Lawn wary that City may just have ‘poked a tiger with a sharp stick’

Bradford will tonight look to create a slice of history by beating Aston Villa over two legs in the League Cup semi-final to book only their second trip to Wembley. Richard Sutcliffe reports.

“BLACKPOOL Tower is just a mile down the road, but the Twin Towers of Wembley are beckoning now.”

So said an elated local radio commentator just moments after Bradford City had booked what remains their only trip to Wembley by overturning a two-goal first leg deficit to win 3-2 at Bloomfield Road and clinch a place in the 1996 Division Two play-off final.

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The Twin Towers, those wonderful iconic symbols of the national stadium for much of the 20th Century, are, of course, long gone.

And while any of the broadcast media searching for a similarly memorable soundbite tonight at Villa Park may find the ‘Wembley Arch’ a tad harder to work into their offerings, there can be no doubt just how tantalisingly close City are to making history.

Ninety minutes potentially stand between Bradford and a place in the League Cup final at Wembley, something no other club from the basement division has achieved since the League’s showpiece occasion was moved to the national stadium in 1967.

Mark Lawn, a lifelong City fan who watched his first game in 1964 and has spent the past five-and-a-half years as joint-chairman, is readily aware of just how close his club are to creating history.

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However, the 52-year-old is also in no doubt as to the size of the task facing the Bantams as they attempt to follow in the footsteps of Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough to become only the fourth Yorkshire club to reach the League Cup final.

“Everyone at the club is realistic that we are the overwhelming underdogs,” said Lawn yesterday to the Yorkshire Post after battling through the snow to Valley Parade.

“We are going to a Premier League team and they are favourites to go through, even with our two-goal lead.

“There is no getting away from that. You only have to look what Chelsea did to Leeds United in the quarter-finals (by winning 5-1 at Elland Road) to see what a big gulf there is between the Premier League and the Football League.

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“And Leeds are a Championship team, whereas we are in the bottom division.”

Lawn’s cautious approach to tonight’s second leg is understandable with no team from the fourth tier of English football having previously played in either the League or FA Cup final at Wembley.

What Bradford do have, though, is a tremendous belief borne out of a run in the Capital One Cup that has already seen Phil Parkinson’s side negotiate their way past two Premier League opponents plus claim triumph over teams from the Championship, League One and League Two.

City also gave themselves a fighting chance in tonight’s return by beating Villa 3-1 in the first leg at Valley Parade a fortnight ago, a night that Lawn admits was right up there with his favourite memories watching the West Yorkshire club.

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“Wolves away in 1999 when we clinched promotion to the Premier League was probably the pinnacle for me as a fan,” admits the joint chairman.

“Winning 3-0 at Blackpool in the play-off semi-finals after losing the first leg 2-0 was also pretty special. To turn it round like that away from home was brilliant and I doubt anyone there that night will forget that win.

“I suppose what that win at Blackpool (in 1996) does show is how games can be transformed, even between teams playing at the same level. That is why I am sure Villa will be pretty confident.

“They are Premier League to our League Two so will fancy their chances, which is only right. By beating Villa 3-1 in the first leg, we might also have poked a tiger with a sharp stick.

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“The beauty of football, though, is you never really do know what will happen. Villa should beat us, of course they should. But people would have said the same about the first leg. And the Arsenal game.

“For us, this is a chance to reach a major Cup final. We haven’t been in one of those for 100 years so that shows the prize we are chasing.”

Lawn joined the Valley Parade board in 2007 after answering a plea from Julian Rhodes to come on board and share the burden of trying to stop the club’s slide.

To a lifelong fan, the chance to become joint chairman was one that was too good to turn down. Over the intervening years, however, Lawn admits to several times questioning his decision to become involved at City.

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One particularly nasty incident came after a game at Accrington Stanely in 2010 when his car was vandalised by Bradford supporters unhappy at how the club were struggling on the field.

“There have been some dark times,” he admits. “I have put up with a lot as chairman and there have been numerous times when I thought, ‘I don’t need this c**p’.

“Times such as when my kids are looking at these social media sites and I am being slaughtered by cyber warriors. Saying this, that and the other.

“I don’t take notice of that sort of rubbish but my kids do and it hurts them. Then there was the incident at Accrington. After that, I considered pulling my money out completely. I’d had enough.

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“It was Julian (Rhodes) who stopped me by pointing out that if I did that then Bradford City would be back in administration. I couldn’t have done that so changed my mind.

“Compared to that then this season has to be the up side of being a chairman. Mind, having said that, I didn’t enjoy the first leg until the final whistle blew and we were 3-1 up.

“It would be amazing if we could now finish the job. Getting out of this division has always been the priority since I became chairman, but a major Wembley final would be incredible.

“Mind, when we got to Wembley (in the 1996 play-offs) I spent most of the play-off final in 1996 throwing up in the toilets at Wembley. I was just too nervous. Lord only knows what I’ll be like if we are in the League Cup final.”

Last six games: Aston Villa LDWLLD, Bradford City LDLWLL.

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Last time: Aston Villa 2 Bradford City 0; September 16, 2000; Premier League.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

The key battle areas tonight at Villa Park

Bradford will look to preserve their 3-1 first-leg advantage against Aston Villa tonight. Richard Sutcliffe looks at three match-ups which could be decisive.

Fabian Delph v Gary Jones

City’s veteran midfielder Jones, right, is 
already a 
contender for 
Player of the 
Year but he 
will again have 
his work cut out to keep 
Delph, a one-time Bantams junior, in check. Delph is expected to be fit after an ankle injury.

Andreas Weimann v Rory McArdle

The scorer of Villa’s goal at Valley Parade is fit again so will have to be watched closely by the Bantams’ defence. McArdle also found the net a fortnight ago but is certain to be tested to the limit.

Shay Given V Nahki Wells

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Undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League’s first two decades, Given was, nevertheless, beaten by Wells for the first leg’s opening goal.

With Villa playing a high defensive line, Wells will be hoping to exploit that and earn himself a one-on-one chance with Given.