when Benteke bundles it narrowly wide from six yards!
Agbonlahor messes up a chance to put Benteke through. "Let's face it, it's been pretty easy to follow the Swans over the last 10 years when you stack this up next to Bradford's fall from grace," coos Ian Dawson. "A City - City final would be a fantastic break from the norm for so many reasons, Following Adam's (23 mins) recap of Bradford's finishes from the last decade, check out Swansea's:
1999-00: 1st, Division Three
2000-01: 23rd, Division Two (relegated)
2001-02: 20th, Division Three
2002-03: 21st, Division Three
2003-04: 10th, Division Three
2004-05: 3rd, League Two (promoted)
2005-06: 6th, League One
2006-07: 7th, League One
2007-08: 1st, League One (promoted)
2008-09: 8th, Championship
2009-10: 7th, Championship
2010-11: 3rd, Championship (promoted)
2011-12: 11th, Premier League
Bradford enjoying a bout of possession. "Our reality is clearly just a saved game of football manager 2010," laments Joe Deasy, presumably a Bradford fan.
Agbonlahor to Ireland, who tries to dink the ball over Duke from the edge of the box. The keeper pushes it over the bar.
Villa fling in a freekick from the left. Bradford deal with it well and Atkinson tries to get a counter-attack going, but Bannan brings that mischief-making to an end. "Hi Paul, here in a freezing Kyoto, Japan, it's 5am in the morning and I am nervously glued to the MBM, sipping on a cup of green tea," blubs John Ashbourne. "I might have to turn to Sake at this rate, or get on Skype to have a word with our chaplain (didn't know we had such a thing) for calming advice. Love those BCFC Daleks, by the way. Come on the Bantams! Exterminate! Exterminate!" Was it you who brought the bidding to an end early with a knockout bid of £6.99?
Bradford are steadying themselves a tad. They've sort of stemmed the flow, without actually managing to get their foot on the ball for more than a few seconds.
There's a snap, crackle and pop about Villa's play at the moment. Before I can make a link to Richard Dunne, Nzogbia prevents a corny cereal-based gag by cutting in from the right wing and unleashing a ferocious 25-yard drive that Duke tips over! "I'm supposed to going into the ruins of Christchurch (NZ ) to sell print," announces Klaas Smeele. "But I'm glued to your coverage. The first time in 11 years I wish I was back home!" So that's where one has to go to sell print.
What's got into Joe Bennett? He's just slalomed his way twixt three defenders before slipping the ball through to Ireland, who swept it into the net ... from an offside position. Villa Park is rocking, Bradford are reeling.
Wells attempts a riposte for Bradford but it's a weak and wayward effort from 25 yards. "Hahahahahah!" cackle the Villa fans. "Hahahahahahah!"
GOAL! Villa 1-0 Bradford (agg: 2-3) (Benteke 23)
Bennett swings in a lovely ball from the left and Benteke gets ahead of his marker and flips it into the net from 10 yards with a deft flick of his leg. Game on! "Here are Bradford's league positions since the halcyon 'season' of 1999-2000," announces Adam in Istanbul. "
- 1999-2000: 17th, Premier League
- 2000-01: 20th, Premier League (Relegated)
- 2001-02: 15th, Division One
- 2002-03: 19th, Division One
- 2003-04: 23rd, Division One (Relegated)
- 2004-05: 11th, League One
- 2005-06: 11th, League One
- 2006-07: 22nd, League One (Relegated)
- 2007-08: 10th, League Two
- 2008-09: 9th, League Two
- 2009-10: 14th, League Two
- 2010-11: 18th, League Two
- 2011-12: 18th, League Two
As you can imagine, we've been waiting a while for this. I'm sorry, Sam Blanning (of 8 minutes' mbm fame), but you can stick your Villa - Swansea in a sack, mister."
Clark booked for barging into Hanson. He was nowhere near the ball but still a lot closer to it than Delph and Darby were earlier and neither of them were booked. That seems to be the point he is making right now to the ref, although Darby and Delph both begin with D and the confused Clark seems to be using many words beginning with F.
"No foul" says the ref, as 38,000 Villas fans express a contrary interpretation of Darby's interception, which came after he nigh-on tunneled his way through Agbonlahor's body. "In the footballing hotbed of La Fayette, Louisiana, three computer support blokes are cheering for the Bantams!," types Tony Campisi, showing there is no lengths that people won't go to to avoid work. "Up the City-City Final!"
Delph streaks through the middle and flashes a shot high over the bar from 25 yards.
Another Nzogbia cross from the right, another Benteke header. It's on target this time but straight at Duke, who holds on to it like a man eager to set up a clash with (Eden) Hazard.
Ireland delves into his back catalogue to play a incisive pass to Agbonlahor, who could shoot or play in Benteke .... or do neither, which is what he wound up doing.
Respite for Bradford as Hanson soars above Vlaar to meet a freekick ... and head way wide.
