Superb City outshoot Gunners with thrilling penalty climax

Bradford City celebrate beating Arsenal in the penalty shootout.
Bradford City celebrate beating Arsenal in the penalty shootout.
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MOVE over David Wetherall and step aside Bobby Campbell. Bradford City have a new set of heroes this morning after one of the biggest upsets in cup history.

Taking on an Arsenal side packed full of internationals, League Two City last night bridged a 65-place gap in the football pyramid to reach the League Cup semi-finals for the first time in their history.

That City achieved it in a 3-2 penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw will have come as no surprise to anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the Yorkshire club, as before last night they had won eight successive spot-kick deciders in a run stretching back to 2009.

There were some nervy moments along the way to making it nine, not least when Stephen Darby and Ritchie Jones missed amid the gut-wrenching tension.

But Bradford, ultimately, held their nerve courtesy of assured spot-kicks from Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones and boyhood Gunners fan Alan Connell to cause a truly staggering upset.

The ice-cool temperament of that trio, plus the heroics of goalkeeper Matt Duke, who palmed one penalty away in the shoot-out to add to a host of brilliant saves in the preceding 120 minutes, mean the name of Bradford will be in the semi-final draw.

Just taking a side of Arsenal’s quality to extra-time was, of course, a tremendous achievement for a team in their sixth season in the basement division.

But, considering the starting XI for the visitors last night boasted combined transfer fees of more than £70m, the size of City’s stunning achievement is laid bare – especially as the cost of Phil Parkinson’s side was the paltry £7,500 paid to Guiseley for James Hanson in 2009.

Before kick-off, the City chief had told his players in the dressing room that they should take Wenger’s team selection as a huge compliment, and that the star names among the visiting ranks meant it was more important than ever to play the game and not the occasion.

City followed their manager’s instructions to the letter, the tone being set in a first half in which the League Two side were unfortunate not to have more to show for their efforts than one goal.

That opener had come in the 16th minute, the catalyst being a quick clearance by Duke that allowed Nahki Wells to break at speed.

A free-kick was won close to the Gunners’ goal-line where it was taken by Gary Jones. Will Atkinson flicked it invitingly into the path of the unmarked Garry Thompson, who finished with a terrific volley from a tight angle.

As the home fans taunted Wenger about his chances of remaining in employment beyond noon today, City continued to heed their manager’s instructions not to get swept away by the celebratory atmosphere.

Instead, they remained calm and were unfortunate not to grab a second goal as, first, Kieran Gibbs hacked the ball to safety off the line after Rory McArdle had diverted Jones’s corner goalwards.

Then, after James Meredith’s fierce volley had been charged down, Wells showed great tenacity to turn Thomas Vermaelen on the edge of the area before beating the on-rushing Wojciech Szczesny, to the ball.

As four sides of Valley Parade held their breath, the shot from Bradford’s favourite Bermudan trickled agonisingly past a post.

Had that gone in, City might have won in normal time as a second goal would surely have deflated an Arsenal side who in the preceding few minutes had been showing signs of rediscovering their attacking mo-jo.

As it was, the Premier League club did, eventually, get back on level terms – though they left it until the 87th minute when a superb cross from Santi Carzola was headed in from close range by Thomas Vermaelen.

It was a cruel blow for Bradford, though the Gunners could point to several gilt-edged chances that they had missed as justification that an equaliser was merited.

The most glaring of those had come five minutes before half-time when Gibbs had skipped to the byline before drilling a low cross that bisected Duke and his defence to find an unmarked Gervinho just a yard out.

It seemed merely a case of the Arsenal man tapping the ball into the empty net only for him to somehow miss the ball completely, much to the delight of those sporting claret and amber.

Coming just after Francis Coquelin had struck a post with a low drive, it was clear the visitors were ready to fight their way back into the game.

Vermaelen’s late equaliser then paved the way for an additional half-hour that saw Duke save from Gibbs and Cazorla then Gary Jones kept out Bacary Sagna’s
effort on the line to send the tie to penalties.

With Cazorla, Marouane Chamakh and Vermaelen all missing from 12 yards, it means heroes of yesteryear Campbell and Wetherall – who scored dramatic winners against Liverpool 20 years apart – have now been joined by Parkinson’s current crop in the Valley Parade hall of fame.

Bradford City: Duke; Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith; Thompson (R Jones 72), Doyle, G Jones, Atkinson (Turgott 93); Hanson, Wells (Connell 74). Unused substitutes: McLaughlin, Ravenhill, Hines, Good.

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Cazorla, Wilshere, Ramsey (Rosicky 69), Coquelin (Chamakh 60); Gervinho, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain 69). Unused substitutes: Mannone, Arteta, Squillaci, Jenkinson.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).