Aston Villa 2 Bradford City 1
(Bradford win 4-3 on aggregate)
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT VILLA PARK
LESS than six months ago, Carl McHugh was without a club – but now the 19-year old from Lettermacaward is heading to Wembley.
McHugh’s Bradford City might have 2-1 to Aston Villa tonight in a gripping Capital One Cup semi-final second leg but the League Two minnows have penned one of the most famous Cup upsets of all time.
And how decisive now McHugh’s headed goal, Bradford’s third, in the first leg has proved to be. It was that 87th minute goal that has ultimately separated these two sides – between whom are 62 places in English League football.
Villa had given free flags to all of their fans entering the ground, but as Bradford danced their celebratory jigs, one flag stood out as McHugh waved a Donegal flag given to him by his mother, Mary, after the final whistle.
McHugh netted that oh so precious third in the first leg two weeks ago and the youngster from Leitir is now set to walk down Wembley Way when Bradford meet Swansea City or Chelsea in the February 24th final.
They will become the first team from the fourth tier to contest the League Cup final since Rochdale did so in 1962 – and they go there in the full confidence that they can repeat their giant-killing act that has seen three Premier League sides, Wigan, Arsenal and Villa, fall upon their sword.
There was some late apprehension when Andreas Weimann, a substitute, got around the Bradford goalkeeper, Matt Duke, to score ninety seconds from the end of normal time. While Villa pushed hard in the four minutes of stoppage time, they could not breach Bradford again to take them to extra time – and for Shay Given it’s another addition to the ‘what might have been’ chapter.
Bradford, however, were deserving of their night in the stars. This tie represented their first Cup semi-final since 1911, when they won the FA Cup.
“There’s a 1911 lounge at the club to celebrate the Cup victory of that year, well, in years to come there will be a lounge named after this cup run and these players because of what they’ve achieved,” the Bradford manager, Phil Parkinson said.
The miracle men scored the equaliser ten minutes into the second half. Captain Gary Jones whipped in a teasing corner from the right-hand side and James Hanson got ahead of Ron Vlaar to power a header past Given from seven yards.
It was the fourth goal conceded by Villa in this Cup tie – and the fourth from a corner.
“You’re getting sacked in the morning,” Bradford’s fans taunted Paul Lambert, the under-fire Villa manager.
“There are two ways – you either lie down and take it or you come out fighting. I am certainly not going to lie down.” There are two ways – you either lie down and take it or you come out fighting. I am certainly not going to lie down,” Lambert said after the game.
Some 6,500 City fans travelled from Yorkshire – and quite a few from a small pocket of Donegal too – to aid in creating a raucous, red-hot atmosphere inside a Villa Park that housed 40,193 fans.
Bradford squandered a chance to put the tie to bed when Hanson jumped too early to meet a cross from Zavon Hines and his header skewed behind the goal.
They went closer still 18 minutes from the end when Garry Thompson, the substitute, fired a delicious effort against Given’s crossbar with his first touch.
Rocked Villa couldn’t recover despite having four strikers on the park for the closing stages, after Paul Lambert sent on Darren Bent and Weimann.
“I am absolutely gutted, disappointed, hurt, everything,” Lambert said after a harrowing night for his lowly Villa.
“You couldn’t repeat what was said in the dressing room. Everyone is hurt.”
In his pre-match press conference Lambert had challenged his players to ‘come out of the blocks’ – as they had done when going 2-0 up against West Brom on Saturday.
And they did just that – but had only Christian Benteke’s eighth goal of the season to show for a dominant first half performance.
Villa owned the opening 45 minutes – but were somewhat over-extravagant at times and only Benteke’s 24th minute header separated the teams at the interval.
After just three minutes, Charles N’Zogbia picked out Benteke, but his header was just off cue – though the move set the tone for the rest of the opening half.
The pair combined again, this time Benteke’s header being met by Matthew Lowton, who was unable to keep a header down, before the Belgian again came close, heading straight at Matt Duke from close range.
There was almost an ominous inevitability sweeping around the freezing Birmingham ground, though. And on 24 minutes the siege finally yielded the opener as Benteke stole to the front post to flick Joe Bennett’s magnificent cross beyond Duke.
That came after Delph whistled over and Gabriel Agbonlahor tested Duke, who clung onto the low shot.
The rest of the half followed the same narrative: Villa pushing with all their might, but unable to find a second. Just before the break, the home fans thought they had doubled the lead – only for an offside flag to cut shot Ireland’s celebrations after Bennett wormed his way through.
Duke’s fingertips were among the few not freezing by the break, as they were required to push over shots from N’Zogbia and Ireland. A rare moment of Bradford optimism came right at the close of the half when Nahki Wells’ curling effort flew just the wrong side of Given’s goal.
Given had defied the medics when he came through a late fitness test on a troublesome hamstring to make only his eighth start of the season; the sixth in Cup competition for the 36-year old.
It was a measure of Lambert’s intention – and of the significance of this Cup tie to Villa’s season – that Given’s inclusion was one of only three changes to the side which blew a 2-0 lead to draw at West Brom on Saturday, with Irish exile Stephen Ireland and Barry Bannan also in from the off.
A giant reminder of the staggeringly differing statures and histories of these clubs was beneath those claret and amber fans in the North Stand; the words of Brian Moore’s commentary from the 1982 European Cup final, celebrating Peter Witeh’s winning goal that took European football’s biggest prize to Villa Park, etched on a banner stretching the length of the stand.
A sole FA Cup success – and that back in 1911 – is the sum total of Bradford’s success in the major competitions, their only European ‘run’ coming in the 2000 Intertoto Cup.
Yet it was the visiting hoards who, as the clocked ticked into its final ten minutes, dared to chant: “We’re going to Wembley.”
And so they are.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Shay Given; Matthew Lowton, Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Joe Bennett; Fabian Delph, Barry Bannan; Charles N’Zogbia, Stephen Ireland, Gabriel Agbonlahor; Christian Benteke. Subs: Darren Bent for Bannan (62 mins), Andreas Weimann for Bennett (70 mins).
Bradford City (4-4-2): Matt Duke; Stephen Darby, Carl McHugh, Rory McArdle, Curtis Good; Zavon Hines, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Will Atkinson; Nahki Wells, James Hanson. Subs: Garry Thompson for Hines (71 mins), Blair Turgott for Wells (87 mins).
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Well known sportsperson Shay Given from Lifford, has been named the Donegal Person of the Year for 2017....