Bradford City enjoyed a glorious League Cup victory over Arsenal on Tuesday night, with goalkeeper Matt Duke one of their penalty heroes. Leon Wobschall reports.
WHILE most of the country slept soundly in their beds on Tuesday night, Matt Duke was wide awake – quite possibly along with thousands of gutted Arsenal fans.
Hours after helping Bradford City to a thrilling giantkilling Capital One Cup success over the Gunners in one of the most famous evenings in the club’s 109-year history, the goalkeeper, still high on adrenalin, struggled to get his head down in the small hours.
Duke, who saved Arsenal’s opening spot-kick from £15m man Santi Cazorla in City’s stunning 3-2 penalty triumph – their ninth shoot-out win on the trot – was too busy recalling the events of a magic Valley Parade night.
In the cold light of day, you can bet that a fair few claret-and-amber fans among the club’s biggest home crowd since 1960 will have been wondering: ‘I didn’t dream that, did I?’.
Home captain Gary Jones, who deservedly took man-of-the-match honours in a superb showing which outshone the much-vaunted trio of Jack Wilshere, Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, was among the number as well.
As for Duke, on the bench for former club Hull City as understudy to Boaz Myhill when they triumphed at the Emirates in a Premier League stunner in the autumn of 2008, getting 40 winks was a problem in itself.
Duke, penalty hero in the previous round’s victory at Wigan’s DW Stadium, said: “I have seen a few bits back on the TV because when I got back home after the game, I just could not sleep. My head was racing so much. I watched the highlights and penalties and it was great to watch back.
“It has still not sunk in yet. Nobody gave us a chance, so having gone in there and got a result, you think: ‘Wow, have we really done this?’ You could see that in the reaction of a lot of the lads afterwards, who just looked shocked.
“The history of a club like Arsenal speaks for itself. The lads were buzzing that we had won, but just could not believe what had happened.”
Echoing the disbelieving sentiments of Duke, another thirty-something in Jones, added: “To take Bradford City to the semi-final of the Capital One Cup and beat Arsenal is what dreams are made of and what you play football for. It is just a dream come true. Amazing.
“When we first saw their team sheet, we just thought: ‘They have not come here to mess about, have they...’ (Assistant-boss) Steve Parkin wrote the team out and put underneath: ‘Poor team!’ That just said it all.
“The lads were absolutely unbelievable. To a man, they ran their socks off.
“The manager, staff, players and support deserve massive credit as we were all in this together, as we have been all season. It was just one of those nights of football that will live long in the memory.
“To be fair, I was really emotional at the end after seeing the support and how they got behind the lads. It was probably emotional for all the lads as well.
“The support was something I have never, ever witnessed before. Just to see the fans’ faces at the end was everything.”
While there is still one huge obstacle to overcome, it is inescapable to avoid the ‘W’ word, namely Wembley, with City just two games away from an appearance there on February 24 – and three matches away from a visit to the home of football in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on April 7.
Getting to one final would be remarkable, let alone two and if the mention of City reaching the Capital One Cup showpiece brings a half-smile to Jones, he is the first to acknowledge it is an achieveable notion.
He said: “To come and play here with the support we get will be really tough for anyone to try and beat us. There is no reason why we cannot go through to the final...”
Amid the post-match stampede, Jones was beaten by team-mate Nathan Doyle in the battle to swap shirts with Arsenal and England star Jack Wilshere, with Duke claiming not one, but two additions to his burgeoning collection of opposing rivals’ jerseys.
The shirts of Vito Mannone and Wojciech Szczesny will always serve as permanent reminders of the night of December 11, 2012 for the Sheffield man and expect him to save footage of his penalty save, too.
Duke said: “The whole evening was right up there with anything I have achieved in football.
“I will also always remember my Premiership debut and got a similar feeling on Tuesday night, which was right up there with it.
“Getting to a semi-final with a League Two club and us being such underdogs is a massive achievement.
“That’s the beauty of the cup. People say there is not romance in the cups any more. But when you have nights like Tuesday, you understand what the fuss is all about.
“To be fair to the Arsenal lads afterwards, they were sound. I know Vito and spoke with him before the game and then swapped shirts. I spent a few months with him at Hull and got on well with him. He is a nice guy. I got Szczesny’s shirt as well, so that is a nice souvenir to keep.
“I have got a few others in the cupboard – a few of the big ones such as David James and Pepe Reina – and have got a good collection. I will save them to frame once I have retired. They are in a box in the moment in the garage.”
On his save to block Cazorla’s first penalty for the visitors, directly after Doyle had coolly fired City ahead, Duke said: “It was a case of ‘sorted!’ But really, it was no different to facing someone playing in League Two, you are just looking at a player’s body shape and you pick your side and go for it.”
Duke played his part alongside scorers Doyle, Jones and Alan Connell in the shoot-out, with the goalkeeper admitting a bit of banter will come the latter’s way when City reconvene on the training ground today.
Dyed-in-the-wool Gunners fan Connell, whose Arsenal-supporting dad Vic watched the game in the City end, put his love for the North Londoners to one side for one night only and showed his professional streak to sink the hosts’ fourth penalty following a miss from Stephen Darby – one of many heroic contributions from those in claret and amber.
Duke added: “We will have to give him a bit of ribbing as he is a massive Arsenal fan and he was buzzing when we drew them.
“But the loyalty goes when you are playing for a club and I think he showed that when he stuck away his penalty. It was a great penalty.”