Technically, a Bradford City win tonight would be another FA Cup shock, but full-back Adam Henley does not see it that way. His aim is to get to round three, where the Bantams can really start punching above their weight.
League Two Bradford host League One Shrewsbury Town in an FA Cup first-round replay, with the winners hosting Mansfield Town for the chance to take part in the round when the elite join the competition.
For manager Gary Bowyer it is an opportunity to start building some momentum after a stop-start few weeks and a chance to assess his squad’s ability against higher-division opponents.
For Henley, it has a lot to do with romance.
“Some of my fondest memories in professional football have been in the FA Cup and it’s something I always take seriously,” says the defender.
“There’s nothing better than a good run in the Cup.
You ask anyone who plays in the Football League or non-league football and the FA Cup is probably what they play for.Adam Henley
“I played in a couple of quarter-finals with Blackburn, first against Millwall, then Liverpool over two games. They’re great memories.”
Henley was part of a Blackburn Rovers team which held Raheem Sterling, Mario Balotelli and Philippe Coutino to a clean sheet at Anfield in 2015 before the latter settled the tie with the replay’s only goal.
Thanks to a spell at Portland Timbers, the 1-1 draw between Shrewsbury and Bradford at the New Meadow 10 days ago was Henley’s first FA Cup appearance since February 2016.
“It just has so much history and passion behind it and there’s no better feeling than knocking out a team that’s two or three leagues higher than you,” he says.
“Once you’ve experienced that it makes you want to go there again. I feel a real want to do it again and I know the rest of the lads feel the same.
“People are always going to say the FA Cup is less important with the number of games players have to play nowadays, especially in the top leagues, but you ask anyone who plays in the Football League or non-league football and it’s probably what they play for. They’ll play through the whole season hoping to get a draw with a big team.
“That’s where the real heart of the FA Cup lies. Everyone here at Bradford wants to be successful in this competition.
“The aim is to get as far as possible but we all know round three is the opportunity to face a big team and that’s where we all want to be. It’s two wins away.”
Henley sees Bradford as a League One club on loan to the fourth tier.
“The club as a whole, the staff, the set-up we have here and the squad, it’s too good for this league,” insists the 25-year-old Wales international.
“We can compete in League One. I think Bradford deserves better and we’re all working hard week in, week out to get to that level.
“I had friends who had been at the club before and even with all the trouble last season (when Bradford were relegated into League Two) I only ever heard good things back about it.
“It really did say a lot to me that there must be so much more about this club. I was happy when I made the decision to join and confident we were going to be successful.”
Captain James Vaughan faces a fitness test, while Bowyer must decide if Jack Reeves should follow last week’s first appearance since January 2018 with another. Shay McCartan and Matty Palmer are expected to join in training later this week.
The Bantams have only played three times since October 22, and once in the league, and Bowyer is looking forward to getting back into a rhythm.
“Every game that gets called off Matty Palmer’s smile gets bigger and one or two more are in a similar position, but you want to keep in that rhythm of winning games,” argues Bowyer.
“After the last time we had a break it took us 15, 20 minutes to get into the game. That was nothing more, in my opinion, than the fact they hadn’t had a game. We spoke about that and the intensity with which they’ve trained on Friday and on Saturday was very similar to the game we will play.
“The message is exactly the same as for the first game: You’ve got to go toe-to-toe with them and have a right good go.
“We’ll be playing against a really good League One team and I learnt loads about my team when we played them down there.
“The first 20 minutes we started well, then we came off them a little bit. It was interesting at half-time to challenge them to stand up for it.”
As Henley says: “We’ve had a couple of games postponed recently and everyone’s champing at the bit.
“We’ve had loads of time to go through our tactics and the first game, and we’re confident.”
Last six games: Bradford City WWLWDL, Shrewsbury Town DWLWDW
Referee: P Marsden (Lancashire)
Last time: Bradford City 4 Shrewsbury Town 3, January 29, 2019, League One.