They’re at it again.
Not content with dumping out the Capital One Cup winners and Premier League champions-elect, Chelsea, on their own patch in Round Four, Bradford City advanced to the FA Cup Quarter Finals on Sunday, February 15th, courtesy of a 2-0 win over Sunderland – another top division outfit.
In a footballing world that has recently welcomed a TV deal for the rich to get even richer (the bottom-placed club in a few seasons’ time will reportedly receive £99m), it was The Bantams who upset the apple cart once more, landing a dream start to the Round Five tie, as Billy Clarke’s shot was deflected past the Black Cats’ stopper, Vito Mannone, by John O’Shea in just the third minute. That lead was doubled on the hour mark, as pressure down the Bantams’ left-hand side caused the Sunderland defence into a mistake – the ball found the influential James Hanson, who nodded into the path of Jon Stead – the former Black Cats striker – who rifled home underneath the body of Mannone, sealing the victory.
Sunderland should have perhaps had a penalty in the first-half, as Rory McArdle – sporting a Terry Butcher-like bandage – brought down Steven Fletcher in the box with a clumsy challenge, but apart from that, the League One outfit were rarely troubled, taking their place in the Quarter-Finals for the first time since 1976 as the final whistle blew.
Gus Poyet spent his post-game press-conference launching a remarkable attack on the press and journalists, but that did no more than highlight his desperation at losing the tie easily, focusing on the state of the Coral Windows Stadium’s pitch more than his own teams’ game-plan.
”(The Sunderland game) was surprisingly easy’ said Bradford fan, Tim Penfold. ‘We got an early goal, which was key as it really knocked Sunderland back, but they didn’t really threaten as much as I was expecting. They’d got so worked up about the pitch that they spent the entire game hoofing it to Fletcher, which McArdle and Davies dealt with easily. We seemed to want it more and it showed in our pressing game, which got us the second.”
Kate Eveleigh, member of the Bradford City Supporters’ Board, was also shocked at how easy the tie was for her side: ”It felt too easy! City never do anything the easy way, whether it’s coming back from 2-0 down at Chelsea, or conceding a last minute goal and then going straight up the other end and scoring a winner – as we have in a few league games this season – so anything less feels like we haven’t been through enough! Against Sunderland, we (or rather, they) scored after three minutes and I had a horrible feeling we’d peaked too soon. I remember sitting in the bar at half time, thinking ‘Poyet will be giving them a right bollocking now and they’ll come out flying’ – if he did, they weren’t listening!”
Sitting just one game away from an FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley Stadium and after ties against the country’s elite, you could forgive Phil Parkinson and everyone associated with Bradford City for wanting a relatively easier draw in the last eight. Of the seven teams available in the draw, they got just that – a home tie with Championship strugglers, Reading.
”I have mixed feelings’ said Kate, when asked for her views on the draw. ‘It would have been nice to draw Manchester United or Liverpool, to continue the Premier League theme and perhaps visit another Premiership ground.’
‘This game isn’t easy; in some ways it will be more difficult than Sunderland – or even Chelsea – but it is definitely one I feel we can win if things go right on the day. I’m also glad it’s at home, as it means another sell out crowd (although things haven’t gone quite to plan – more on that later!) and the opportunity to create a good atmosphere and get behind the team. In a way, that makes things difficult for Reading.”
Tim, meanwhile, is happy with the draw, for one reason: ”This is the best chance we’ll have for years to get to an FA Cup Semi Final.’
‘I wanted one of the big teams, but this is the easiest draw we could’ve got – they’re still favourites, but they’re out of form and it’s going to be in front of a sell-out crowd roaring us on.”
In a shrewd marketing move, ticket prices have been frozen for the Quarter-Final tie. Adult tickets are just £15 – but one vital condition has been disregarded. There is no limit to how many tickets one season-ticket holder can buy.
”In a nutshell, tickets went on sale to season ticket holders last Sunday morning, but were not restricted to ‘x per ST holder’. This means that people have been buying up to 50-60 tickets in one transaction – some of which have ended up on touting sites. This means that some season ticket holders were left without tickets, which in turn created a panic situation, as people who had decided to wait until the rush died down realised this wouldn’t be possible. The ticket system was then unable to cope with the traffic, which led to other problems” explained Kate.
Tim was equally as dismayed regarding the failure to sell tickets properly: ”The club decided to go with a very flawed strategy for ticketing, which meant that season ticket holders could buy unlimited tickets on one card. They’d done this for the Sunderland game and got away with it, because nobody knew that they could get unlimited tickets until halfway through the first day of sales, so everything went smoothly.’
‘This fooled the club into thinking that the system actually worked, but for this game there were so many sales that some season ticket holders still haven’t managed to get a ticket. It’s been really badly managed and the board seemed more concerned with ensuring a sell-out crowd than properly rewarding the clubs most loyal supporters.’
