Early Doors

Seismic shock sets Bradford up for final flourish

With Bradford City leading Aston Villa 3-1 in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final, and on the brink of one of the finest results in their recent history, a funny thing happened.

The commentators expected a pitch invasion, the viewers, who could see the pulsating, jubilant mass of humanity almost spilling over onto the turf, expected a pitch invasion, and the stadium announcer, airing warnings as the seconds ticked away, expected a pitch invasion. But none came.

Good policing? Officious stewards? Maybe. But the restraint shown by Bradford supporters also hinted at a confidence they will complete the job in the second leg. Why race onto the pitch to embrace their heroes now when greater glories await the League Two side?

Villa, quite incredibly, are now underdogs against a remarkable Bradford team that looks capable of adding a third Premier League scalp to those of Wigan and Arsenal and reaching the final at Wembley. If they do, it will quite simply be one of the great cup stories in the history of English football.

The only other fourth tier side to reach the final of the League Cup was Rochdale in 1962, having also won the first leg of their semi-final 3-1.

For a club that has twice suffered the trauma of administration since falling out of the top flight in 2001 - the first time while citing the collapse of ITV Digital and the failure to offload Benito Carbone from the wage bill - it is a pretty unimaginable feat. Fairytale barely does it justice.

Like many, Early Doors thought a penalty shoot-out win over Arsenal in the quarter-finals would be the wonderful pinnacle of Bradford's fine cup run but last night they surpassed that achievement.

Aston Villa might be an inexperienced rabble, their defenders might have the positional discipline of a hyperactive blue bottle, but they are a Premier League side. Even when Villa pulled one back through Andreas Weimann to make it 2-1, Bradford still had the character and ability to extend their lead with a booming header from Carl McHugh that was the highlight of their night's work.

The undoubted hero, though, was goalkeeper Matt Duke, proving to be the most newsworthy Duke even on a day when David Bowie announced his return to music. He made 12 saves to keep Villa at bay for all of 82 minutes, but this was no battering: Bradford had 20 shots to Villa's 18.

The League Two side look more than capable of protecting their lead in the second leg at Villa Park, which is astonishing in itself. It also tells you something about the team Villa have become under Paul Lambert.

The appointment of the Scot looked a clever one back in the summer but his reign has so far been nothing short of a disaster. The horror of the Christmas period and 17 unanswered goals laid bare Villa's shortcomings but it is Bradford who have exploited them in the most significant way.

An unwavering faith in youth is admirable in theory; in practice his young players are surely being demoralised by the punishment healed upon them on a near weekly basis. If Lambert is to enter the January transfer market then he ought to consider recruiting an army of sport psychologists too.

Experimenting with a rather awkward three at the back system has left his defence looking desperately unconvincing, and last night Bradford profited from their weakness from crosses as Villa's youngsters looked lost without older heads to guide them through a tricky cup tie.

Veteran recruits need to be identified, and quickly. There is talent in those Villa ranks but it needs to be coaxed out with a steadying hand, not battered into submission. At the moment, Lambert clearly didn't have the balance right.

He will of course be given the second leg to turn things around, but if Villa are eliminated by Bradford, given their struggles in the league, it has to be close to a sackable offence. ED never likes to demand a manager's head - and it is too soon to do so in this case - but Lambert does need to make something happen quickly.

Last night, when facing the cameras, he did look a bit shell-shocked and dispirited.

"I'm really disappointed we lost the game," Lambert told Sky Sports. "We are in a game now, that's for sure. We knew what was coming - set-pieces - and we never defended them well at all. That's definitely what's hurt us but that's certainly not good enough.

"We are in a game now, that's for sure. We had a lot of the game and yes they were set-pieces but set-pieces are a vital part of the game and you've got to defend them. We didn't do that. But it's half-time and we've got time to retrieve this. We'll see what happens in a fortnight's time. We know what we've got to do and we've certainly got to do a lot better than that."

They do. Villa's best should in theory be enough and a 2-0 win will take them through on away goals after extra-time, but anything less than that and Lambert's team of raw youngsters could suffer their most damaging setback yet.

If it is Bradford's place at Wembley that is secured instead, then the travelling fans, who have had to put up with so much in the past decade, would surely be forgiven a little pitch invasion.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: Q: “You played with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona...” A: “He would maybe say that he played with me." - Michael Laudrup sets the Mirror's Oliver Holt straight in an interview to preview tonight's Capital One Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Galatasaray announces it has begun negotiations with the FC Internazionale for the transfer of Wesley Sneijder. The public will be informed of developments." - The Turkish club announce they are on the verge of quite a coup, though ED suspects there will be a few twists and turns yet before Sneijder is pictured in a Gala shirt.

COMING UP: It's Chelsea v Swansea at Stamford Bridge with kick-off coming at 7.45pm. Prior to that we have blogs from Jim White and James Horncastle, while you can monitor the latest transfer news with the Eurobot's live blog throughout the day.