Having seen off FC Halifax Town, Dartford and Millwall, Bradford City find themselves in the FA Cup Fourth Round.
But, with Halifax and Dartford plying their trade in non-league football and with Millwall as a struggling Championship side who cannot buy a win, their next opponents are a different proposition altogether; Chelsea.
Currently sitting at the very top of the pyramid, Jose Mourinho’s side will be expected to brush aside the Bantams, edging one step nearer to the promised land of the quadruple in the process.
However, the Yorkshire sides’ cup pedigree must not be ignored. As discussed in the previous round, the 2012/13 campaign saw Phil Parkinson’s men overcome Aston Villa and Arsenal on the way to the Capital One Cup Final, where they were eventually beaten 5-0 by a classy Swansea City side.
Despite the above, the Bantams will go to Stamford Bridge this Saturday (January 24th) with no pressure on them. 6,000 fans will be roaring their team on from the Shed End and two of them told me just how much it means to them – and to the club – to land an away tie at the Premier League leaders.
”For the club, it’s brilliant” said Kate Eveleigh, member of the Bradford City Supporters’ Board. ”’It means we keep momentum and is a boost to the funds. The club make no secret of the fact that they budget at a loss, so any big cup tie is a way of making up the deficit without resorting to selling players (in theory!) and will, fingers crossed, mean that we can bring someone in who can help us consolidate our play off place.”
”It’s a huge game for the club” said Bradford fan, Tim Penfold. ”The income clears out the remaining overspend for this season and should allow us to bring in one or two new players. For me personally, it’s another ground to tick off – and the possibility of about 10 years’ worth of bragging rights over my Chelsea-supporting manager at work!”
The Bantams are at the Fourth Round stage courtesy of a thumping 4-0 win over Millwall in their Third Round Replay. After a 3-3 draw at The Den, it was all to play for at the Coral Windows Stadium in the replay, as both sides knew of the Chelsea-shaped carrot at the end of the game. However, even before Mark Beevers received his marching orders in the sixth minute for bringing down James Hanson, it was one-way traffic as Bradford wrapped up an easy win, thanks to goals from Hanson, Jon Stead, Andy Halliday and Billy Knott.
”I was confident of winning but I didn’t expect it to be quite so easy” said Tim. ”We were well on top before the red card and pressed our advantage against 10 men. At 2-0, Millwall lost discipline and their ‘keeper should have gone for his part in the brawl. At 3-0, they just gave up. At least Dartford kept trying!”
Kate also did not expect the game to be so easy for her side: ”Having spoken to a few Millwall fans on Twitter/message boards etc, I was told we’d win because Millwall’s away form was awful. Our home form is awful as well (only four league wins), so something had to give eventually, but I didn’t think it would be that quick. I predicted to the people around me that we were in for a long night and might see the penalty record tested!”
A crowd of 11,859 saw the demolition, thanks to the ‘#bethedifference’ campaign from Bradford City’s marketing team. Flyers were handed out at games and messages/tweets were sent out via social media, encouraging City fans to turn up and cheer the team on to Stamford Bridge – and it obviously worked! However, the movement had its criticism at first, especially from Kate.
”I wasn’t a fan of the campaign, but the atmosphere was brilliant. I’m sceptical when players/marketing departments etc say a big crowd helps them, but it feels good to be part of it from a fans’ perspective.”
Tim, meanwhile, thought that the campaign was a superb move on the clubs’ part: ”I think it helped get us off to a good start and from there, the ability of our team and Millwall’s capitulation did the rest. It was the best marketing campaign I’ve seen from City – I’d quite like to see more like that.”
Bantams front-man, James Hanson, has been attracting interest from clubs higher up the pyramid and underlined his ability with two commanding performances against the Lions. A big, powerful, battering ram, Hanson can also play football and finish – he is Bradford’s leading scorer – and will be a nuisance to Chelsea’s back-line.
