Sunday, February 27, 2011

48 years of hurt...

0... are over. Blues have won the Carling Cup, for the second time in our history, but this counts as our first bona-fide major trophy. When we won in 1963 - as rival fans have always loved to tell us - the big teams weren't playing, and we won over two legs instead of a big Wembley final, albeit we defeated our darling neighbours and lifted the trophy in their own back yard.

But this is different. Since 1995, the big four - Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea - have dominated the cup finals they've participated in. We're the first side since Everton in 1995 to beat one of these four in a cup final. The once-in-a-generation shock I've always wanted to see in a cup final has happened - but not to someone else, to us.

How do I feel? Confused, elated, but at the moment relatively calm. Every now and then, a shiver goes down my spine as I start to properly take it in. I knew this moment wouldn't be spoiled by my desperate attempts to keep my expectations at zero, because when your club's history is largely a tale of near-misses and late heartbreak, it can be difficult to raise your hopes again.

But those Bluenoses who went to Wembley were magnificent - we swept all before us. We bamboozled the BBC commentary team who couldn't believe the noise we made. We swept aside the crude claims we'd park the bus and hope for the best. Sure Arsenal were largely superior, but we had our chances too: a stone-wall penalty in the second minute of the game turned down because of an incorrect offside decision, Zigic missing a great chance when 1-0 up, and Fahey hitting the inside of the post in the second half. These things are why my expectations remained zero as I attempted to come to terms with what seemed like the inevitable, particularly as Arsenal came on strongly as the game wore on.

And then McLeish played his masterstroke: on came Obefami Martins, not for Nikola Zigic as we all thought, but for a midfielder. We went 4-4-2 and suddenly the game swung a little our way.

And then the goal. A howler from Arsenal's point of view, but where no Blues player would have been standing to take advantage in a 4-5-1, Martins was there in the right place to slot home. With 90 seconds plus stoppage time left.

Those four minutes of added on time wouldn't end: Blues played superb possession football, but it seemed only 20 seconds were beating eaten away each time. It was surely inevitable - this was Blues after all - that Arsenal would snatch a last-gasp equaliser. But aside from threatening straight from the restart, they didn't get close. And the whistle went, and I went numb.

Birmingham City. 48 years of hurt (or 136 if you want to ignore the last League Cup win) - gone, in 98 pulsating minutes of football. An entertaining cup final where we played our fair share of football, didn't kick anyone off the park and created the more clear-cut chances. And we only went and bloody won!

Ben Foster, Stephen Carr, Martin Jiranek, Roger Johnson, Liam Ridgewell, Craig Gardener, Keith Fahey, Lee Bowyer, Barry Ferguson, Sebastian Larsson, Nikola Zigic, Jean Beausejour, Obefami Martins and even Cameron Jerome, whose three-minute cameo did so much to run down the clock in Arsenal's half. You are all Blues heroes for eternity. And let's not forget all the others who helped us to the final, in particular Kevin Phillips who last-gasp goal against Brentford ensured we weren't knocked out in round four!

So, I can die a happy man. Well, if other clubs can get greedy, then so can I. Could this be our year to finally land the FA Cup? ;-)

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