Wigan 0 Bradford City 0 (Bradford win 4-2 on pens)
LONG After Tonight is All Over, a Northern Soul classic from Jimmy Radcliffe, was a much-loved anthem at the world-famous Wigan Casino nightclub back in the 1970s.
And the 5,000 Bradford City contingent, who sang themselves hoarse, their commitment as unquenchable and inspiring as those of the visiting players, will remember for many a year this autumnal night in Wigan when the Bantams produced a truly outstanding backs-to-the-wall showing.
Once again, the soundtrack of penalties resounded with a City beat as the visitors claimed a magnificent seventh successive spot-kick success to book their place in the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since 1988.
Misses from substitute Shaun Maloney, who blazed over, and Jordi Gomez, whose weak effort was blocked by Matt Duke – the prelude to the goalkeeper being mobbed by his ecstatic team-mates after the 4-2 shoot-out success – ensured a glory night for the Bantams, and how they deserved it.
Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Stephen Darby and Alan Connell all coolly netted penalties for the visitors.
A truly heroic effort considering the Bantams were without their two defensive sergeant-majors in Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver, the latter set to miss the rest of the season with a serious Achilles injury.
Manager Phil Parkinson had admitted that in order to instigate an upset, the dual ingredients of City being at their very best and Wigan having a collective off-day would have to transpire.
But the early evidence suggested it would be a long night for the visitors, 59 places below their top-flight hosts in the football pyramid and fielding a make-shift central defensive partnership of Carl McHugh and Rory McArdle.
Despite Roberto Martinez ringing the changes with the only outfield player who started in their weekend win over West Ham being defender Ivan Ramis, there looked no lack of cohesion as the Latics bossed matters in the opening 20 minutes.
City heaved a sign of relief in the 10th minute with the offside flag saving them after Ben Watson’s expertly-taken free-kick was nodded in by captain Ramis before Duke raced out to gather after Mauro Boselli deliberated too long following Gomez’s clever slide-rule pass.
Gomez then blazed a presentable chance over after Ronnie Stam’s inviting cross was knocked down by Boselli.
Attacking the end populated by their huge and noisy claret-and-amber clad travelling army, City, after a hesitant start – raised the decibel levels a few notches when Nahki Wells almost profited from a loose pass from Ramis and soon after the Bermudian hooked a volley over from James Meredith’s cross to provide further encouragement.
Those two quick-fire moments settled the Bantams, with Wells’s pace beginning to stretch the Latics’ back three, with a bonafide midfielder in Watson at the heart of it.
Roars for a penalty when James Hanson went down after tussling with Watson fell on deaf ears, and referee Roger East was also unmoved just before the break when round-three hero Stephen Darby tumbled after being challenged by a combination of Gomez and Callum McManaman.
Moments before the whistle, a point-blank volley from Gomez was tipped over by Duke, his first substantive save of the opening half, with City more than meriting going in at level pegging.
Their game efforts, fuelled by high-octane backing from the travelling hordes, continued on the restart with Wigan failing to significantly up the ante.
A header which flew wide from Danny Redmond, on his full debut, following Stam’s cross on the hour represented a rare moment of alarm with the visitors’ dogged and disciplined defending – allied to some scant attacking offerings – starting to make it an increasingly frustrating night for the Wiganers who actually bothered to turn up.
Despite manufacturing one or two dangerous positions, tangible chances were hard to come by for City, but the golden one they had craved all night arrived with 15 minutes left. Zavon Hines raced clear on the right after picking the hosts’ pockets and after taking on Watson, he pulled the trigger, his rising effort beaten away by Ali-Al-Habsi at his near post. That was the prelude for Martinez to send on the cavalry – of sorts – with first-team regulars Shaun Maloney and Jean Beausejour thrown on in an attempt to break the stoic resistance of City, whose defensive resolution was outstanding.
Duke then parried Watson’s stinging effort before Fraser Fyfie fired wide under pressure from the impressive McArdle as Wigan belatedly pressed without total conviction.
Boselli’s low shot was then held by Duke as the rain bucketed down before Maloney’s shot flew off target, to the mocking cheers from the away end.
Extra time saw – untypically on the night – more sterling stuff from the City back five, personified by McHugh’s fine block to divert Beausejour’s goalbound error, while misfiring Argentine frontman Boselli increasingly became the villain of the piece, spurning two opportunities.
The pressure became constant in the second period of extra-time with Duke denying Maloney before the theatre of penalties.
Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi; Ramis, Watson, Lopez; Stam (Orsula 119), Fyvie, D Jones, Redmond (Beausejour 77); Gomez, Boselli, McManaman (Maloney 77). Unused substitutes: Pollitt, Kone, Golobart, Kiernan.
Bradford City: Duke; Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith; Thompson (G Jones 56), Atkinson, Doyle, Hines (Baker 101); Hanson, Wells (Connell 65). Unused substitutes: McLaughlin, Brown, Bass, Swain.
Referee: R East (Wiltshire).