The League Cup is in its 51st year, and the competition has certainly had an eventful history since it was first played in the 1960/61 season. The cup was devised with a midweek format specifically in mind because evening kick-offs allowed the growing number of Football League clubs with floodlights at their grounds to make use of the new investment. Floodlit football, now taken for granted, was still something of a novelty at the time, having grown in popularity during the 1950s thanks to the creation of the European Cup and the unique atmosphere associated with matches played after dark.
In 1967 the League Cup final changed from a two-legged format to being settled in a single game at Wembley. That arrangement has remained the case ever since – aside from the spell between 2001 and 2007 when the final was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff while Wembley was rebuilt – and on Sunday afternoon it will be the turn of Liverpool and Cardiff City to compete to win this year’s competition. Despite having been labelled an unwanted distraction in the recent past by some of the country’s bigger clubs, England’s second cup competition has nonetheless been won by Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Spurs within the past ten years.
Will Liverpool become unstuck against Cardiff, like Arsenal did against Birmingham last season? Here are some of the other great League Cup upsets of our time.
1969: Swindon Town 3 – 1 Arsenal (AET)
The Robins became the second Third Division side to win the cup in three years when they beat Bertie Mee’s First Division Arsenal on a terrible pitch at Wembley. As this footage from the game shows, however much criticism the current Wembley turf has come in for it still has some way to go to match the pudding that became of the surface on this occasion. Swindon took the lead against the run of play after 35 minutes through Roger Smart, following an almighty mix-up between Arsenal’s goalkeeper Bob Wilson and Ian Ure. It took until the 86th minute for Bobby Gould to equalise for the top flight side but the Gunners’ blushes were spared only temporarily. Two goals from Don Rogers in either half of extra-time won the game for Swindon and saw them match the achievement of third tier QPR in 1967 by triumphing over opponents two leagues above them.
1980: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 – 0 Nottingham Forest
Brian Clough and his men went into this game not only as the competition’s holders but the reigning European Cup winners too. Just two months later Forest would retain their European crown against Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg, but they were denied another League Cup trophy on this occasion by Andy Gray’s Wolves. The man who earlier this month made an embarrassing exit from his television job at Sky had a somewhat more enjoyable afternoon here as it was his goal after 67 minutes that decided the game. Gray took advantage of more confusion between a defender and his goalkeeper – this time involving David Needham and Peter Shilton – to finish into an unguarded net and give Wolves their surprise win. It was the team in old gold’s first trophy since winning the League Cup six years earlier – it remains their last major honour too – and by beating Forest they denied their opponents, who had actually become the first side to retain the cup in 1979, a run of three consecutive successes in the competition.
1988: Luton Town 3 – 2 Arsenal
Although they now play in the Blue Square Premier, back in 1988 Luton were in the middle of a ten-year spell in the First Division. However, the club had yet to win a trophy of note over the course of a history that already stretched back over a century, while George Graham’s Arsenal, who would go on to win the league in 1989 and 1991, were bidding to retain the League Cup and claim their sixteenth major honour in the process. On a glorious day at Wembley, on a billiard table of a pitch, Brian Stein put Luton in front after 13 minutes but things seemed to swing the Gunners’ way when Martin Hayes and Alan Smith both scored in a three-minute spell late in the second half. The Hatters’ 22-year-old goalkeeper, Andy Dibble, then saved a penalty from Nigel Winterburn that could have wrapped up the game. Instead, a goal from Danny Wilson – the future manager of Arsenal’s 1969’s conquerors, Swindon – that followed an unfortunate error by Gus Caesar and a strike by Stein with a minute remaining saw Luton fight back incredibly to win.
1994: Aston Villa 3 – 1 Manchester United
Villa had finished as runners-up to United in the inaugural Premier League season the year before but would finish a disappointing tenth this campaign. Alex Ferguson’s team, by contrast, were on their way to another title and would later achieve the first league and cup double in the club’s history when they beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final in May. Here, however, they were deprived what would have been a domestic treble by Ron Atkinson’s side. Dalian Atkinson put the Villans ahead after 25 minutes when he finished off a sumptuous Dean Saunders pass. Saunders doubled the lead with 15 minutes left when he poked Kevin Richardson’s free-kick past Les Sealey, who was deputising for the suspended Peter Schmeichel in United’s goal. United took the game to their opponents for much of the match but had to wait until the 82nd minute to be rewarded with a goal, when Mark Hughes halved the deficit. The same player almost equalised moments later but, with the game almost over, Andrei Kanchelskis handled in the box after a Tony Daley shot had threatened to uproot the frame of the goal. The Ukrainian was shown a red card and could only watch from behind the goal as Saunders despatched the penalty kick.
2008: Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 Chelsea (AET)
Juande Ramos’ time at Spurs is remembered as a bit of a disaster but, while Harry Redknapp has taken the club into the Champions League, his Spanish predecessor did win a trophy during his year in charge. Didier Drogba scored first for Chelsea, however, with a free-kick after 39 minutes from almost the same spot from which he had missed the target a little earlier. The Ivorian did not have the best season in 2007/08 – neither did Chelsea, thanks to this game and the width of a Moscow goalpost amongst other things – but his goal looked like it would be enough to see the Blues retain the trophy that they had won twice under former manager José Mourinho. Things went awry after 70 minutes, though, when Wayne Bridge’s handball allowed Dimitar Berbatov to coolly stroke a penalty past Petr Čech. Extra-time ensued and the winning goal came just three minutes into the first period, as Jonathan Woodgate somewhat fortuitously scored with a header.
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