Aston Villa came into the 2012/13 campaign after a mediocre 15th place finish the year prior, with Paul Lambert’s side looking to improve on their league showing.
They wouldn’t, as Aston Villa would replicate their finish from the season before.
But that year, things were slightly different. In a season full of mediocrity, there was a light.
Cup competitions can distract you from league progression, and there are several cases to prove this theory right.
But the further a team progresses in a competition, the more involved the fans and players get and the more the focus switches.
With things not going well in the league, the League Cup was a welcome distraction for Aston Villa.
Having been eliminated at the third round stage the year before, Villa were able to negotiate their way past Tranmere before getting through to the fourth round after a 4-2 win away to Manchester City after extra time.
Two games away from a two-legged semi-final was close, and Villa would eliminate lower league opposite in the next round, seeing off Swindon in the fourth round before being drawn away to Norwich.
The all-Premier League tie ended in an emphatic 4-1 win to progress to the semi-final.
Aston Villa were drawn against League Two Bradford City for a place in the final to be played at Wembley Stadium, the easiest possible tie they could have been given – or so they thought.
— Aston Villa FC (@AVFCOfficial) December 19, 2012
On paper, this tie was a foregone conclusion. But it turned out to be anything but.
On January 8, 2013, the first let was played at Valley Parade, and the result was anything but what was expected.
Bradford 3-1 Villa – FT – All to do for Villa in the second leg after a disappointing night at the Valley Parade. #AVFCLIVE
— Aston Villa FC (@AVFCOfficial) January 8, 2013
Bradford had rocked the status quo of the pyramid system and upset the odds to take a two-goal lead into the second-leg at the end of the month.
And it was safe to say that the club’s fans were far from pleased at their performance and the result that had been produced.
— Ben Patel-Sadler (@BPS_777) January 8, 2013
— Kevin G Conroy???????? (@KevGeo2011) January 8, 2013
@AVFCOfficial absolute disgrace.
— Russell Bowen (@russieb_10) January 8, 2013
— Matt Jackson (@MattJackson46) January 8, 2013
Aston Villa failed to win their next two matches in the league before the second-leg at Villa Park.
With vociferous home support backing them, many expected Villa to win and progress to a final the majority of their fans had expected them to get to.
And Aston Villa would be triumphant – but only on the night.
The second leg was played out on January 22, 2013, and it was bittersweet to say the very least.
Villa 2-1 Bradford – FT – Weimann's goal proves to be too little, too late for Villa as Bradford advance to the final. #AVFCLIVE
— Aston Villa FC (@AVFCOfficial) January 22, 2013
Lambert’s side would win 2-1 on the night, but that would not be enough to take them through to the showpiece final.
A 4-3 aggregate defeat would see the League Two side overcome their Premier League opponents in what was a dark, dark day in the recent history of the Midlands club.
Despite the win on that night, it felt like a loss having been dumped out the cup at the semi-final stage.
And the club’s fans were incandescent with rage after their lowly cup exit.
@AVFCOfficial Dear Mr Lerner…Please sell up!
— JD UK (@DunnyVillain) January 22, 2013
— david jackson (@adavidjackson) January 22, 2013
@AVFCOfficial. SORT MY CLUB OUT !!!!! SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG IF WE CAN'T BEAT LEAGUE 2 SIDE!! CHAMPIONSHIP NEXT SEASON !!!:(
— tony wootton (@tonywoots69) January 23, 2013
— Lee (@pollywillow) January 22, 2013
The fans were far from happy with the result from the aggregate defeat, let alone the disdain shown after their first-leg collapse in a tie many imagined Aston Villa would have seen out conformably.
The reaction to defeat is a hallmark of the Championship sides recent past that played a part in their demise down the football pyramid.