A League Cup final at Wembley awaits Bradford City after an utterly bizarre match at Villa Park ended in a 2-1 loss -- but a 4-2 aggregate win -- for the minnows.
It was all hands on deck for Villa from the outset, and after a few confused minutes to open the match, they quickly asserted themselves on the ball and began to lay siege to Matt Duke's goal. Granted, their early chances were rather panicky -- they were on the verge of being knocked out of the Capital One Cup by a League Two side -- but it was obvious that despite rushing things they were going to make the breakthrough eventually.
The goal came in the 23rd minute. Christian Benteke had already had two good chances from crosses, and Joe Bennett fired in a peach of a delivery from the left, leaving the striker to smash a delicious volley past Duke:
Stephen Ireland had a goal ruled out for offside shortly thereafter, and the rest of the half essentially amounted to a catalogue of Villa chances. Charles N'Zogbia within inches of a goal with a diagonal effort, Ireland nearly scored with a chip that Duke had to scramble over, and Bradford were extraordinarily lucky to see a loose ball trickle wide of the post after hitting Benteke in the chest.
The second half didn't really look any different. Within seconds, Benteke flashed a header across the face of goal after superb work from N'Zogbia on the right. And then... well, things went badly for Villa.
Bradford had been a threat from set pieces for the entirety of the first leg, and their first corner of the match led to a goal for the minnows. Beneteke cleared the first ball, but James Hanson evaded Ron Vlaar at the second attempt to power a thumping header past Shay Given. Chants of "sacked in the morning" rang out around a shell-shocked Villa Park.
Panic took over at that point. Villa suddenly looked miles away from the team that had so effortlessly dominated the opening period, and it was Bradford City who came closest to scoring next, with Hanson completely mistiming a free header when he looked more likely to score.
By this time, Darren Bent was on for Barry Bannan was Paul Lambert opted for something approximating the old 2-3-5. Ireland wasted a gilt-edged chance when he somehow fired wide from a low cross six yards out. Villa were looking hideously vulnerable at the back and Bradford soon came close again via substitute Garry Thompson, who hit the crossbar with his first touch.
Villa looked hopeless. Gone was the assured, confident team that ripped Bradford to shreds in the first. But then, in the 89th minute, Andreas Wiemann provided the hosts with a lifeline, latching onto a long ball forward, rounding Duke, and pulling the aggregate score back to 4-3.
Four minutes of stoppage time followed with Bradford suddenly under the kosh. Bent somehow managed not to score then he was virtually handed the ball at point-black range following a Villa corner. Still the hosts pushed forward.
But it wasn't enough. Bradford held out. Que sera sera, the away fans sang. Indeed.