Bradford City v Dartford: Liddle is looking for a dart at the big boys again

Gary Liddle believes the chance to gain a place in the third round will give Bradford City a spur to overcome Dartford (Picture: Frank Reid).
Gary Liddle believes the chance to gain a place in the third round will give Bradford City a spur to overcome Dartford (Picture: Frank Reid).
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Perhaps the best gauge of just how poor a recent record Bradford City have in the FA Cup is that almost 20 years have elapsed since the club last enjoyed a truly magical moment.

January 25, 1997, saw the Bantams, then struggling near the foot of the second tier, go to Everton and triumph against all the odds on an afternoon best remembered for an audacious wonder goal by Chris Waddle from all of 40 yards.

Since reaching the fifth round that season it has largely been a sorry tale of early exits and lame defeats, often to lower league opposition.

In fact, City have won just nine of their last 31 ties – a lamentable record, even allowing for the club’s slide down the leagues following the heady days of Valley Parade hosting top-flight football around the turn of the Millennium.

One of those rare victories came just last month when Phil Parkinson’s men came from behind to beat neighbours Halifax Town.

Conference opposition await in the second round, too, with Dartford due in West Yorkshire tomorrow for a tie that will have the goals shown on the BBC’s 
Final Score programme.

Against a club whose home town is famous for the bridge and tunnel that link Essex and Kent, Bradford are hoping to secure a safe passage to what is considered to be the Holy Grail to lower league clubs. Namely, the third round.

Providing City can do that against a Darts side currently occupying a place in the Conference relegation zone following defeat to Eastleigh in midweek, all the focus will turn to Monday night’s draw with Gary Liddle hoping to land a plum tie to rival his own experience of Cup glamour last season.

“In terms of the draw, I’d say we couldn’t have asked for any more,” the 28-year-old midfielder told The Yorkshire Post during the build-up to tomorrow’s Valley Parade encounter.

“The challenge now is to make sure we deliver on the pitch because they will be coming here determined to pull off a shock.

“The pressure will be on us as the League team, just as it was in the last round at Halifax. Everyone outside our fans and our dressing room was hoping for a Halifax win, but we made sure it was us that went through.

“We need to make sure we are just as switched on against Dartford as it is a massive chance for us to get through. If we play to our best we should go through and the third round is where everyone wants to be.

“It is a huge carrot for every player involved in the second round. We all want to draw a plum tie against a Premier League team.

“I have been lucky enough to play in some big ties. Last season, I walked out alongside Steven Gerrard at Anfield and that is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

“I know it was the Capital One Cup but, even so, it was a great moment for me and the rest of the lads. There were 32,000 fans there and we did well. Another occasion like that is the carrot for us all going into this game.”

Liddle and his Notts County team-mates did a little better than that modest assessment.

Having fallen behind to goals from Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge inside the opening half-hour, League One Magpies roared back at their illustrious hosts.

Yoann Arquin pulled a goal back just after the hour mark before Adam Coombes netted a dramatic equaliser to send the tie into extra-time.

However, just as County looked like they might join Northampton Town and Oldham Athletic in knocking the Reds out of a major Cup competition, the home side rallied as a second goal from Sturridge and a late strike from Jordan Henderson sealed a 4-2 win.

Liddle, who in 2012-13 matched a 30-year-old County record by playing every minute of the season, called time on his stay at Meadow Lane in the summer and admits to loving life with the Bantams.

He said: “Joining a club with a fan base like Bradford’s has been great. I read somewhere last week that outside the top divisions, Bradford are in the top 20 teams with the best crowds in Europe.

“That is pretty impressive, no matter which way you look at it, and especially when you think the club was in League Two for quite a while until recently.

“I think only Sheffield United in our division have a better average crowd and it is great the whole city is behind us.

“The fans are great. They turn up in their thousands, regardless of the result the previous week and that is very loyal.

“We would love to give them something to shout about. A Cup run would do that, as would us getting further up the league table.

“The Cup brings a different challenge. Unfortunately, I didn’t play in the first round at Halifax and I was sorry to miss that.

“But, after getting through, we were all hoping for a home tie that is winnable. I think this draw falls into that category.”

City go into the tie on the back of last weekend’s much-needed home win over Leyton Orient, only their third in the league at Valley Parade this season.

“Our league position shows we are a bit too inconsistent at the moment,” said Liddle. “But if we can go on a good run in this tight division, we can get ourselves right up there.”