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Wells’ chance to shine again in Cup semi-final

Bradford City striker Nahki Wells is two matches away from becoming the first Bermudian since Shaun Goater in 1996 to play in a Wembley final.

But while Goater achieved that feat while helping Rotherham United beat Shrewsbury Town in the Auto Windscreens final at the old Wembley, Wells could be the first local player to play at the new stadium . . . and in a much more prestigious competition, the League Cup.

Following Bradford’s stunning penalty shoot-out victory over Arsenal in the quarter-finals one of the biggest shocks in the history of the cup they now face another Premier League side Aston Villa in the first leg of the semi-final tonight at home.

Wells returned from a stomach virus to play in Bradford’s 2-0 loss to Barnet on the weekend and played the whole match, but now the focus has switched to the Capital One-sponsored cup.

Although Wells was substituted in the match against Arsenal, he raised eyebrows having tormented the London club’s defenders and came closing to scoring.

He was brought off in tactical move as City attempted to protect a 1-0 lead.

Wells, the side’s top scorer with 15 goals this season, is expected to start tonight as is another striker, Villa’s former England star Darren Bent who returned on the weekend from a hamstring injury along with striker Gabriel Agboniahor (thigh).

Bradford winger Kyle Reid and defender Carl McHugh could also return to the starting line-up for tonight’s televised match.

Reid, who returned from a two-and-a-half week lay-off due to a groin injury in mid-December, has been used sparingly by manager Phil Parkinson in recent weeks, while McHugh returned to the substitutes' bench in Saturday's defeat at Barnet following a calf strain.

Winger Garry Thompson remains sidelined with knee ligament damage and both striker James Hanson and Australian defender James Meredith are doubtful. Hanson sustained a knock at Barnet, so Alan Connell is on standby, and Meredith is still struggling with the after-effects of the virus that ruled him out at the weekend.

The spotlight shone brightly on the Bantams during one of their finest hours last month when the 110-year-old League Two club stunned the mighty Gunners.

Now the former Premier League club, who have slipped down the leagues in the last decade, are hoping to spring another upset.

It has been a long 13 years since Bradford escaped relegation on the final day of the 1999/2000 season to survive a second campaign in the Premier League after a famous 1-0 home win over Liverpool.

They were relegated the following season and then followed a calamitous slide into administration (twice) and English football's basement division.

But not only were Arsenal conquered in the previous round, top-flight Wigan also succumbed to Parkinson's penalty shoot-out kings, while Gianfranco Zola's Watford were undone by two late goals at Vicarage Road in round two — and the former Colchester, Hull and Charlton manager wants to give the whole city something to cheer again.

"That's really important for us," said Parkinson, 45, speaking at a press conference yesterday.

"It's a big club, a sleeping giant and we're trying to reawaken it.

"The win against Arsenal certainly reminded everybody that Bradford City is up and running and starting to get going again. Another really good performance tomorrow night would be great for the city again."

Parkinson, installed as Peter Jackson's permanent successor in the summer of 2011 and tasked by joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn to get the club out of League Two, rebuilt the whole squad during the close season and, but for a 2-0 defeat at Barnet on Saturday they would be sitting in a play-off position.

They are still only three points off an automatic promotion spot and Parkinson added: "The lads have been good. Obviously we lost on Saturday, but it was a performance where the lads gave everything, they just couldn't put the ball in the back of the net.

"We had a lot of chances, so I couldn't say that our focus was distracted at any point. We would have loved to have come into this game with three points from Saturday. Unfortunately we didn't, but we can't let that detract from tomorrow night, or change the way we approach it because I want the lads to enjoy it, relish it.

"We've won a lot of games, there's been a lot of extra-times and we've overcome a lot of challenges to get to this point."

Parkinson's key word during yesterday’s press conference at the club's Apperley Bridge training facility was "enjoyment", while the previous round's heroics against Arsenal have given his players a belief they can spring another huge upset.

"We're very excited," said Parkinson. "We've worked really hard to get to this stage and we're going to enjoy it.

"It's a tremendous achievement by everybody at the club. It's the first time in the club's history to be at this stage of the competition. It's going to be a tough challenge, but our aim tomorrow is to get to the second leg in two weeks' time still in the game."

Parkinson accepts a two-legged tie favours Paul Lambert's Villa, but knows what it takes to beat Premier League opposition.

"We've just shown the lads some footage from the Arsenal game, to remind them of the discipline and the shape of the team and how well we worked as a unit in that game," he said.

"But also, when we won the ball back we played with a calmness and that's important because we know that if you keep giving Premier League teams the ball back, it becomes a long night.

"We've got to be up for the game, committed, we've got to use the crowd to take us on to another level, but also we've got to play with that composure and calmness in possession.

"The lads have shown that they can compete against the best teams, we also know we have to be right at our best and Aston Villa will have to be well below par for us to progress, but anything can be achieved and we've got a group of lads who are going to relish the challenge."

While Bradford are pushing for promotion into League One, Aston Villa are facing the threat of relegation in the Premier League.

Lambert's team, who reached the fourth round of the FA Cup by beating Ipswich on Saturday, are only one point above the drop zone.

Yet, the Villa squad hope to reach a final to give captain Stiliyan Petrov a trip to Wembley Stadium while recovering from acute leukaemia.

"One day he is up, one he is down, so it would depend on Stan, that, but the lads would love it if he could be there," Villa goalkeeper Shay Given said.

Petrov's personal battle puts Villa's on-the-field struggles into perspective.

"He is still fighting hard with all the treatment he is getting. We are all behind him," Given said. "We know we are in a relegation fight in the Premier League but to see the fight Stan is coming under and showing is really inspirational ... and it gives everyone a huge lift."

"The Bradford lads will give it everything they have got to try to turn us over ... it's always tough," Lambert said. "Bradford have got nothing to lose and everything to gain."

The second leg will take place on January 22 at Villa Park.

Bermudian Nahki Wells (centre) is expected to start tonight as Bradford City take on Aston Villa in the first leg of the League Cup semi-finals.

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Published January 08, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 07, 2013 at 6:57 pm)

Wells’ chance to shine again in Cup semi-final

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