Early Doors

The ecstasy and the agony

Early Doors

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The numbers alone demonstrate just how incredible a feat last night's triumph over Aston Villa was. Bradford City are in their first cup final since 1911. It is the first time a fourth-tier club has reached a cup final since Rochdale in the League Cup in 1962 - a time when some of the big clubs did not even contest the competition.

Reaching the final now - in an era when enormous wealth and power is concentrated in the global behemoth that is the Premier League, basically prohibiting the very notion of genuine cup shocks - is a titanic achievement, unmatched in English football's long history.

Should Bradford somehow win the final at Wembley in February, claiming a fourth Premier League scalp after those of Wigan, Arsenal and Villa, they would become only the second ever club from a fourth tier to win a domestic cup. To date the only team to achieve the feat is the Sri Lankan Navy in 2010, and they only dropped out of the first division due to "fighting commitments" - incidentally the same reason Joey Barton gave for leaving QPR on loan.

A city more accustomed to Challenge Cup finals now has the most unlikely of football finals to attend in its droves, where Bradford will face either Michael Laudrup's resplendent Swansea or Rafa Benitez's slightly unpredictable but mostly deadly Chelsea. Either way, it will be one of the great cup moments in English football.

Early Doors will spare you the spiel about how Bradford's entire team cost just £7,500 to assemble, how they have twice been in administration since relegation from the Premier League, how goalscorer James Hanson was stacking shelves a few years ago and how many places they are below Villa in the league ladder. Such facts, anecdotes and numerous clichés about the romance of the cup' will be trotted out on a near daily basis from now until the final on February 24.

For now it is better just to revel in their remarkable achievement, as manager Phil Parkinson understandably did last night.

"We said to the lads before that there was a chance to make history but, while we knew that, we had to focus on the key elements in the game to get us there," said Parkinson. "I felt we certainly did that in the second half. These lads will be remembered in the history of Bradford City for years to come.

"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."

But as much as this was an ecstatic occasion for Bradford City, it was also a desperately dark and harrowing night for Aston Villa and their manager Paul Lambert, who looks increasingly like a man waging a futile battle against imminent doom.

To lose to a League Two side in a one-off cup game is embarrassing - Arsenal and Wigan both fell victim to Bradford too, albeit on penalties - but to do so across two legs is completely unforgivable. Playing 180 minutes against such an inferior side should take any element of luck completely out of the equation; history, quality and finance should - must - prevail.

Even at 3-1 down from the first leg there was no excuse for Villa not to reach the final, something they looked eminently capable of doing when Christian Benteke produced another superb finish with a poked volley off the end of his boot. But instead of pressing home their advantage, ED was amazed to see them concede again - from yet another corner - before a late, late strike from Andreas Weimann gave Villa a 'victory' that was more hollow than an Easter egg.

This was, quite simply, an atrocious night to be a Villa fan; a dominant first half was obscured by a comically bad second. Villa lacked any kind of positional discipline, tactical coherence, match intelligence or threat on goal. It was an abject, disastrous, monstrosity of a performance. Clueless, directionless, characterless. Basically just really, really bad.

Despite the historically huge dimension of the result, the worst thing that can be said of Villa's night is that, in isolation, the nature of the performance was far from surprising; ever since a resounding 3-0 win over Liverpool on December 15 they have been terrible. There were those 17 unanswered goals across five games, an 8-0 loss at Chelsea, the 3-1 defeat at Bradford.

ED recognises that Lambert was handed a tough gig when taking the Villa job last summer: he had to nurse them back to health following the poisonous reign of Alex McLeish, which allowed disaffection to spread alarmingly amongst supporters and almost resulted in relegation. But in attempting to bring a freshness to the squad, Lambert has cut too deep and too fast.

Experience has been cast aside and callow youths from the lower leagues have been asked to do the job of seasoned Premier League players. Taking such a bold approach entailed a huge risk, and Villa are now paying for that recklessness. In attempting full-scale surgery, Lambert has only succeeded in giving Villa a lobotomy.

Just one point clear of relegation, this Villa side needed a cup final to distract them from the horror of their league campaign. Now they have been vanquished by Bradford, there is no hiding.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I am absolutely gutted, disappointed, hurt, everything. Everyone is hurt. You will never have a better chance to get to a cup final throughout your whole career, even the young lads. It may take them 10 or 12 years to get even close to one again. That's the hurt. I am every bit as hurt as what the fans are. It's my responsibility. I know exactly what it's like and I know exactly what they're feeling because I am feeling the exact same." - Paul Lambert.

FOREIGN VIEW: It's not just Bradford representing for the lower leagues in cup competitions across Europe. Third division Epinal continued their brilliant run in the French Cup when they knocked out Ligue 2 high-fliers Nantes on penalties in the last 32 last night. Epinal, who eliminated Lyon in the previous round, outplayed Nantes who lie second in the Ligue 2 standings. Judicael Crillon opened the scoring for the hosts nine minutes into the second half, only for Filip Djordjevic to equalise in the last minute and send the game into extra time. No goals were scored and goalkeeper Olivier Robin stopped two penalties in the shootout as Epinal won 4-3 to go through.

COMING UP: Swansea and Chelsea vie for the right to face the mighty Bradford in the Capital One Cup final as they contest their semi-final second leg, with the Swans leading 2-0 from the first leg at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal also take on West Ham in the Premier League, while our African Cup of Nations live coverage continues with South Africa v Angola at 3pm and Morocco v Cape Verde Islands at 6pm.

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