Bradford City v Aldershot Town: McArdle on Cup guard as hunters turn hunted

Bradford City's Rory McArdle (left) celebrates with James Meredith at the final whistle during the FA Cup Fifth Round match at the Valley Parade, Bradford.Bradford City's Rory McArdle (left) celebrates with James Meredith at the final whistle during the FA Cup Fifth Round match at the Valley Parade, Bradford.
Bradford City's Rory McArdle (left) celebrates with James Meredith at the final whistle during the FA Cup Fifth Round match at the Valley Parade, Bradford.
RORY McARDLE knows a thing or two about being the underdog.

In the past three or so years, the defender has helped Bradford City humble no less than five Premier League clubs – including two of the biggest around – and has also been part of the Northern Ireland squad that just last month made history by qualifying for the European Championships.

Tonight, however, McArdle will very much be the hunted rather than the hunter as the Bantams host National League side Aldershot Town in an FA Cup first round replay that is being shown live by BT Sport.

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The 28-year-old knows exactly why the broadcaster has opted to show City and is adamant the cameras will not get the upset they crave.

“Everyone loves the FA Cup,” the McArdle told The Yorkshire Post. “And everyone loves an upset. Just watching Salford City (beat Notts County live on the BBC) the other week showed that.

“I watched it and thought, ‘We have to make sure we are not an upset’. That is why we need to get through in the replay.

“After the results we had in beating Chelsea and Sunderland last season, we might be seen as a bit of a scalp. Teams will want to beat us. ‘Bradford knocked Chelsea out last year and yet we beat them…’ that sort of thing.

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“We have shown that no matter who you are or where playing, it is possible to spring a massive surprise.

“Aldershot will be wanting to do that to us. The replay is on TV and we don’t want to be in the headlines come Thursday morning for being knocked out by a non-League team.”

City were made to sweat at the Recreation Ground in the first meeting between the two clubs 10 days ago.

The tie finished goalless and the incentive ahead of tonight’s replay is that a home encounter against Chesham awaits the victors.

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Considering Bradford beat non-League opposition in the first two rounds a year ago before going on to shock top-flight duo Chelsea and Sunderland, the Valley Parade faithful are dreaming of a possible repeat this time around.

McArdle, of course, would love a sense of deja-vu and even quips how “Chelsea might want to avoid us this time if we beat two non-League sides in rounds one and two again”.

However, as enjoyable as the Doncaster-born defender has found Bradford’s Cup exploits since joining from Rochdale in 2012, he is adamant as to what the true highlight of being at Valley Parade has been.

“I came here to win promotion so that has to be my personal highlight,” added McArdle. “Most would probably say getting to the Cup final or beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

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“But I joined to win promotion and that day at Wembley (when City won the League Two play-off final) was so special. The club had been in the bottom division for six or seven years and that was just too long.

“I knew how long Bradford had been in League Two because I had played against them quite a few times at Rochdale.

“Even as an away player, you could see just how big the club was. It was just a case of getting it going again and we did that.

“That is why, even after Chelsea and Sunderland, I would say that promotion success is the big one for me.

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“It gave us a momentum that is still going now, you just have to look at the crowds we get now to see that. It is the same away from home, we can take 2,000 fans to games. Some others in the league only get a bit more than that at home.”

Last Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Crewe Alexandra took City up to a season’s high standing of seventh in League One.

It also extended the club’s unbeaten league run to seven games, an upturn in form that has come at a time when McArdle is still basking in the glow of Northern Ireland’s surprise qualification for Euro 2016.

He was on the bench for the 3-1 victory over Greece that ended a 30-year wait for a place at a major finals. Although McArdle, who has 19 caps to his name, admits it will be tough to make the 23-man squad for next summer, just being there at Windsor Park was something to treasure.

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“It was a little bit like when we won promotion at Bradford,” he added. “By that, I mean the sense of relief. It was 1986 when Northern Ireland last played in a major finals and you could see what it meant to everyone.

“I would love to be part of it next summer but it will be tough. There are some great players in my position. If everyone is fit, I won’t get in. I appreciate that.

“But, as long as I am playing well for my club, maybe I can get another call. I would be over the moon with that.”

Last six games: Bradford City WWDWDW, Aldershot Town DWDDLL.

Referee: K Hill (Hertfordshire).

Last time: Bradford City 1 Aldershot Town 1; March 9, 2013; League Two.