MANY thought Gary Mills had spent too long in the Benidorm sun when, on his return to Bootham Crescent, he signalled his intention to reach the Capital One Cup final.
A penalty shoot-out defeat at Doncaster subsequently ended York City’s interest in the competition before a ball had even been kicked in the new Football League season.
Mills’ challenge was quickly consigned to the folder marked “over-ambitious motivational methods” by the doubters, cynics and mockers, sharing in their incredulity at the suggestion that a team from English football’s fourth stratum could contest the final of a major competition at Wembley.
Bookmakers clearly shared that view, offering odds of 2,000-1 against a League Two side lifting the Capital Cup back in August.
Fast-forward six months to this week and Bradford City’s exploits might just result in less generous prices next summer.
The Bantams’ semi-final aggregate win over Aston Villa, following previous triumphs over top-flight pair Arsenal and Wigan, has provided further vindication for the belief of Mills – City’s double-winning Wembley manager – that anything can be achieved if you put no ceiling on your ambitions.
Phil Parkinson’s Bradford team lie just four points ahead of City in the League Two standings and were forced to come back from behind against their Yorkshire rivals to snatch a 1-1 draw at their Valley Parade home back in October.
Mills has also pointed out that their Cup heroics demonstrate the depth of strength in English football.
Mills said: “Everybody laughed at me and thought I was stupid when I said I wanted to get to Wembley in the Capital One Cup but it is possible in that competition, perhaps more so than in the FA Cup.
“The Premier League teams generally play weakened teams and it gives you that opportunity to beat them. Having said that, Arsenal fielded their full side in the quarter-finals and I think it’s fantastic what Bradford have done.
“What I like about it most is that anybody hearing about it overseas now knows how good English football is.
“A Fourth Division club is capable of beating a Premier League side on their day and anything is possible in the English league when you look at our players and teams.
“It’s incredible what Bradford have achieved and it would be lovely for them to go on and beat Swansea in the final.”
Mills watched the second half of Tuesday’s semi-final, second leg at Villa Park and, despite Bradford losing 2-1 on the night, the City chief was impressed by the performance that earned them a 4-3 aggregate triumph.
Mills added: “I thought Aston Villa were embarrassing for a Premier League side but Bradford were well-organised, kept the ball really well and were excellent.”
Mills also agrees with Bradford’s policy of combining the talents of non-League graduates like semi-final scoring hero James Hanson – a former shelf-stacking Eccleshill United and Guiseley striker – with the likes of Stephen Darby, Nathan Doyle and Zavon Hine, who all have points to prove after being released by big clubs Liverpool, Derby and West Ham respectively.
It is a formula the City chief has followed this week with the loan recruitment of Blackburn Rovers centre-back Jack O’Connell and fellow defender Jameel Ibel, who has been snapped up from less salubrious Salford City.
On Bradford’s squad, Mills said: “They have a number of players who have come from non-League and others who have come out of bigger clubs so it’s about giving these players belief and they are hungry for different reasons.
“Too many Premier League managers go abroad to get players because everybody wants instant success so they don’t tend to work with players that might take a year or two to develop.
“They might lose their job in the meantime because not many chairmen at that level understand what you are trying to do but, sometimes, you have to lose a few games while your team and players are getting better.”
There was one notable absentee from Bradford’s celebrations with former City ace James Meredith, who made the switch to West Yorkshire last summer, currently struck down by glandular fever.
The Australian left-back faces a battle to recover in time for the February 24 final, not to mention a Bootham Crescent meeting against his old team the following weekend.
Mills added: “I saw him against Arsenal and he was superb. He’s got glandular fever which isn’t nice and I wish him all the best.
“Hopefully, he will get himself well and go back to his second home at Wembley.”
Potts off to January flier
MICHAEL Potts heads The Press Player of the Month standings going into January’s final fixture.
The former Blackburn Rovers midfielder holds a two-point advantage over centre-backs David McGurk and Chris Smith ahead of this afternoon's League Two clash at Gillingham.
Potts picked up the two The Press Player of the Month bonus points on offer to the player who polled the most man-of-the-match votes from visitors to our website for last weekend’s 0-0 home draw with Aldershot.
The other points were shared by Smith (three), Matty Blair (two) and McGurk as our first, second and third-highest rated players respectively.
Smith’s man-of-the-match performance also moved him four points clear of Dan Parslow in The Press Player of the Year standings. To be in with a chance of presenting January’s Player of the Month with his prize – a framed photograph – at a City home match, cast your man-of-the-match vote for today’s game at Gillingham.
Alternatively, you can tweet your selection to @daveflettpress
The Press Player of the Year latest standings (not including Player of the Month bonus points): C Smith 25 points, Parslow 21, Ingham 18, Blair 17, Walker 15, Chambers 14, Fyfield 14, Kearns 12, McGurk 9, Kerr 8, Coulson 7, Oyebanjo 7, Potts 6, Carlisle 5, J Smith 5, Doig 3, McLaughlin 3, Reed 3, Blanchett 2, Taylor 2, Challinor 1, Johnson 1.
The Press Player of the Month for January standings: Potts 8, McGurk 6, C Smith 6, Ingham 5, Blair 3, Kerr 2, McLaughlin 1, Parslow 1.
Goals: Chambers 8, Walker 8, Blair 5, Coulson 5, Reed 4, McLaughlin 3, Potts 3, own goals 2, Parslow 1, Rodman 1, C Smith 1.
Assists: Walker 7, Chambers 5, J Smith 5, Blair 3, Kearns 3, McLaughlin 3, C Smith 3, Carlisle 2, Coulson 2, Parslow 2, Rodman 2, Challinor 1, Fyfield 1, Kerr 1, Reed 1.
Bad boys: Chambers, C Smith both 4 yellow cards; Kerr 1 red, 2 yellow; Fyfield 3 yellow; Ingham, McLaughlin, Parslow, Potts all 2 yellow; Carlisle, Challinor, Coulson, Doig, Johnson, McGurk, Oyebanjo, J Smith, Walker all 1 yellow.