Steve Cotterill was delighted with the mentality of his Bristol City players in winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 2-0 against Walsall on Sunday.
In front of an excellent attendance of 72,315 at Wembley, a first-half header from Aden Flint and close-range finish from full-back Mark Little deservedly sealed the Robins victory.
The League One leaders were more clinical in front of goal and now become the first ever team to win this competition three times.
The result means the Saddlers first Wembley appearance ends in defeat, whilst Bristol become the first team to win the competition three times, leaving Cotterill happy.
“We’ve got a very, very young team but I thought they handled not only the occasion and won, which is what we came here for, they played very well in it,” said the Robins manager.
“I told them that finals are for winners, they’re not for participants. They went against me today because they participated very well in it, and ended up winning it. I am delighted with them and for them.”
Cotterill was also quick to praise a Walsall side that, despite being 37 points behind the Robins in the League One standing, matched them for long periods of the game.
“Special mention to Walsall, I thought they made it a really good football game – good luck to them for the rest of the season.
“It feels fantastic, we’d planned and we’d prepared for it very well, we had an extra day which helped us with it being a Sunday. I thought the players executed the plan just perfectly for us. That’s important for it because Walsall are a good side.
“You can look at the League tables and think that’s what made us red hot favourites as everyone loved telling me last week, that was a tough game and they’re a good side.”
The match was also notable for an impressive attendance that included over 40,000 Bristol City fans, something Cotterill said he was not surprised by.
“We’ve been supported fantastically well up and down the country all season so you know when you get to a Wembley final there is going to be an extra turnout.
“It goes to show that this club could end up being supported by a Premier League crowd so it’s important that we carry on pushing the club forward.”
This could potentially be a double-winning season for the Robins as they sit comfortably clear at the top of League One, something that has always remained the priority.
“Hopefully it will (help). We’ve set out to try and gain promotion right from the off – today is an added bonus really when you’ve got to Wembley obviously you want to win it.
“Our aim has been to win the League from the outset and we want to do that.”
The final began in a relatively open fashion, with both sides testing out the opposing keepers, seen when Anthony Forde cut in from the right, with his deflected strike saved by Frank Fielding.
Thereafter the Bristol goalkeeper, who once made a full England international squad when at Blackburn Rovers, had relatively little to do as the Saddlers lacked creativity in the final third.
Bristol led midway through the first-half when an inswinging corner was headed in by Aden Flint accurately into the far corner. The centre-half leapt well and though there was some suggestion of a foul nothing was given, despite protestations from Walsall.
The Robins looked threatening through experienced and talented strikers Kieran Agard and Aaron Wilbraham, seen when the former got through from inside right channel, stopped only by an excellent tackle from James Chambers.
Both sides looked comfortable passing the ball around, though in the final third the quality that sees Bristol top the League One table regularly showed through.
The Robins spread their back three very wide across the pitch and though Walsall probed they were unable to ever really capitalise on the opportunities this may have presented.
Six minutes after the interval Bristol gained the crucial second goal as Mark Little bundled in the rebound after his initial header saved by Richard O’Donnell.
The chance came through good cross from the left by ex-Arsenal midfielder Luke Freeman, who cut inside onto his right-foot to put in an inswinging ball that invited Little to attack it.
The full-back now has prolific history in this competition, having been a notable part of the Peterborough side that won it last campaign, beating Chesterfield in the final.
Walsall did not lack in endeavour and their persistence nearly paid off when Jordan Cook hit the post from the right with what may have been in a cross, or a shot.
A scramble in the box followed before it was eventually cleared by Flint, whilst Bristol wasted further chances to extend their lead.
The fact the Robins were able to bring on talented striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas on for Kieran Agard shows a strength in depth that suggests they are certainly capable of Championship survival next season.
Though both sides will certainly be pleased to make over £500,000 in gate receipts from the match Bristol deservedly took home the trophy, and Cotterill was not attempting to deny his players the chance to enjoy the occasion.
“The players will celebrate tonight – you can’t not let them celebrate tonight. We’ve had a midweek game every single week for about the last 3 months so I’m pretty sure they can let their hair down tonight.”