When Bradford City beat Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup Fourth Round, it was described as one of the greatest shocks in the history of the tournament and after being drawn against Sunderland for the next stage, few people were expecting another upset. However, the Bradford management team and players did not read the script as they defied the odds by eliminating another Premier League team.
Over 24,000 spectators packed into Valley Parade to watch the fifth round clash between a Sunderland team hoping for second visit to Wembley in successive seasons and their League One hosts boasting an FA Cup win in 1911 among their honours. The pitch was declared playable although the grassed areas were particularly sparse and the bounce of the ball could be diplomatically described as uneven.
The conditions did not appear to hamper the Bradford players who adopted an attacking mentality from the opening whistle, and they secured earned a fortuitous early lead when a Billy Clarke shot was diverted into the net by the luckless Black Cats defender John O’Shea. There was suddenly a realisation that Sunderland could be become another victim of the several FA Cup giant-killing acts this season.
Sunderland did threaten the home goal especially when Steven Fletcher claimed a penalty when tackled in front of goal but his slow reactions when presented with a clear chance probably summarised the general lethargy prevalent among the visiting players.
When Jon Stead doubled the lead during the second-half, the anguish of Sunderland was almost complete. The much-travelled striker had scored only a couple of goals during a two year period playing for the Black Cats less than ten years previously, but his goal on Sunday ensured that he has scored in all five rounds of this season’s competition.
There was no further score as Bradford completed another memorable cup win but should we be surprised by the exploits of the Yorkshire team? Back in the 2012-13 season, the Bantams were losing finalists in the Capital One Football League Cup final at Wembley when beaten 5-0 by Swansea. From the fourth round onwards that season, they defeated Premier League teams Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa before eventually failing at Wembley. Penalties had decide the outcome of the ties against Wigan and Arsenal but they beat Aston Villa 3-1 in a first leg semi-final at Valley Parade before losing just 2-1 in the return leg.
That tournament proved the capabilities of Bradford in embracing the true traditions of cup football but those exploits should not distract from their recent progress through the Football League pyramid. The Bantams were a League Two team back in 2013 but earned promotion by winning the playoff final at Wembley in their second visit that season, and their recent success story continues to enfold with possible promotion to the second tier Championship, again via the playoffs, remaining a realistic target for this season.
Meanwhile, Bradford’s sixth round opponents Reading will now be aware that many football fans will be supporting Phil Parkinson’s team as Wembley beckons again with the prospect of an unlikely FA Cup Semi-Final berth.