The expected pattern is beginning to materialise as Villa shovel on the pressure. They've got pace and power up front and Bradford are somewhat reeling ... but just about keeping them at bay. "Is it wrong to kind of want Villa to knock three past the Div 4 side tonight, for the sake of a better spectacle in the final?" wonders Sam Blanning. "The final I want to see is Swansea v Villa. Bradford getting to the final would be a superb achievement for them, but you can't see it being a competitive match, on neutral ground and against a side without the mental weakness of Arsenal or Villa" Yes, it would be wrong. You can see Villa v Swansea in the Premier League if you're that eager.
Ominous signs here for Bradford as Nzogbia races down the right again and pings in another fine cross. Again Benteke meets it and heads it back into the danger zone, where Lowton tries to redirect it towards the net ... but it sails over the bar.
Nzogbia hurtles down the right and delivers a decent cross. Benteke outjumps the defender and directs a powerful header ... just wide from 10 yards.
It was generally believed that Bradford would try to keep things tight and strike on the break but they've come out all guns blazing here and pushed Villa back. A jaunty run down the left by Hanson concludes with an errant cross. "I decided to move to the Netherlands last September, safe in the knowledge I'd not be missing much this year at Valley Parade, having been a little disappointed with the past ten years," weeps Graham Parker. "My leaving Bradford leads to great things, apparently." Some would say that leaving Bradford generally leads to better things, but not me.
Delph loses the run of himself altogether and hares across to clatter Hines and concede a freekick. Lucky not to get a yellow card too...
The stadium's rocking even harder as we kick-off. Will Villa be iron men or fairies wearing boots?
Villa Park = Black Sabbath
Tonight, at any rate, is it rocking hard. The atmosphere is just a bit of tickertape short of Argentina '78. Marvelous. Although the plethora of plastic flags means Rafa Benitez will never manage around these parts.
Villa optimism ...
... there's a little bit of it to be found in this here email: "I just get the feeling this is going to end in tears for Bradford: Villa are on a mission," booms Simon McMahon. Yes, but is the person who sent them on that mission as powerful as the club who inspired this fearsome duo?
Bradford optimism ...
... there's not much of it about, apparently, save, maybe, from that chaplain mentioned below. "Villa will win at a canter but its been fun!" squawks Mohammed Yaser. Are you sure? Are you really sure that no Bradford player is going to earn himself the right to be commemorated thus?
£7,500. That's how much it cost to put this Bradford City side together if we ignore their salaries, Cup run bonuses that management probably never expected to have to pay and fancy tracksuits with initials on them. In other words, the Bantams cost about as much as one of the eye-brows that Darren Bent routinely creases as he slumps on the Villa Park bench wondering how in heck it all came to this. It would be a delightfully preposterous feat if Bradford made it to the Capital One Cup final.
Even though they lead 3-1 from the first leg, they must surely still start second favourites to make it to Wembley. Aston Villa are an established Premier League force (at least for another few months), with a superb striker who is exactly the sort that Arsene Wenger says it's impossible to find in the transfer market, and a capacity to occasionally produce brilliant performances, as previously seen in this tournament when they tonked Norwich, and also evidenced by a strong half against Manchester United and a fine victory at Anfield. And on Saturday they hinted at a return to that sort of form when they wowed their way into a 2-0 lead at West Brom, thanks to canny passing and movement, the potency of Christian Benteke and wizardly running from the awakened N'Zogbia. But Villa also showed at the Hawthorns that they remain vulnerable from set-pieces and Bradford proved well able to exploit that in the first leg. That fact, along with the slinkiness of Hines and Wells, means they rightfully go to Villa Park with hope.
Paul Lambert says Villa simply must win this. Defeat would deal a shattering blow to his callow squad, which will weaken them for the Premier League relegation fight and, while we're about it, a dicey FA Cup trip to Millwall on Friday. Lose this and they could spiral further downwards into self-doubt, incoherence and relegation from which they may never, ever recover. It is no exaggeration at all, then, to declare this the single most important match in the entire history of Pongo Waring's men. No exaggeration at all. None. We'll brook no quibbling on that point. Equally sensibly, we may say that if Bradford were to progress to the final it would be a story so romantic that it would be made into a film starring Hugh Grant (as dashing young manager Phil Parkinson) and Julia Robert (as, um, a no-nonsense centreback with an irresistible attraction to a well-delivered corner kick). OK, such a movie would be awful. Savour real life, right here, right now.
Bradford: Duke, Darby, McHugh, McArdle, Good, Hines,
Gary Jones, Doyle, Atkinson, Hanson, Wells.
Subs: McLaughlin, Ravenhill, Reid, Thompson, Connell, Nelson, Turgott.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Aston Villa: Given, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Bennett, Ireland, Delph, Bannan, N'Zogbia, Benteke, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Bent, Holman, Weimann, Stevens, Lichaj, Carruthers.