#WHYNOT? asked the 7,000 fans on the Valley Parade Kop via placards held aloft as the two teams took to the field ahead of kick-off yesterday. Why not, indeed.
Bradford City, the conquerors of Chelsea in the last round, are dreaming of a possible return trip to Wembley after claiming yet another Premier League scalp to book a first appearance in the FA Cup quarter-finals for 39 years.
Ahead inside three minutes thanks to John O’Shea’s own goal, the Bantams sealed a deserved victory when Jon Stead maintained his record of scoring in every round of this season’s competition with a cool second-half finish.
Adding to the sense of satisfaction at humbling top-flight Sunderland in such a ruthless fashion was that it had come in front of Valley Parade’s biggest attendance for 55 years.
Clearly, this is a club on the up once again and surely few will fancy taking on Phil Parkinson’s band of heroes in the last eight.
Not after the quite magnificent way City made a mockery of the two divisions and 37 places which separate the two clubs, and it was just a shame that football fans across the country were denied a chance to savour the latest upset live from their armchairs.
Even before the enthralling events that unfolded yesterday, all the ingredients needed to create a classic Cup tie seemed in place.
Not only were City fresh from producing one of the all-time seismic shocks at the home of the Premier League leaders, but the tie was taking place on a pitch the like of which the Cup had not seen since Ronnie Radford’s day.
Throw in a top-flight team badly out of form and it was surely a no-brainer as to whether it deserved to be one of five fifth-round ties shown live by either the BBC or BT Sport.
Alas, ‘thrillers’ such as West Brom v West Ham and, worst of all, Aston Villa versus Leicester got the nod from broadcasters clearly blinded by the Premier League ‘brand’.
Such an idiotic decision deserved the snore-fest that the BBC got from Villa Park yesterday, the action being so dull that Mark Chapman, presenter of Match of the Day 2, was moved to tweet: “Debating whether this goes last on tonight’s #MOTD or whether we leave it off altogether”.
Still, as the millions at home missed out on a Cup tie to savour, the 24,021 fans who gave City their biggest home crowd since Burnley’s visit in February, 1960, most definitely did not.
The drama began early, less than three minutes having elapsed when the Bantams took the lead. Filipe Morais’s free-kick caused sufficient panic in the Sunderland defence to ensure the ball was cleared only as far as Clarke.
He fired a shot that was heading wide until it took an almighty deflection off O’Shea before flying past the helpless Vito Mannone. It kick-started a tremendous first half that saw play rage from one end to the other and back as both sides tried to make the best of a pitch that, once again, had started to cut up during the warm-up.
For Bradford, Clarke brought a flying save from Mannone before Wes Brown did brilliantly to prevent Stead getting to James Hanson’s knock-down. The latter was also just an inch or so away from converting following fine work down the left by James Meredith.
At the other end, Bradford had Rory McArdle to thank for a stunning slide-tackle that robbed Steven Fletcher of possession as he hesitated eight yards from goal.
Sunderland – and, in particular, a red-faced Fletcher – wanted a penalty for that but Kevin Friend was having none of it.
Ben Williams, in the City goal, was equally determined not to give the Black Cats an inch as hefirst saved from Adam Johnson and then got down smartly to deny Patrick van Aanholt just before the break.
The second half began with Sunderland clearly having decided that the best option on a pudding of a pitch was to get the ball forward as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately for the Black Cats and their 4,253 travelling army of fans, however, Johnson did not get the memo. Instead, he committed footballing suicide just after the hour by turning inside and out under pressure from Meredith before firing a woeful clearance straight at Hanson.
He, in turn, found Stead, who by now was being played onside by Johnson, and the loanee did the rest with a cool finish past Mannone.
It maintained Stead’s record of scoring in all five rounds of this season’s competition. It was also the perfect retort to those Sunderland fans who had once printed T-shirts declaring ‘I saw Jon Stead score a goal’ after he netted just twice in 40 games for the Wearside club.
As three sides of Valley Parade chanted “Are you watching, BBC?”, all that was left was for City to see the tie out and book a first appearance in the last eight since, as a Fourth Division club, they lost at home to eventual winners Southampton.
City will discover tonight who stands between them and a possible semi-final and a second appearance at the national stadium inside a little over two years.
Wembley? Why not, indeed.
Bradford City: Williams; Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith; Liddle, Morais, Knott (Halliday 79), Clarke (Yeates 85); Hanson, Stead (Zoko 88). Unused substitutes: Urwin, Sheehan, MacKenzie, Routis.
Sunderland: Mannone, Jones (Vergini 86), Brown, O’Shea, van Aanholt; Bridcutt; Johnson, Larsson, Alvarez (Honeyman 86); Fletcher, Graham (Wickham 46). Unused substitutes: Pantilimon, Gomez, Coates, Agnew.