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Home » Sport » Football

Carling Cup Final: Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2

ALEX McLEISH wrote his name into British managerial folklore yesterday as he became only the sixth boss to win silverware on both sides of the border.

And Birmingham's dramatic last-gasp victory over mighty Arsenal ensured the former Rangers and Scotland boss will go down in Blues history as the second man to lead the club to a trophy.

Sub Obafemi Martins capitalised on a cock-up in the Gunners defence with just a minute to stab home the winner after Robin van Persie had cancelled out Nikola Zigic's opener.

The strike right at the death sparked wild scenes of celebration from fans who had waited almost half a century for some silverware.

McLeish then clenched his fists at full-time while sidekick Andy Watson and coach Peter Grant lapped up the historic moment.

Barry Ferguson made a habit of winning trophies - some under Big Eck's leadership - at Rangers but he admitted just reaching this final eclipsed anything he achieved in Scotland.

And Ferguson was flat out at the final whistle after another influential midfield display.

Birmingham had keeper Ben Foster to thank for some incredible saves but few could deny the Blues a triumph that handed owner Carson Yeung the perfect 51st birthday present.

McLeish has ensured legendary status in the eyes of the fans who travelled to London in huge numbers but even beforehand it wasn't hard to see their appreciation of the Scottish contingent with some decked out in kilts and Jimmy wigs, while others even wore Big Eck masks.

He has now joined his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson in an elite group of managers who have won silverware on both sides of the border - with Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Martin O'Neill and John Cochrane the only others.

Almost six years had passed since McLeish last lifted a trophy and the same went for his dugout rival Arsene Wenger - with those successes amazingly coming within 24 hours of each other.

Wenger's Arsenal beat Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup Final on penalties and just a day later Gers snatched the SPL title from Celtic's grasp.

The previous week that year was the last time the Blues had recorded a victory over the Londoners. That 2-1 success was their only win in 19 games between the sides, proving what a tough job they had yesterday. Yet Birmingham should have been handed a dream start with barely a minute on the clock when Lee Bowyer was brought down inside the box by Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny after latching on to Zigic's through ball.

Assistant ref Mike Mullarkey flagged offside as the midfielder made his way through on goal but replays clearly showed he wasn't. That was a huge blow for the Blues who could have been a goal and a man to the good as the Pole would also have seen red for his challenge.

Eck's troops then survived a couple of let-offs as dangerman van Persie sent an angled shot wide and Foster was forced to save with his feet from Andrey Arshavin's close-range effort.

Arsenal started to turn the screw and Johan Djourou sent a header over from Samir Nasri's corner before the Frenchman created a good opportunity for himself. He danced through the defence only to fire into the side-netting.

But then came the moment when Birmingham ripped up the Cup final script as they snatched an unlikely lead and gave the blue half of Wembley the belief they could upset the odds.

Sebastian Larsson floated in a corner from the right and Roger Johnson got up well to head the ball into the danger area.

Thunderous

The towering Zigic was lurking and he beat van Persie and Szczesny to nod home.

Van Persie then sent a header just over at the other end before Zigic and Birmingham could have grabbed a second.

Craig Gardner was fouled on the edge of the box but play was allowed to rage on as the ball broke to the Serb frontman. He cracked a shot a goal but the effort lacked conviction and Szczesny saved.

That proved a key moment as Birmingham's hopes of going in at the break with their noses in front were shattered seven minutes before half-time by van Persie.

It started with a stunning effort from Jack Wilshere that crashed off Foster's crossbar. When Ferguson's headed clearance fell to Arshavin he knocked the ball back in for Arsenal's Dutch skipper to expertly volley into the net.

Thankfully for McLeish and his men it didn't get any worse with Nasri's thunderous strike on the stroke of half-time pushed away by Man of the Match Foster.

Arsenal started the second half well and Tomas Rosicky shot just wide from Bacary Sagna's cross.

Birmingham were up against it but they still looked dangerous on the break.

McLeish had thrown on Chilean winger Jean Beausejour for Gardner and he looked lively when the Blues attacked.

City could have grabbed a sensational second when the ball fell to Keith Fahey after his initial effort had struck Zigic.

The midfielder rifled in a low shot that cannoned off the inside of the post and away to safety.

With nerves setting in, Birmingham had keeper Foster to thank for two saves which kept them in it.

The former Manchester United goalie beat away a Nasri shot then made an even better stop to deny substitute Nicklas Bendtner.

The Blues shot-stopper was on hand again as Arsenal piled on the pressure, stopping a cheeky backheel attempt from Rosicky before pushing away yet another Nasri strike.

But the last word went to Birmingham in a dramatic end to an incredible game as Foster's long kick out travelled all the way to opposite number Szczesny.

The youngster got in a horrible mix-up with Laurent Koscielny and the ball broke for Martins who had a tap-in to become a cup final hero.

 

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