THE dream may be over but the story will endure.
Bradford City will not be heading to Wembley next month after a truly awful start to last night’s FA Cup quarter-final replay against Championship side Reading.
Two goals down inside nine minutes, the Bantams never looked like making it through to a first semi-final appearance in more than a century.
However, for all the disapppointment felt at being denied a last-four meeting with Arsenal, Yorkshire’s last remaining side in the Cup exited with heads held high and the unswerving support of a noisy band of 3,500 travelling fans.
With good cause, too, after a quite remarkable journey that will surely mean the 144th year of the world’s oldest knockout competition will be forever associated with the Bantams regardless of who goes on to lift the famous old trophy come May 30.
The truly seismic fourth-round win at Chelsea will see to that, and ensure in future years a largely tepid quarter-final defeat is not the abiding memory of a run that has banked the club around £1.7m.
That much will be a blessing, with City being a pale shadow of the side that had seen off not just Jose Mourinho’s men this season but also Sunderland and Millwall from higher divisions.
The fans who had travelled south hoping for another upset did their best. After the initial shock of conceding those two early goals had subsided, the claret and amber clad masses sang, “We’ve been 2-0 down before”.
It struck an admirably defiant tone and reminded the crowing locals that if Bradford could overcome a two-goal deficit at Stamford Bridge against the Premier League leaders then no cause was ever lost.
The big difference, however, between the win over Chelsea and last night was that Phil Parkinson’s men had still been playing constructive football even when behind at the Bridge.
Against the Royals, the opposite was true with Reading’s early strikes coming during a first half in which the Yorkshire visitors had pumped far too many high balls aimlessly forward in the hope James Hanson and Jon Stead could make something out of very little.
In fairness to the City duo, even the most expensive strikers in the world would have struggled to feed on such scraps.
Whether it was nerves or just the physical demands of playing twice in a little over 50 hours – a fate Reading had been able to sidestep by making 11 changes from the team beaten by Watford on Saturday – Bradford were way off the pace.
Steve Clarke’s Royals, in contrast, were lively from the start with Jamie Mackie and Pavel Pogrebnyak proving such a nuisance to the visitors’ defence that the error count began ticking over early.
As a result, City were put under such pressure that they buckled twice before several hundred of their supporters who had been stuck in traffic had even taken their seats.
Both were soft goals to concede from a Bradford perspective, the first coming on six minutes courtesy of Hal Robson-Kanu nipping ahead of Stephen Darby to beat Ben Williams with a flicked header from a corner.
A bad start then took on nightmare proportions when Garath McCleary, after making ridiculously light work of beating James Meredith out wide, fired a shot goalwards that took a huge deflection off Andrew Halliday.
Williams, back pedalling frantically, was unable to keep the ball out and from then on a Bradford fightback was a mere pipedream.
That City retained hope as long as they did was down to their goalkeeper keeping out a first-half shot from Danny Williams that swerved horribly at the last second and McCleary shooting wildly over the top despite being in a hugely promising position just before the break.
Any hope that things might change after the break were dashed soon after the hour mark as Bradford were reduced to 10 men.
A rash challenge by Filipe Morais on Nathaniel Chalobah prompted Mike Jones to answer the urgings of several Reading players and brandish a red card at the Portuguese winger.
Five minutes later, the hosts made their numerical superiority pay when Chalobah released Jamie Mackie with a deft pass and the striker did the rest with a drilled finish past Williams.
City rarely threatened, the best Parkinson’s side were able to muster in the second half being a shot from Gary Liddle which flew way over.
Not, however, that the travelling fans cared a jot, as was made clear at the final whistle by applauding the disconsolate City players from the field as thousands of locals celebrated around them.
Reading: Federici; Gunter, Pearce, Hector, Obita; Williams, Chalobah, McCleary (Norwood 86), Robson-Kanu (Blackman 82); Mackie, Pogrebnyak (Yakubu 88). Unused substitutes: Xoc, Karacan, Andersen, Cooper.
Bradford City: Williams; Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith; Morais, Liddle, Halliday (Yeates 59); Knott (Dolan 74); Stead (Clarke 59), Hanson. Unused substitutes: Urwin, Zoko, MacKenzie, Routis.
Referee: M Jones (Chester).