While we suspected tonight’s game might be close, few of us would have predicted the final score. Unfortunately, Bradford’s heroics continued as Villa’s defending looked decidedly dodgy throughout the game and their keeper thwarted Villa on numerous occasions.
The opening was fairly lively, with Jones, the Bantams’ captain, shooting wide and N’Zogbia’s left-footed drive blocked by Duke. The home side’s leading scorer, Wells, had a great chance but shot into Given’s hands. Villa broke quickly, winning two corners, and Benteke twice headed the ball just over the crossbar.
As our support for Stan has continued, we’ve been hoping for a goal in the 19th minute but, unfortunately, it was the home side who took the lead in the 19th minute when Wells shot from the penalty area after the ball had rebounded to send Valley Parade into seventh heaven.
N’Zogbia weaved and made space for a shot but Duke produced a fine save to stop Benteke’s coarse shot from the edge of the area levelling the tie. However, on 34 minutes, the home team had another fine chance as Given saved at his near post from Hines before Hanson’s powering head was cleared off the line by Delph.
Duke continued to work seeming miracles, saving Agbonlahor’s volley, set up by N’Zogbia, at full stretch.
After the break, Villa had an early opportunity to equalise but Benteke’s header from a Bannan cross was blocked by Duke, who also kept out Agbonlahor’s close-range shot.
Bent replaced Agbonlahor in the 57th minute and managed a volley but, like Villa’s previous efforts, it didn’t seem destined for the back of the net. After Benteke’s shot rebounded off Duke, Bent wasted a gift, heading over the crossbar.
McArdle headed home in the 77th minute to give the Bantams a two-goal lead.
Weimann turned the ball into the net in the 82nd minute, setting up the prospect of a comeback, but the Yorkshire side never lost heart and it was no real surprise when McHugh scored two minutes from time to give the League Two side a great chance of reaching Wembley.
Dubious defending, particularly of set pieces, and a disjointed midfield cost Villa dearly tonight and leaves Lambert’s Lions with a lot of work to do, and under pressure, ahead of the second-leg, which takes place at Villa Park on 22nd January. All credit to the Bantams, whose energy and enterprise brought them another epic victory.