Bradford City AFC were left pinching themselves after securing a 4-3 aggregate victory against Aston Villa FC to reach the English League Cup final.
Bradford, 3-1 winners at home in the semi-final first leg, fell behind to Premier League Villa on Tuesday but stood firm, responded and then held on to become the first fourth-division outfit in 51 years to make the League Cup showpiece. A top-tier side little more than a decade ago, Bradford have made a mockery of their current position in the league ladder by overcoming three Premier League teams – Wigan Athletic FC, Arsenal FC and Villa – in succession to get to Wembley.
"It is such a special night for the football club," said Bradford manager Phil Parkinson. "We said before the game that we are on the verge of history, and now we've done it. It is a special night for everyone connected with the club – the supporters, the players, their families watching in the crowd – and such an occasion is something we'll never forget. I've been told we've been on the news in China, Brazil, Russia and Australia in recent weeks. That is brilliant, that the name of Bradford City is spreading."
The spotlight in England has, understandably, been shone in the direction of the Bantams, who last played a final when they won the FA Cup for the only time 101 years ago. "What a story," reads The Times. "What a fairy tale. Last night, as gravity and reality threatened to bring them down to earth on one of the most famous grounds in the country, they showed the character, resolve, discipline, tenacity and, at times, the skill that was required to take their incredible journey to Wembley and, the way this is going, perhaps to Europe."
Though Christian Benteke fired Villa ahead on a snowy night in Birmingham, James Hanson steadied the ship for the visitors from Yorkshire with an equaliser ten minutes after half-time. "I can't believe it," said the 25-year-old, who had not trained for ten days because of a broken toe. "We dug in during the first half and it looked like being a tough night. But in the second half I thought we were comfortable."
Goalkeeper Matt Duke, outstanding in both legs, was equally overwhelmed by his side's achievement. "I'm speechless, the lads were fantastic again," he said. "It's a dream. As a kid you play football and dream of Wembley and now we're a League Two team going to Wembley and we'll take a massive following. Why can't we go on and win it? Let us dream. I am not convinced this will ever sink in."
While Parkinson's immediate attention must go to the more run-of-the-mill visit of Wycombe Wanderers FC to Valley Parade on Saturday, it is the trip to Wembley on 24 February which will dominate the thoughts of the club's fans. Swansea City AFC hold a 2-0 advantage against Chelsea FC ahead of Wednesday's other semi-final second leg.
"It really is beyond belief what we have achieved," added Parkinson. "To get Bradford City into a major cup final is something words can't really explain. Come the end of February, we're on our way to Wembley. I think we could probably fill the stadium on our own at the moment!"
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