LONDON (Reuters) – Bradford City’s manager was in dreamland and the League Two club’s chairman said he would have to start learning languages after they stunned Aston Villa 4-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semi-final on Tuesday.
Despite a 2-1 loss at Villa Park, Bradford held on to become the first fourth tier club to reach a major English cup final since Rochdale lost to Norwich City in the League Cup in 1962.
At the final whistle Bradford’s mixture of youngsters and grizzled old professionals celebrated wildly on the pitch while the joy of their 6,000 travelling fans was unrestrained.
It was a harrowing night for Premier League strugglers Villa, however, as they sloped off to contemplate the rest of the season fighting to avoid relegation.
Question marks will inevitably be raised about the future of manager Paul Lambert, who agreed his side’s defeat to Bradford was "embarrassing".
It was Bradford’s night though and a triumph for a club who have spent most of their history languishing in the wilderness and who have twice been close to going out of business after a brief and costly flirtation with the Premier League.
"It is dreamland," said their manager Phil Parkinson. "The lads were absolutely fantastic and what it means for the club and the city is absolutely tremendous.
"We knew we could hurt them on set plays. We looked at the stats, at how many they have conceded and we worked hard on it.
"It’s a moment to saviour, it was an extraordinary feeling when the whistle went."
Victory against either Swansea City or Chelsea at Wembley on February 24 would earn Bradford a place in Europe for the first time since they appeared in the now defunct Intertoto Cup in 2000.
"If we get into Europe I’ll have to start learning some languages!" Bradford chairman Mark Lawn said.
"I don’t care who we get in the final, they will probably both batter us. Chelsea will have to declare at halftime if we play them!"
Villa, trailing 3-1 from the first leg, went ahead through Christian Benteke but James Hanson’s 55th-minute header calmed Bradford’s nerves and they held on despite Andreas Weimann’s late effort for the five-times League Cup winners.
Hanson said he had never been to Wembley before.
"I can’t believe it, it really hasn’t sunk in yet," said the 25-year-old. "The lads dug in in the first half and I thought we were going to have our backs to the wall.
"But we were actually pretty comfortable in the second half and we held on well."
Keeper Matt Duke, a hero of penalty shootout wins against Premier League Wigan Athletic and, most notably, a strong Arsenal side in the last eight, summed up the mood.
"I’m speechless. The lads had a fantastic game tonight and the fans as well, it’ll be a great day at Wembley for them," he said. "Everyone had a great game.
"As a kid playing football, you dream of Wembley and we’re going to do it. We’re going to take a League Two club to Wembley, we’re going to take a massive following, it’s going to be an amazing day and I’m looking forward to it."
Villa had looked set to spoil the party but paid the price for poor defending as the gloom deepened for the Midlands club.
"That is the worst day of the season. We had two chances to do it and haven’t done it," Lambert said.
"We’ve lost four goals from set-pieces over two games which is not good enough. I am embarrassed. We will never have a better chance to reach the final."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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