THE Cups just keep on giving for Bradford City.
On one of the most dramatic nights Valley Parade has seen in many a long year, the Bantams booked a place in the FA Cup second round thanks to their now familiar ice-cool temperament in a penalty shoot-out.
After 120 minutes of pulsating football that had seen both City and Northampton twice take the lead and two equalisers scored in stoppage time, the hosts prevailed to send the majority of the 2,951 crowd home happy.
Gary Jones, Will Atkinson, Stephen Darby and Ricky Ravenhill all held their nerve from 12 yards to ensure Bradford’s involvement in all three domestic Cup competitions will now extend into December as Hull City loanee Danny East and Kelvin Langmead missed for Town.
It meant Nahki Wells, who thought he had won the game with a 90th-minute penalty that put Phil Parkinson’s men 2-1 ahead, missing the first spot-kick of the shoot-out counted for little as City’s unbeaten run in the Cups this term was extended to seven games.
Such a dramatic finale was completely in keeping with the game itself as Wells saw what had seemed certain to be the winning penalty cancelled out by Clive Platt in the third and final scheduled minute of stoppage time.
Then, after an injury to James Meredith had seen the hosts reduced to 10 men for the second period of extra-time, Bradford looked to be heading out when Langmead curled the visitors ahead.
But, in the 121st minute, Carl McHugh looped a header over former Leeds United goalkeeper Shane Higgs to send the tie to penalties.
And with Bradford having won the previous seven shoot-outs in an amazing run that dates back to 2009, confidence was high that Phil Parkinson’s men would once again prevail.
Sure enough, that was indeed the case as City booked a second-round meeting at Valley Parade with Brentford on December 1.
Bradford, who have sold 10,500 tickets in two days for next month’s Capital One Cup quarter-final with Arsenal, actually started slowly last night.
The upshot was Northampton being able to ask serious questions of the home defence for much of the opening half-hour.
What Aidy Bothroyd’s side couldn’t do, though, was apply the final touch to capitalise on their impressive, if a tad direct, approach play.
Town wasted no less than four gilt-edged opportunities during that one-sided half-hour as, first, Ishmel Demontagnac prodded a shot wide following a mistake by Rory McArdle and then Lewis Wilson also missed the target when well placed.
Platt was the next Northampton player to be left bemoaning his own poor finish when he somehow headed wide of the target from close range before Jon McLaughlin was finally called on to make a save.
Even then, though, Demontagnac should have done better after being presented with a clear run on goal when McArdle trod on the ball midway inside his side’s half.
While all this was going on in the opening 30 or so minutes, perhaps the biggest indictment on City’s lack of attacking threat was that the loudest cheers from the home fans came in response to an impromptu firework display taking place in the distance behind the Bradford End.
All that changed, however, 10 minutes before the break when City went ahead courtesy of a fine finish from Will Atkinson after the former Hull City man was played in by James Hanson. Northampton had every right to feel aggrieved, considering their dominance before the opener.
The visitors, though, responded in an admirable manner with an equaliser as referee Mick Russell adjudged Ricky Ravenhill to have fouled Demontagnac and pointed to the penalty spot.
Demontagnac then did the rest from 12 yards to underline just how important a tackle by Joe Widdowson, which denied Adam Baker a shooting chance, had been moments earlier.
The second half was a more even affair as Emyr Huws twice missed the target either side of Alex Connell and James Hanson going close for the hosts.
Bradford, who face Port Vale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy quarter-finals next month, then looked to have clinched victory with just 32 seconds of the tie remaining as Wells netted from the penalty spot after Widdowson had handled an Baker shot.
However, in the third and final minute of stoppage time, Northampton earned a reprieve when Platt capitalised on a slip by Meredith to fire past Jon McLaughlin and send a Bradford Cup tie into extra time for the fourth time this season.
The drama continued after the restart as Langmead put Northampton in front in the 109th minute.
That seemed to be that until McHugh netted the most dramatic of equalisers with a looping header in stoppage time that ultimately paved the way for a Bradford win and 111 visiting fans having to make their way home in dejected mood.
Bradford City: McLaughlin; Darby, McHugh, McArdle, Meredith; Atkinson, Brown (G Jones 63), Ravenhill, Hines (Baker 29); Hanson, Connell (Wells 73). Unused substitutes: Duke, Doyle, Bass, Swain.
Northampton Town: Higgs; East, Langmead, Tozer, Widdowson; Wilson (Toney 90), Huws, Hornby, Demontagnac (Akinfenwa 81); Platt, Mukendi. Unused substitutes: Snedker, Charles, Harding.
Referee: M Russell (St Albans).