The magic of the FA Cup returns to the EBB Stadium on Sunday, as Aldershot Town welcome last season’s quarter-finalists Bradford City.
The Shots extended their unbeaten run to five matches last weekend, with a 1-1 draw at Southport which could so easily have become a sixth away victory of the season, but will need to be more clinical in both penalty areas against The Bantams.
City’s cup exploits in recent years has been one of the main motifs running through English football. The run to last season’s quarter-finals – which included a victory against Chelsea ranked by some as the greatest FA Cup shock of all-time, after they came from 2-0 down to win 4-2 at Stamford Bridge – followed their appearance in the 2013 Capital One Cup Final and wins en route against Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa.
Yet last season’s run began with a hard-fought victory against FC Halifax Town, and it is such contrasting experiences that manager Phil Parkinson feels will stand his team in good stead against the team 51 places below them.
“We obviously had a terrific run in this competition last season and we embark on another challenge down at Aldershot on Sunday, looking to make some more good memories for ourselves and our supporters,” the former Reading midfielder told www.BradfordCityFC.co.uk. “We have to cast our minds back to the start of this competition last season when we played Halifax away. That was a tough game for us – a massive test for us on the day – and I am expecting Sunday’s match to be exactly the same in terms of the amount of effort and professionalism we’ll have to show to get into the next round.
“We have experience of being the underdog and being the favourite in cup games. We have to use all of the knowledge we have gained over the last three or four years in the case of the guys who were also here for the Capital One Cup run to make sure we are really prepared for this game. We have to accept the expectancy levels that will be on us come Sunday given what we achieved last season.”
Having taken just two points from their opening four league games of the season – and also exited the Carling Cup in a penalty shoot-out defeat to York City – Bradford have since lost just two of their last 12 and are on a five-game unbeaten run of their own. It is form which earned Parkinson a nomination as League One Manager of the Month for October and took the Bantams to ninth in the table.
With three clean sheets in those five games, centre-back Reece Burke – in his third month of a loan spell from West Ham United – was also nominated as League One Player of the Month.
And it is defensive solidity which has been key to Bradford’s resurgence. Scoring just 17 goals in their 16 league matches, City have won by more than a single goal margin just once, and only four times scored more than once in a game.
Nine players have started all five of their most recent league games, including goalkeeper Ben Williams – now established as number one after the departure of Brad Jones – and the back four of former Liverpool right-back Stephen Darby, centre-backs Burke and ex-Rochdale defender Rory McArdle, and Australian left-back James Meredith. Burke, however, limped off in midweek with a hip muscle strain and is rated doubtful for Sunday, with Nathan Clarke standing by as a replacement.
Joint top scorers are veteran targetman James Hanson and pacy strike partner Devante Cole, the son of former England striker Andrew Cole, who signed from Manchester City in August. No other City player has managed more than one so far, but the corners of full-back-turned-right-midfielder Tony McMahon are proving far more prolific.
His deliveries have created the last four City goals – including two for Hanson – as efficiency rather than flamboyancy has been the order of the day for Parkinson. The return from knee ligament injury, on Tuesday, of last season’s top scorer, Billy Clarke, may galvanise their attacking options after he signed a new contract last week.
On the left, flying winger Kyel Reid has returned to Bradford City on loan from Preston North End – with permission to play in the FA Cup – and is blessed with the sort of pace which can trouble any full-back.
The Bantams have several players missing through injury, and will also be without midfielder Lee Evans, on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in Tuesday’s win against Blackpool. Former Woking loanee Billy Knott and the more defensive-minded Gary Liddle have, of late, alternated in the second central midfield berth alongside Evans, but may start together on Sunday.
Striker Steven Davies will be out until January with a knee injury; French defender Christopher Routis – who has not played since the end of September – has a calf injury; whilst midfielder Josh Morris, who injured his medial knee ligaments in September, may not yet be fit enough to feature against The Shots.
Jake Gallagher serves the third game of a four-match suspension, and Joe Oastler continues his rehabilitation from ankle surgery, but Barry Smith is otherwise able to select from a fully-fit squad. Jack Saville is available despite the wrist injury which forced him off in the first-half at Southport last weekend.
An unchanged line-up would be symptomatic of perhaps a key statistic in The Shots’ season, as sharing the record for fewest players used in the 2015-16 National League.
This will be the eleventh meeting between Aldershot Town and The Bantams since August 2008, but the first in cup competition and the first in two-and-a-half years. The Shots have won five of those ten meetings – including four at the EBB Stadium – to Bradford City’s three victories.
Season 2008-09 produced two stand-out encounters, as The Shots earned their first home win in the Football League for 17 years with a thrilling 3-2 victory which featured a penalty save from Nikki Bull and Scott Davies’s late 25-yard winner. Six months later, however, City exacted full revenge with a 5-0 thrashing in Yorkshire.
Defender Anthony Charles earned Aldershot Town consecutive 1-0 home wins, in March 2010 and January 2011, and The Shots then did the double in this fixture in 2011-12. City’s first victory at the EBB Stadium came in November 2012, thanks to two goals from Nahki Wells, before Alan Connell’s penalty in the eighth minute of injury time rescue a point for The Bantams in March 2013.
Aldershot FC met Bradford City on 28 occasions, all in the Football League, between August 1961 and February 1982. The Shots won 10 of those matches, with City prevailing 12 times.
Sunday’s referee is Ben Toner, from Darwen in Lancashire. He is in his first season as a Football League referee, and has taken charge of 11 games this season, showing 44 yellow and one red card. He previously refereed The Shots’ 3-1 defeat against Bristol Rovers in March, and the 1-0 loss at Southport in August 2013.
The match is one of eight ties being covered on BBC 1’s interactive Final Score show on Sunday afternoon, with Jacqui Oatley reporting live from the EBB Stadium. Highlights will then be shown on BBC2 from 6.30pm that night.
Although there is no live commentary, BBC Surrey will have live radio updates from Gavin Denison throughout the game.
Supporters living overseas may be able to watch the game live, and are advised to check their local TV listings for details.
Wherever you are watching the game, please get in touch via the club’s twitter account @OfficialShots or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AldershotTownFC/