Fourth-tier Bradford City continued their extraordinary League Cup journey by upsetting Premier League Aston Villa 3-1 in the first leg of their semi-final on Tuesday.
Nahki Wells, Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh scored for the hosts at a raucous Valley Parade, with Andreas Weimann replying for Villa, as the Yorkshire club closed on a first major final since their FA Cup success in 1911.
Bradford have already accounted for Wigan Athletic and Arsenal in this season’s competition and are bidding to become the first team from the English fourth division to reach the League Cup final since Rochdale in 1962.
“They came with a really attacking line-up, but they left space and we passed the ball so well. They had chances, but so did we,” Bradford manager Phil Parkinson told Sky Sports. “We don’t want to get carried away with our celebrations because we still have to go to Villa Park for the second leg, but the lads can enjoy themselves tonight.”
Ahead of the return leg at Villa Park on Jan. 22, Paul Lambert’s Villa face the prospect of yet another disappointment in a sorry season that has seen them sink to within a point of the Premier League relegation zone.
“We’re very disappointed we lost the game,” Lambert said. “You know what’s coming with the set pieces. We never defended them well and that’s what hurt us. It wasn’t good enough.”
Villa made four changes to the team that beat Ipswich Town 2-1 in the FA Cup on Saturday, with Christian Benteke recalled in place of Darren Bent, and the visitors were soon on the front foot.
Charles N’Zogbia twice tested home goalkeeper Matt Duke in the opening 12 minutes, while Benteke headed off-target from corners on two occasions.
Duke was called into action to save from Benteke after Fabian Delph threaded a pass down the inside-left channel, before Bradford took the lead from their first real sight of goal.
Zavon Hines’ volley from a Bradford corner flicked off a Villa defender before landing in the path of Wells, and with defenders vainly appealing for offside, the 22-year-old Bermudan kept his cool to beat Shay Given.
Villa stirred, Duke pushing aside a 30m shot from Benteke, but Bradford refused to retreat.
Hines had a shot saved by Given after jinking into the box from the right, while James Hanson saw a header cleared off the line by Delph and then headed wide at the near post.
Shortly before half-time, Duke boxed away a powerful shot from Gabriel Agbonlahor after a sinuous surge down the right by N’Zogbia, but the first half belonged to Bradford.
Duke thwarted Benteke and Agbonlahor again early in the second half, before Lambert turned to his bench and threw Bent into the fray.
The England striker was presented with a gilt-edged chance to equalize in the 67th minute, when Duke could only scoop N’Zogbia’s low shot into the air, but with the goal gaping, Bent mistimed his leap and headed over.
McArdle made it 2-0 with a powerful header from Gary Jones’ left-wing corner in the 77th minute and Hanson came within inches of putting Bradford three goals up moments later, only for his header to hit the bar.
It looked set to be a telling let-off, as Weimann bravely beat Duke in the 82nd minute to give Villa hope, only for McHugh’s 88th-minute bullet header to restore Bradford’s two-goal lead and leave their fans dreaming of Wembley.