Penalty kings, nine times over


My Facebook status on Monday night read “This time tomorrow one of the biggest shocks in the Capital Cup history will be unfolding, semi final bound, in Parkinson we trust.” A throw away comment and one I didn’t believe was realistically possible. Fast forward 24 hours and I had just witnessed what I now describe as my best moment in a football arena; my beloved Bradford City of League Two had knocked out one of the heavyweights of European football Arsenal, and it wasn’t any old Arsenal this was the big guns – a team which consisted of Szczesny, Sagna, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gervinho, Ramsay, Wilshire, Cazorla, Podolski and Coquelin – pretty much the Gooners first team with the exception of Mikel Arteta.

A capacity crowd of 23,971 roared Bradford on, something I’ve not witnessed since the days of the Premier League well over a decade ago was unbelievable. The moment Garry Thompson volley home to give the underdogs the lead led to wild scenes of joy. I generally thought it was a matter of time before Arsene Wenger’s men came back into the game; striker Gervinho missed an open goal.

However, the moment came just three minutes from time I had started to believe that the impossible was realistically possible and was almost reality. The fact that Bradford looked so comfortable at 1-0 up and for all Arsenal’s pressure hadn’t really made Matt Duke in The Bantams goal make that many saves. Unfortunately though, Belgian centre back Thomas Vermaelen popped up at the back post to head home a simple equaliser and send the game into extra time. Normally I would have been jumping for joy at the prospect of another thirty minutes but on this occasion I was gutted – so close but yet so far.

Normally you get one chance as the underdogs to claim victory, and with Vermaelen’s goal, I thought that was Bradford’s opportunity gone. I imagine up and down the country fans of other clubs would have been rooting for The Bantams and I’m sure those fans felt for City at that moment. Before extra-time was reached Santi Cazorla twice nearly broke Bradford hearts firstly from a free kick and then from the resulting rebound shot, both superbly saved by Matt Duke.

In extra time, the closest anyone came to scoring was once again the classy Cazorla who hit the bar with a long range dipping drive. So it was, perhaps written in the stars, that once again in a cup competition Bradford would do it the hard way or easy way as it has become known in recent times, and attempt to knock Arsenal out of the cup on penalties.

Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones had City 2-0 up after Duke had saved Cazorla’s penalty and Marouane Chamakh had hit the post, Stephen Darby then missed followed by Jack Wilshire’s cool conversion. Next the pressure fell on lifelong Arsenal fan Alan Connell to keep the advantage with The Bantams and he calmly slotted home, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was next up and duly did the business – however a successful conversion by substitute Richie Jones would see League Two Bradford would be lining up in the semi-final of the Capital One Cup, and it wasn’t to be as Jones weak penalty was saved by Szczesny in the Gooners goal.

Thomas Varmaelen stepped up last for Arsenal, the outcome was simple he scores it goes to sudden death he misses and for the first time in Bradford’s history they would make the semi-finals – he sent Duke the wrong way, but straight onto the post the ball went – sparking sensational scenes around Valley Parade. These nights aren’t suppose to happen when you are playing in League Two. We had taken on the wealth of Arsenal’s full first team and come away with our very own pot of gold at the end.

It was another shoot out win for Bradford, making it nine straight penalty knock out wins – a remarkable sequence and will surely be some sort of record.

The early predictions are that the two legged semi-final could pocket Bradford in the region of a million pounds, a huge amount of money at this level. Hopefully it will be the springboard to clinch promotion this season. As much as I’m personally enjoying the cup runs, and nights like beating Wigan away and Arsenal at home, it will count for nothing if next year we are still plying our trade in the basement division.

Away from the Capital One Cup exploits, Bradford are still the only club to be still in every competition this season that they entered, after being reinstated into the FA Cup and fined £1,000 instead. The charge related to loanee defender Curtis Good from Newcastle and his involvement in the game against Brentford.

The club had reached verbal consent that they could play Good in the FA Cup second round game, although on the written consent it has been missed off. Clearly an administrative error and not one to try and cheat our way into the next round, it therefore means the replay will be sandwiched between Southend and Wycombe away – delightful. Merry Christmas Bradford fans!

If Bradford can beat The Bees in the replay at Griffin Park it will set up a 3rd Round date with Southend United away at Roots Hall. Hardly a glamour tie but it will keep the feel good factor around Valley Parade at the moment rolling on.

In the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy ,The Bantams have progressed into the Northern Semi Finals where they will play Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road in early January next year. A tricky game, but if Bradford could get past them, then more than likely Preston North End (who I imagine will beat Bury) or Coventry City will stand in the way of a day out at Wembley. If Bradford could land Coventry or PNE another cash windfall would surely be on the horizon.

Despite all our cup successes, Bradford sit nicely in fourth place in the league after the 1-0 win over Torquay last time out. Full credit has to be given to Phil Parkinson and his coaching staff, but also the players. After the draw to play Arsenal was made there was a month before the game came around, and the team didn’t switch off during that period, rising up to fourth in the league.

The feel good factor has been amazing this season. So many false dawns have been seen at Valley Parade in the last decade and finally we have a team we can be proud of – a long way to go, but all these cup runs will hopefully enable Parkinson to strengthen the squad in the January transfer window. Then we can really see The Bantams kick on and go from strength to strength in the second half of the season.

Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger

Mark tweets at @scully87

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