Bradford goalkeeper Matt Duke was one of many heroes at Valley Parade on Tuesday night, but as he tells Leon Wobschall, the Bantams have plenty of work still to do in all competitions.
THE unmistakable whiff of Wembley Way may be in Bradford City fans’ nostrils, but Cup hero Matt Duke insists all talk of the ‘W ‘word is firmly off the menu for himself and his team-mates.
The veteran goalkeeper, 36 in June, continued his sterling Capital One Cup exploits to thwart another top-flight side in a man-of-the-match display against Aston Villa – following on from his stand-out performances against Arsenal and Wigan Athletic – with he and his Bantams’ colleagues busy being feted by the footballing world after another thrilling ‘Super Tuesday’.
A stunning 3-1 victory over Villa, 59 places above them in the football pyramid, has put City tantalisingly within sight of a historic appearance in the London showpiece next month as they seek to become only the second fourth-tier side since Rochdale way back in 1961-62 to reach the final of the League Cup. They would also become the first basement club to step out at Wembley in the competition since its inception.
But ever the pragmatist, Duke says he would willingly swap Wembley euphoria for the cherished prize of promotion from League Two, with City dropping out of the play-off positions on goal difference after last weekend’s 2-0 loss to lowly Barnet, their third league game without a win.
And he says that while supporters may dare to dream of the Cup, he and every member of the playing squad see the priority as very much being going up, with the club’s prosaic stint in football’s bottom tier now into its sixth season and counting.
Steadfastly staying grounded, the Sheffield-born custodian, part of a City side who just under a year ago were battling for survival in the Football League, said: “If our league form dips now, people will say it will have distracted us. But even despite this run now, I think we would swap it for promotion. But hopefully, we can do both.
“People might think we will now set off thinking about the Villa second leg (on January 22), but we will not. We will come in and prepare for Oxford at home on Saturday and that is all we can do.
“You can celebrate if you want to, but I think that would be foolish because there is nothing to celebrate yet.
“We cannot get complacent and say: ‘What a great night.’ It is only half the job, half-time.
“You can be so close and yet be so far in the end and we can’t get carried away because if we do, we will get punished. That is one thing we will not do.
“We have got to do what we did on Tuesday again – and probably more – to get through to Wembley.
“We will be prepared for it, but we have massive League games before then.
“Our bread and butter is getting out of League Two and hopefully, if we recreate performances like that, we will do that.
“We did not really discuss the Arsenal game until the Monday before the tie on the Tuesday. We just concentrate on every game that comes along. The manager told us there would be no talk or anything (about Villa) before Monday and we did not.
“We now have to put the result to one side because at the end of the day, it is just a bonus.”
A potentially seminal late strike from Carl McHugh, just five minutes after Andreas Weimann handed Villa a lifeline to make it 2-1, has put City in the box seat for the second leg.
But Duke feels all the pressure will be firmly on the shoulders of the five-time winners in front of a 40,000 full-house at Villa Park in just under a fortnight, with boss Phil Parkinson still making the Premier League outfit favourites to prevail in the two-legged tie.
Villa do have previous in turning around a 3-1 semi-final first leg deficit to reach the League Cup final, having beaten Tranmere by an identical margin in the Midlands ahead of narrowly triumphing 5-4 on penalties en route to winning the competition in 1993-94 under the guidance of ex-Sheffield Wednesday boss Ron Atkinson.
They also prevailed over two legs on the only other occasion they have faced opponents from the bottom division in a last-four clash, back in 1974-75 when they edged out Chester City in a pulsating tie. A late goal on home soil saw them through 5-4 on aggregate after the tensest of second legs, following a 2-2 draw at Sealand Road.
If the tie goes to penalties, you suspect the last thing that would faze City – whose outing on Tuesday was their 38th game of 2012-13 – would be a spot-kick finale, given their imperious nine-in-a-row winning streak.
Duke said: “Villa Park is a massive ground and they will have all their fans behind them and we need to get off to a good start and hopefully get the crowd on their backs.
“And if we do get a result down there, then I will start dreaming of Wembley!
“To actually win over 90 minutes against a Premier League side was a great performance and hopefully we will get one more.
“But we have got to do it all over again and they will be out to get at us straightaway and it will be a big pressure game.
“There was a little bit of expectation on us on Tuesday, but I think all the expectation will be on Villa now and people will still fancy them to turn it around there, even though we have got a two-goal cushion.
“The third goal was massive. When we went 2-1 down, everyone automatically thought Villa would probably come back into this and get it to two-all. But we always looked like scoring and hit the bar and scored again and that just shows the spirit here.
“The thing was not to pick up a heavy defeat. We wanted to go to Villa Park with something; even if we could hold onto a draw.
“Before the game, if someone said you would win 3-1, we would have snatched their hands off. But the job is only half done.”