The magic of the cup
Everyone loves a giant-killing. Except fans of the giant, of course. Despite Chelsea’s struggles under Maurizio Sarri, though, this year’s League Cup final won’t be able to provide a romantic underdog victory.
What it could easily give us, though, is drama – something this competition hasn’t exactly been short of over the years.
From overhead winners to 330-minute-long tussles, managers shushing fans to penalty heroics, this selection of cup finals should whet your appetite for Sunday...
Luton 3-2 Arsenal, 1988
Despite competing in the same division as their opponents at the time, Luton were considered massive underdogs when they faced George Graham’s defending League Cup champions at Wembley.
Brian Stein’s goal gave Town a shock lead, but two strikes in three minutes after the break from Martin Hayes and Alan Smith put the Gunners in charge. When they won an 80th-minute penalty, the game looked dead as a contest.
Instead, Nigel Winterburn’s effort from 12 yards was saved and the Hatters roared back as Danny Wilson levelled with a header, before Stein secured Luton’s only major honour with a last-minute winner.
Tottenham 2-1 Chelsea, 2008
The first League Cup final played at the new Wembley ended in a shock result as Juande Ramos’s stuttering Spurs overcame Chelsea.
A Didier Drogba free-kick put the Blues in front, but Tottenham came back through Dimitar Berbatov’s penalty, which took the game into extra time. There, a scrappy goal from Jonathan Woodgate settled it – with some help from Petr Cech – and while Ramos lasted just eight more months as Spurs boss, he did make a mark in the club’s history by guiding them to just their second trophy in 17 years.
Aston Villa 3-2 Everton, 1977 (second replay)
Third time lucky. Villa and Everton had played out two dull draws in their first couple of attempts at deciding the League Cup, but rewarded fans at Old Trafford for their patience in the second replay.
Bob Latchford put the Toffees in front before an incredible 40-yard strike from Chris Nicholl levelled things. Brian Little then nudged Villa ahead but Mick Lyons quickly responded to equalise with the third goal of a mad four-minute period.
The teams were finally separated after 330 minutes of deadlock, however, when Little nicked it with his second goal of the game a minute before the end of extra time.
Liverpool 1-1 Birmingham (5-4 on pens), 2001
In the first major football final to be played at the Millennium Stadium, Liverpool squeezed past Birmingham to win their first piece of silverware in six years.
The second-tier side put up a brave fight, responding to Robbie Fowler’s opening goal with a stoppage-time equaliser from the penalty spot by Darren Purse. But that was the extent of their luck from 12 yards: a young Andy Johnson had his decisive spot-kick saved by Sander Westerveld in the first major English final to be decided by a shootout.
Nottingham Forest 3-2 Southampton, 1979
It’s fair to say Nottingham Forest were in a good place going into their final clash with Southampton. They were defending champions, league champions and 4-1 up midway through their two-legged European Cup quarter-final – a competition they would go on to win.
However, the night before this game, Brian Clough encouraged his players to see off a crate of champagne after some mild boozy success against Liverpool earlier in the season, but it showed as they trudged in at half-time 1-0 down to David Peach’s goal.
They soon took control as Garry Birtles struck twice and Tony Woodcock added another, though, making Nick Holmes’s late goal for Saints nothing more than a consolation.
Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool, 2005
The day that Jose Mourinho lifted his first trophy as Chelsea manager did not start in the manner that the Portuguese would have liked.
John Arne Riise put Liverpool in front within a minute and, as the Blues piled bodies forward in search of a leveller, it was Kop hero Steven Gerrard’s own goal that got them back in it with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Mourinho went running down the touchline to offer Reds fans a ‘shush’ gesture and was sent off as a result, but ended up celebrating anyway as Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman struck in extra time. Antonio Nunez – remember him? – got a consolation for Liverpool.
Birmingham 2-1 Arsenal, 2011
Everything appeared to be laid out for Arsenal to clinch their first trophy in six years as they faced relegation strugglers Birmingham, in what promised to be a fairly routine day at the office.
Nikola Zigic went against the grain by putting the Blues in front, but Robin van Persie pulled the Gunners level. An excellent display from Ben Foster in the Birmingham goal prevented Arsenal from taking the lead, however, before disaster struck.
A seemingly harmless long ball fell into the path of Obafemi Martins after a mistake from Laurent Koscielny – and the Nigerian made no mistake. Birmingham were relegated just three months later, but their first trophy since 1963 was a major sweetener.
Swindon 3-1 Arsenal, 1969
In a game that scarred young Nick Hornby for life, Swindon stunned Arsenal with another shock result just two years after third-tier QPR had humiliated top-flight West Brom.
Roger Smart sprang onto a loose backpass to put the minnows in front, and they defended their lead until Bobby Gould found an equaliser with four minutes remaining.
It was time for a hero and Don Rogers stepped up for Swindon, scoring twice to complete an afternoon beyond their fans’ wildest dreams. Arsenal went on to blame the flu and a heavy pitch, but nobody was listening.
Manchester City 2-1 Newcastle, 1976
Two teams desperate to end trophy droughts came head to head in a game that will forever be remembered for Dennis Tueart’s overhead-kick winner.
Peter Barnes put City ahead in the first half, before Alan Gowling levelled things. And so it was up to Tueart, a boyhood Newcastle fan, to pull a rabbit out of the hat with a memorable strike.
Tony Book became the first person to win the trophy as both player and manager, while the triumph remained City’s last until 2011.
QPR 3-2 West Brom, 1967
The League Cup’s first Wembley final was one to remember, after the two-legged format was scrapped.
West Brom raced into a two-goal lead by half-time thanks to Clive Clark’s double, but Roger Morgan reduced the deficit. It got even better for QPR as Rodney Marsh and the suitably named Mike Lazarus netted to complete a remarkable fightback, and give headline writers an easy day’s work.
QPR became the first third-tier side to win a major trophy, as the League Cup basked in its underdog drama.