‘I was lucky enough to get my tickets sorted on day one, but it’s been a complete farce.”
Despite the ongoing ticketing saga, the Bantams look set to welcome their biggest crowd in over 50 years, beating the 24,021 crowd at the Sunderland game. Having scored a whopping 19 goals on their FA Cup run already (2 v Halifax, 4 v Dartford, 7 v Millwall, 4 v Chelsea and 2 v Sunderland), the team will look to net once more to seal their place at Wembley – but what’s the secret? How have they scored so many goals?
Both Tim and Kate opened with two words: ”Jon Stead!” The former Huddersfield Town, Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland and Bristol City striker has scored in every round of the competition proper so far and will look to add to that total this Saturday.
Away from Stead, Tim puts his teams glut of goals down to their mindset: ”In all seriousness, we’ve had games against Conference sides, so we should’ve scored plenty there, but we’ve then had higher opposition and we’re still scoring. I think it’s the mindset that we have as underdogs, where we give it a go rather than sitting back – higher level teams don’t expect that.”
”At the beginning of the season, goals were a big concern for me’ added Kate. ”We’d signed (Billy) Clarke, (Billy) Knott, (Gary) Liddle and (Alan) Sheehan, who all came with good recommendations and are good players in their own right, but there wasn’t a stand out goal scorer. There wasn’t enough width in the team and no-one who was really able to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and push forward.’
‘When (Filipe) Morais was given a regular starting place, he gave us a bigger attacking threat and allowed us to be more creative; this helped us to score more goals.”
Should Bradford fall at the final hurdle before Wembley this weekend, it will be Reading that will advance to the final four in April. Their ‘view from the opposition’ comes from fan Roger Titford.
Roger stated that he was happy with the draw: ”Given our current home and away form, this is the best (i.e. most winnable) draw we could have had. I’m fed up with being beaten by Arsenal and Manchester United in recent years and we’ve lost two Quarter-Finals recently to Premier League clubs. This is our best chance of a Semi-Final since 1927.”
For Bradford City and Reading, this weekend, there is a common bond. A foot in both camps. Phil Parkinson.
Along with overseeing some of the greatest days and nights in the history of the Yorkshire club, ‘Parky’ spent eleven years at the Royals, culminating in a testimonial year after a little over 360 appearances for the club. Despite the magnitude of the tie this coming Saturday, Roger is confident that the Bantams’ boss will receive a warm welcome from the travelling contingent: ”Parkinson will receive a very good reception. A top club man and the last Reading player to be granted a testimonial, with a near full house.’
‘Whisper it, but he is actually a vice-president of our supporters trust – we’ll keep him on even if he wins the tie!”
Finally, when asked how his team will approach the tie – bearing in mind that Bradford do like to rise to an occasion! – Roger stated that he ‘wouldn’t be surprised if if the occasion got to Bradford City more than us.’
‘We will aim to keep it quiet and boring, score first with the odd flash of class we sometimes have and hold on.”
The FA Cup has reached its final stages. Who’ll advance to the final four? Will Bradford City fly the League One flag all the way to Wembley, or could Reading become the only representative from outside the top division in the Semi-Finals?
It’s Bradford City v Reading in the FA Cup Quarter-Finals this Saturday, March 7th, at the Coral Windows Stadium. Kick-Off is at 12:45pm, with the tie being shown live on BT Sport.
You can view highlights of Bradford City 2-0 Sunderland HERE.
Kate Eveleigh’s Predicted Bradford City Line-Up: Ben Williams; Stephen Darby (C), Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith; Mark Yeates, Andy Halliday, Gary Liddle; Billy Clarke, James Hanson, Jon Stead.
Tim Penfold’s Predicted Bradford City Line-Up: Ben Williams; Stephen Darby (C), Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith; Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Billy Clarke; James Hanson, Jon Stead.
Roger Titford’s Predicted Reading Line-Up: Adam Federici; Chris Gunter, Alex Pearce (C), Michael Hector, Jordan Obita (or, if suspended, Stephen Kelly); Garath McCleary, Daniel Williams, Nathaniel Chalobah, Hal Robson-Kanu; Pavel Pogrebnyak, Simon Cox (or, if we’re going 4-5-1 and for the draw, Oliver Norwood.)
Score Predictions: Kate: Bradford City 2-1 Reading. Tim: Bradford City 1-2 Reading. Roger: Bradford City 0-1 Reading.
Check out the rest of the FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/
See how Reading got on in the Semi-Finals HERE.
Tim wrote a superb article on the Width Of A Post website, regarding Bradford’s formation and how it has changed to their benefit. Take a look HERE.
(Photos courtesy of Thomas Gadd Photography – http://www.thomasgadd.co.uk/)