Ahead of one of the biggest nights in the history of Bradford City Football Club, we caught up with heroic goalkeeper Matt Duke
Leading Premier League Aston Villa 3-1 from their semi-final first leg, npower League 2 side Bradford City are astonishingly on the verge of reaching the Capital One Cup Final.
Ahead of the return leg, we caught up with one of the heroes of their amazing run, goalkeeper Matt Duke.
How much of an understatement would it be to say Bradford City’s players are surprised to find themselves in the Capital One Cup semi-finals?
It would be a massive understatement. When I think back to Round 1 when we were drawn away to Notts County, few people expected us to go through that match. It’s been a similar story at every stage and even at home to Burton Albion in the third round when we weren’t the underdogs, we were 2-1 down until late on and heading towards an exit. Beating Wigan Athletic, Arsenal, and now leading Aston Villa is beyond what anyone expected. It’s been amazing.
When you analyse your performances in this cup run, Bradford haven’t been lucky to get this far have they?
Every minnow that goes as far as we have in a major competition has to enjoy some good fortune along the way and we’re no different, but we’ve earned our place in the last four. Every single player that’s been part of it has given their all and worked exceptionally hard, and our collective spirit has been something special. We were heading out against Burton, but we pushed ourselves to retrieve the situation and that summed up this journey we’ve been on.
Why don’t you think Bradford’s players have been intimidated by the likes of Arsenal and Aston Villa?
I can’t speak for the lads but for me personally I’ve seen each match as a way of challenging myself. I look forward to facing these big teams and top players, knowing that it is a chance to show what I am capable of. You can’t be intimidated. The Arsenal players are just normal blokes like the rest of us. If anything, they might have been more anxious facing us than we were of them because they’re not used to rough and tumble football like we are. We’ve all relished it, and we will be the same at Villa Park.
And were you all as cool as you appeared to be in the penalty shoot-outs against Wigan and Arsenal?
Outward appearances can be deceptive! Every player, myself included, was nervous but when you take them you just have to pick your spot and stick to it, and it’s not dissimilar for goalkeepers when you dive. We’ve won nine on the spin now in shoot-outs and that’s incredible. It’s not just down to me though, as we’ve had three or four ‘keepers involved in the run. There really isn’t any special secret to saving them; not that I know anyway.
What’s been your own personal highlight of the Capital One Cup run so far?
Carl McHugh’s header late on against Villa was a magnificent moment. They’d pulled a goal back and everyone probably thought that was our best chance of making the final up in smoke, but we never let our heads drop, this team never gives in. When it hit the back of the net it was just brilliant.
Was that the most celebrated moment, too?
No, because we didn’t want to disrespect Villa with the second leg to come. We were pleased of course but it wouldn’t have been right to go in their faces with an overboard celebration. We enjoyed it, but knew there was more work to do. For me, beating Arsenal was the most ecstatic moment. To knock out a great team like that was unreal. Not that we went out afterwards though; nights out have gone on the backburner this season because we’ve had too many games.
Are you more nervous or excited about this all-important return leg against Villa?
A mixture of both, but I still feel we have nothing to lose. In my mind, Aston Villa are still strong favourites to go through, as they are easily capable of scoring two early goals and leveling the tie. Can we produce heroics again? It’s a massive challenge for us, and a huge test of our mentality. We’ll be strong and stay together. Hopefully it will be enough.
Will progressing from this second leg be the hardest task of all?
Yes I think so. It will even more difficult than playing Arsenal at home. Villa Park is a big stadium and we don’t know how the lads will deal with it. It should be an open game because Villa won’t be cagey, they have to get straight down to business and go for it. Being so close to Wembley also makes this even more difficult, of course.
Do you think you’re in for a busy night?
Definitely. To be honest I expect a bombardment on my goal from minute one to minute 95. Hopefully my defenders and I will be able to have another one of those nights where everything goes our way, and that we can stand firm. It’s going to take a really big performance from all of us to keep Villa out on their home patch.
Will Bradford take a positive or defensive approach?
We have to get the balance right. You see it all the time in matches when a side gets in front and then tries to sit on what they have, and it can backfire easily. We can’t afford to leave too many gaps open by being overly ambitious, but if we score then that will give us a real advantage. It won’t be easy for us to get the balancing act right. A very solid display will be required.
You have a strike force that can worry Villa though, don’t you?
We do. James Hanson is a great target man, who gives us an out ball when we’re in trouble. If we hit 10 balls up to him, he’ll win it nine times. Nahki Wells has caught the eye too and his pace frightens defenders. If we need to score a goal out of nothing, Nahki Wells is the man.
How much credit does Phil Parkinson have to take?
He’s picking the right teams and choosing the right tactics isn’t he? The manager is doing a great job. He might look cool on the sideline but he will also let the lads have it in the dressing room if we don’t follow his instructions, so he has two sides to his management style. This season’s exploits have given him great exposure as a manager, as it has for the players, too.
Does it feel like the whole country is desperate for Bradford to make the Capital One Cup Final?
People in the UK love an underdog and that’s why we’re getting so much support. So many people we’ve met have said ‘well done’ and wished us luck for the second leg. When we used to stay at hotels before away games, other guests would ask which team we were and respond with an, ‘oh, alright’ and walk off, but now everybody wants to stop and have a chat, telling us how much they’ve enjoyed our exploits. It seems like the entire nation is behind us now, and that’s wonderful for a great club like this to savour.
Have you dared to imagine walking out at Wembley for the final?
As a group we’ve avoided talking about it, but with so many matches to focus on that’s been easier than you might imagine. As for me, yes of course I’ve thought about Wembley, but when I do so, I quickly stop myself. If we reach the final, then I won’t be able to stop dreaming about it.