At what point must Bradford City be considered serious FA Cup contenders?
The heroes who brushed aside Chelsea at Stamford Bridge added another Premier League scalp on Sunday when they defeated Sunderland 2-0 at Valley Parade to secure a place in the Sixth Round.
With a goal in each half - the first John O'Shea's own-goal deflecting Billy Clarke's shot, the second from Jon Stead - sealed a largely straightforward victory against flustered and disinterested visitors.
Bradford City 2-0 Sunderland
The FA Cup
Fifth Round Proper
Sunday 15 February 2015
Valley Parade, Bradford
Winners receive £180,000 from FA Prize Fund
Click here for match stats
And now – consider this – League One Bradford stand one win away from a Semi-Final at Wembley Stadium.
Valley Parade bounced with expectation and strains of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ when the players came on to the pitch, and there was no doubting the appetite for an upset.
But whether Phil Parkinson’s knockout-loving team – who lest we forget reached a League Cup final two years ago - can be classed as underdogs is another matter.
Led from the front by Stamford Bridge heroes James Hanson and Stead, Bradford looked every inch the bully boys and made one thing clear: Sunderland were in for a tough afternoon.
And so it proved, when, after just three minutes, the Bantams took the lead. Filipe Morais chipped a right-wing free-kick into the box that evaded everyone. John O’Shea missed a second chance to clear, and when Clarke pulled away and shot at the far post, the Irish defender deflected the ball past his own keeper.
If there was a hint of fortune to the goal, then there was no doubting the Bradford dominance that followed. The hosts frequently won the ball high in the visitors’ half and played with fluency where Sunderland plodded on the boggy surface.
After 13 minutes Stead headed narrowly wide after former Sunderland trainee Knott had peeled away on the left, and Clarke forced a smart save out of Vito Mannone after jinking through the centre of a paper-thin Black Cats midfield.
Knott had a chance of his own as he found alarming space in the middle but a reluctance to trust his right foot cost him dear.
Midway through the first half Sunderland had accepted their role – playing off scraps on the counter-attack – and when they did break forward, they were thwarted by wholehearted defending.
Rory McArdle had already spent some time on the sidelines having a head wound heavily bandaged, and twice the centre-back masquerading as an infantryman saved the hosts, once coming from nowhere to block as Steven Fletcher pulled the trigger, and then nipping from behind to deny Danny Graham with the goal at his mercy.
Gus Poyet’s half-time team-talk and the introduction of Connor Wickham for the ineffective Graham brought a response of sorts, and the Uruguayan’s side exerted more control in midfield, resulting in a chance for Adam Johnson that was scrambled wide at the far post.
But Johnson’s licence to attack gave James Meredith space to run in behind him, and the Australian left-back’s prodigious work-rate paid off on the hour mark.
Johnson looked to have time to clear with ease when he backed into his box but Meredith harried the England winger, and the clearance spooned toward Hanson.
The big No9 nodded down to Stead and Mannone could not stop the Huddersfield loanee’s firm shot squirming into the net.
Bradford had a major let-off when, with 11 minutes remaining, Wickham soared above everyone else to meet a Sebastian Larsson corner – but his header was straight at the excellent Ben Williams.
As the clock ran down, the Valley Parade congregation delivered a final insult to their Premier League opponents, singing “are you Chelsea in disguise?”
That was unfair – at least Chelsea managed to score against Cup kings Bradford City.
Bradford City (4-1-2-1-2): 12 Ben Williams; 2 Stephen Darby (c), 5 Andrew Davies, 23 Rory McArdle, 3 James Meredith; 8 Gary Liddle; 20 Filipe Morais, 11 Billy Knott; 10 Billy Clarke; 9 James Hanson, 16 Jon Stead.
Substitutes: 25 Andy Halliday for Knott 79; 14 Mark Yeates for Clarke 86; 13 Francois Zoko for Stead 90.
Subs not used: 22 Matt Urwin, 6 Alan Sheehan, 15 Gary MacKenzie, 18 Christopher Routis.
Goal: O'Shea (OG) 3, Stead 61.
Sunderland (4-4-2): 25 Vito Mannone; 2 Billy Jones, 5 Wes Brown, 16 John O’Shea (c), 3 Patrick van Aanholt; 20 Ricardo Alvarez, 7 Sebastian Larsson, 4 Liam Bridcutt, 11 Adam Johnson; 9 Steven Fletcher, 18 Danny Graham.
Substitutes: 10 Connor Wickham for Graham 45, 27 Santiago Vergini for Jones 86; 39 George Honeyman for Alvarez 86.
Subs not used: 1 Costel Pantilimon, 14 Jordi Gomez, 22 Sebastian Coates, 42 Liam Agnew.
Bookings: Fletcher, Larsson, Jones.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Highlights from the game at Valley Parade