THE fairytale may have had the unhappiest of endings as Bradford City slumped to the heaviest defeat in League Cup final history.
But try telling that to the 35,000 Bradfordians who did their city and club proud yesterday at Wembley.
As an incredibly one-sided final entered the final half hour and the Swansea City fans were already excitedly planning next season’s European adventures, the Yorkshire hordes rose as one to hail their vanquished heroes.
“Stand up if you love City” they sang in unison as tens of thousands of claret and amber flags were waved with a sense of pride not seen since the club’s fleeting stay in the Premier League.
It was a wonderful sight and one that underlined just what the club’s first appearance in a major final for more than a century meant to a city that, in recent years, has forgotten how to smile.
Bradford may still have a multitude of problems, not least that huge hole in the ground that has quite disgracefully been allowed to scar a once thriving city centre for more than a decade.
But, in upsetting the odds to reach Wembley and overcoming some of the biggest names in English football along the way, a sense of pride had been restored that one heavy defeat to an excellent Swansea City team could not shatter.
That much was apparent even after Jonathan De Guzman’s stoppage-time strike had seen Bradford claim the unwanted record of the heaviest League Cup final defeat from Wigan Athletic – who lost 4-0 to Manchester United in 2006 – as the chant “We’re proud of you” rolled down from one half of the national stadium.
City fans even broke with usual Cup final convention and remained behind to watch Swansea collect the trophy – again underlining just what reaching a major Cup final has meant to a club that has experienced the darkest of dark days in the past.
The generous ovation from the Yorkshire fans as Ashley Williams held aloft the three-handled trophy was deserved with Michael Laudrup’s side having bossed proceedings for the entire 90 minutes.
Retaining possession via a slick passing game that left the League Two outfit chasing shadows, Swansea displayed from the very start a clear intent that they would not go the same way as Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa in losing to a team who had started the 2012-13 season as 10,000-1 outsiders to lift the Capital One Cup.
Laudrup had clearly identified City’s left flank as a weak spot with much of their play in those opening stages involving the ball being played in behind Curtis Good for either Nathan Dyer or Angel Rangel to chase.
It was from one such move that the game’s first chance came on 14 minutes when Dyer found space out wide and then rolled a pass to the full-back.
Rangel then swung over an inviting cross that Ben Davies met with a firm header only for the ball to fly wide of Matt Duke’s post.
The miss was a let-off, but Bradford’s relief proved only temporary with a swift counter attack just two minutes later leading to the game’s opening goal.
As a rare City attack broke down midway inside the Welsh club’s
half, there appeared little danger only for a quick dart by Wayne Routledge and subsequent pass to Michu to leave Phil Parkinson’s men badly exposed.
The Spanish striker, the find of the Premier League season following his £2m move from Rayo Vallecano last summer, instinctively drilled a shot goalwards.
Duke did well to get a hand to the ball only for Dyer to swoop and seize on the rebound to put Swansea ahead.
Going behind was a blow for the Bantams but, despite struggling against the slick passing style of the Welsh side, it was not until Michu doubled the advantage five minutes before the break that the game was effectively up.
Neat play by Davies and Pablo Hernandez helped fashion the opening, but Swansea’s second goal owed everything to the predatory instinct that has already brought the Spaniard 15 top flight strikes as he used Carl McHugh’s hesitation as the cue to drill a low shot beyond Duke and into the net.
Only a fine save by Duke prevented Swansea adding a third on the stroke of half-time when the one-time Hull City goalkeeper denied Routledge and the hope during the interval was that Parkinson could rally his troops in a similar vein to what happened at Villa Park in the semi-final second leg.
In an attempt to plug the hole in the Bantams’ defence that had been every bit as gaping as the one that for the past decade is supposed to have been home to a shopping centre in Bradford, Parkinson sent Andrew Davies on for Good and reshuffled the back line.
It had little effect with Swansea taking less than two minutes of the second half to extend their lead.
Once again, Dyer did the damage with a run and exchange of passes with Routledge that the diminutive midfielder followed with a crisp finish.
There was to be no respite for City, who fell a further goal behind and a man down just before the hour when Duke was sent off for tripping De Guzman as the Dutch midfielder was about to roll the ball into an empty net.
After referee Kevin Friend had red-carded the unfortunate goalkeeper, De Guzman got to his feet and beat Jon McLaughlin with a cool finish from 12 yards.
The game was up now and the only question for the 82,597 crowd was how many goals Swansea would plunder against the 10 men of Bradford.
Credit, therefore, is due to Parkinson’s men for the manner in which they stuck to the task of defying the Welsh team.
They even managed a shot on goal – their first of the afternoon – three minutes from time when Gary Jones hit a volley that bounced four times before being claimed by Gerhard Tremmel.
That the German goalkeeper could not really fail to make the save mattered little to the City fans, who waved their flags with a renewed vigour that continued even after De Guzman added a fifth goal in stoppage time.
Bradford’s fairytale may have ended in a cruel defeat, but pride had been restored.