West Yorkshire had one of the greatest league cup nights in its history as both Bradford City and Leeds United pulled off stunning victories to knock out Premier League opposition yesterday evening.
The two teams will now be the Football League’s only representatives in the League Cup quarter finals, with the Bantams impressing in particular, as they managed to score a memorable victory on penalties against a Wigan side ranked 59 places above them in the football pyramid.
Despite losing half their first team to injury and suspension, a patched-up City produced a heroic effort at the DW Stadium, as they hassled and harried their opponents for 129 minutes before Phil Parkinson’s visibly worn-out troops mustered their last morsels of energy to acheive a seventh successive penalty shootout victory.
It looked like it was going to be a long night, as the hosts produced a number of chances in the opening 15 minutes, with Jordi Gomez going close before captain Ivan Ramis had a goal chalked off for offside.
City grew in confidence throughout the first half, however, with Nathan Doyle pulling the strings in midfield and full-backs Stephen Darby and James Meredith keeping Wigan’s crosses to a minimum.
Strikeforce Nahki Wells and James Hanson – already with 16 goals between them this season – caused problems all evening for the home defence, with the latter having a clear first-half shout for a penalty denied by referee.
Wigan’s £6 million forward Mauro Boselli spurned a number of opportunities on the evening as he seemed to epitomise Wigan’s toothless attack.
Growing in confidence, City had further chances for captain Nathan Doyle and Nahki Wells before late-on al Habsi denied Zavon Hines after the flying winger twisted his marker inside-out before having his shot palmed away at the near post.
Wigan made nine changes from the side that beat West Ham 2-1 at the weekend with only goalkeeper al Habsi and captain Ivan Ramis keeping their places, but few of the Latics’ second string did much to suggest to boss Roberto Martinez that they deserved a starting place for future Premier League clashes, playing in in what was arguably a trophy they had a decent chance of winning.
Wigan had chances late-on, with Jordi Gomez tapping his shot wide on 115 minutes when one-on-one with the excellent Matt Duke. As the game went into penalties, Bradford knew what they had to do, with Doyle, Gary Jones, Darby and Connel each dispatching their penalties. Wigan substitute Shaun Maloney blazed over the bar, and the heroic Matt Duke dived to his right to deny Jordi Gomez to send City through to their first League Cup quarter final since 1988. City’s 5,000-strong travelling army were in dreamland.
After the game, city boss Phil Parkinson said: “I am ecstatic.
“I thought it was a night of great discipline by the team. There were a lot of big hearts out there.
“Wigan give you problems that are ones we don’t normally come up against in League Two, in terms of the movement of the team and their shape.”
Bradford are currently looking to strengthen their squad due to their long injury-list, and a luctrative cup draw tonight could be just the ticket to finance a squad-bolstering investment.
Leeds United also produced an upset, with a slightly more convincing display against Southampton at Elland Road yesterday evening, as they ran out 3-0 winners against the big spenders.
A point-blank miss from Luke Varney was a sign of things to come, as the Whites produced a number of opportunities before Goals from Michael Tonge and El-Hadji Diouf, as well as Luciano Becchio’s penalty, saw the home side through, as they look for their first league cup success since 1968.
Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger hailed a “miracle”, as his Arsenal side came from 4-0 down at Reading to beat the Royals 7-5 in extra time, with Theo Walcott grabbing a hat-trick in the process.
Swindon almost pulled off a cup shock, as they came from 2-0 down to draw level with Premier League Aston Villa, before Christian Benteke broke Swindon hearts with an injury time winner.