”I think he’s going to be key – his aerial ability is the one area where we are actually potentially better than Chelsea. He’s caused problems for international level defenders (Ron Vlaar and Per Mertesacker) before” said Tim.
”If he plays well, we have a tiny chance.”
Kate, meanwhile, attaches legendary status to Hanson: ”I wouldn’t like to call us a one man team – and I don’t think we are – but Hanson is our longest serving player (I think) and if he isn’t a legend already, he’s getting closer every season. He has played an important part in our success in recent years.’
‘There was a tendency in the past to ‘hoof’ to Hanson and hope for the best; while that still happens occasionally, our style is now more versatile and he has adapted to that and improved year on year.”
Although Hanson dominates defences in League One, he will be up against a totally different prospect this Saturday. As a result, I asked Kate and Tim if they thought manager, Phil Parkinson, would change their tactics to get a result.
”I think he’ll switch from the diamond to a 4-4-1-1 with Knott playing behind Hanson” said Tim. ”This still allows three creators behind the striker, but gets an extra holder in and stops Liddle from being swamped. We’ll still try to go forward, but I doubt the fullbacks would get very far past halfway.”
”I think we play well in our formation, so I don’t think he would make wholesale changes, but the defenders will obviously have to have the game of their lives” added Kate. ”We perform better as underdogs, as we saw in the 2013 League Cup run, and surprised Arsenal and Aston Villa with how physical we were and how well we stuck together as a team, so, if anything, it’s our battling spirit that will work in our favour.”
Speaking of League One, the FA Cup run seems to have proved somewhat of a hindrance to the Bantams’ league form. After a seven-game unbeaten run in the league, which included five wins, Bradford have lost their last two games, going down 2-1 to Rochdale at home, before losing by a single goal at Yeovil on January 17th. Despite this, they still sit in sixth position going into Saturday’s cup tie – but what is more important? The Play-Offs, or winning at Chelsea?
Tim gave me a simple answer: ‘Winning the Play-Offs – that would set us up financially for years to come.”
However, Kate has different ideas: ”I’ll get lambasted for this in some quarters, but I’m going for Chelsea! These games don’t come around very often, so it would be great to make the most of it! We can (and apparently this is the aim at board level) push for promotion next year, when I don’t have to be at a wedding during play off final weekend!”
Make up your own minds, Bradford fans!
The view from the opposition comes from Chelsea fan, Sam Khan.
When asked how the Blues will approach the tie against lower opposition, Sam said: ”Our approach to the FA Cup is always strong; Chelsea want to be in every competition until the end. I think we will have a mixed team out – a few from the first XI and a few second string. I’m sure Jose will be resting some of our key players, like Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Willian, Gary Cahill and Filipe Luis for the Capital One Cup Semi-Final Second Leg at Stamford Bridge against Liverpool.”
It’s Chelsea v Bradford City in the FA Cup Fourth Round this Saturday, January 24th, at Stamford Bridge. Kick-Off is at 3pm.
Kate Eveleigh’s Predicted Bradford City Line-Up: Ben Williams; Stephen Darby (c), Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith; Mark Yeates, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Filipe Morais; Jon Stead, James Hanson.
Tim Penfold’s Predicted Bradford City Line-Up: Ben Williams; Stephen Darby (c), Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith; Mark Yeates, Andy Halliday (if his loan is extended), Gary Liddle, Filipe Morais; Billy Knott; James Hanson.
Sam Khan’s Predicted Chelsea FC Line-Up: Thibaut Courtois; Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zouma, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta; Nemanja Matic, Ramires, John Obi Mikel; Oscar, Eden Hazard; Didier Drogba.
Score Predictions: Kate: ”Head says 4-0 Chelsea – heart says 1-0 Bradford!” Tim: ”I think Chelsea will win this one 3-1.” Sam: ‘Three+ goals and a clean sheet!”
Find out how Bradford City got on in the Fifth Round Proper HERE.
Check out the rest of the FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/