BRADFORD striker James Hanson boasts a rags-to-riches tale fit for any FA Cup romance but his focus is firmly on the future as the Bantams aim to book a Wembley semi-final today.
The story of how Hanson rose from stacking shelves in his local supermarket to starring for his home-city club on the biggest stage has had plenty of airing in the course of his side’s recent knockout heroics.
And as he prepares for the big Valley Parade quarter-final against Reading, 27-year-old Hanson believes the time has come to put his tale of non-league toil behind him and set higher targets for himself and his club.
Hanson said: “Ever since I started scoring goals for Guiseley in the Unibond League I had the confidence I could play at a higher level and there is no reason why both myself and Bradford can’t achieve this. When I joined in 2009 we were struggling at the wrong end of League Two and, since then, we’ve gone to a League Cup final and got promotion and now this. The club is thriving and, with the money the club has made from the cup runs and last year’s promotion, it should be a massive factor in terms of how it is able to progress.”
Bradford have already emphatically proved their credentials in back-to-back wins over Premier League opposition, to the extent that many are making them favourites against high-ranked opponents today. Manager Phil Parkinson expects to be able to recall former Chelsea and Hibernian man Filipe Morais, while Gary Liddle is available again after suspension. Former Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams will also return.
Blackburn are also hoping to pull off a shock and manager Gary Bowyer’s final words to his Rovers players will be simple before they step out at Anfield tomorrow: “Good luck.” The Blackburn boss knows the odds for the quarter-final are heavily weighted in their opponents’ favour, and would have been before Liverpool hit the run of form that has seen them win nine of their last 11 Premier League games. “It’s David vs Goliath,” said Bowyer. “Nobody’s giving us a chance outside of our dressing room. I think they’re the most impressive team in the Premier League. We’ve studied the videos, we’ve come up with a gameplan and we’ve worked with the players on it. We’ll go and take the challenge to Liverpool. We’ve been very organised and very disciplined in the previous meetings with the Premier League teams, and then of course along the way you need a bit of luck. The mood’s one of excitement.”
Meanwhile, West Brom boss Tony Pulis insists he has no problem with his Aston Villa counterpart Tim Sherwood following the latter’s comments about the size of the two Midlands clubs. Prior to Tuesday’s Barclays Premier League clash between the teams, Sherwood described Albion as a “good little club” before expressing his delight at having landed the manager’s job at a “massive football club” like Villa.
Then, after his side won 2-1 in the game at Villa Park, Sherwood again made an apparent dig at West Brom, saying they will “have to improve” for the next meeting – today’s quarter-final at the same venue – if they are going to stop the hosts triumphing again.
But Pulis said ahead of this weekend’s derby: “There are no problems with me or the chairman at all. Tim is Tim and he will be good fun for everyone around the West Midlands for the time he is at Aston Villa, I’m sure.”
He stressed West Brom will not need to use the words of Sherwood to generate any additional motivation for today. Pulis said: “I don’t need to pin that [Sherwood’s comments] up in the changing room. We have a good group of lads here and they will want to win the game as much as Villa will.”
Wayne Rooney admits he is desperate to lift the FA Cup – the one major trophy that has eluded him throughout his club career. The Manchester United captain says Monday night’s quarter-final against Arsenal is “massive” and it is so, especially for the 29-year-old who has twice been on the losing side in the final.
United have the benefit of home advantage but the Gunners are in better form. Rooney said: “We haven’t been to a final for a few years. We want to try to win that game. Of course, I think it is a massive trophy. It is a trophy that I used to love watching and I saw Everton lift the FA Cup in 1995 when I was nine. It is something which I would love to do and hopefully it can be this year.”
With so many of the top Premier League teams out of the competition, whoever wins on Monday will have a huge chance to go all the way.
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