Glorious night at St Andrew's for Trev's boys; BLAST FROM THE PAST.
JANUARY 31, 2001. A huge night for Birmingham City. A night the club, its supporters, manager Trevor Francis and his players had been anticipating for three weeks.
Everyone had tried to keep it at the back of their minds while important league games were played. But it wasn't easy. Not possible, really.
On January 31, in the Worthington Cup semi-final second leg against Ipswich Town, would the question be answered? Was this to be another agonising case of so-near-yet-so-far for Blues or would Francis's side deliver the club into the first domestic final ever to be played at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium? The first leg at Portman Road had ended 1-0 to Ipswich. The Premiership side had an advantage, but a narrow one. With the second-best away record in the Premiership, they fancied their chances of holding on but Blues were very happy with their performance in the first game and were confident they could turn the tie round inside a packed and raucous St Andrew's.
So what lay in wait? Would the headlines on February 1 describe Trevor's boys' dismay and Tractor Boys' delight? Or would it be Blues glory? It was the latter. Pride and glory. Blues 4 Ipswich 1 on a night no Bluenose will ever forget.
"This was joyfully, gloriously Blues' Night of Nights," reported the Mail. "Never in their trophychallenged history has there been one like it, either for what it means or how it was achieved."
'The Cardiff Dance' was indeed heading for the Welsh capital where Liverpool waited in the final.
Victories over Southend, Wycombe, Tottenham, Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday had earned Blues' passage into the semi-final draw. There they avoided Liverpool, who were paired with Crystal Palace, and drew Ipswich with the first leg away from home.
That was the way Francis wanted it. The plan: Do a solid job down there then get in Ipswich's faces in the St Andrew's cauldron.
On a cold, misty night in Suffolk, that first-leg objective was achieved. Ipswich secured only a 1-0 lead and owed that slender advantage to a dubious penalty.
Just before half-time, Jim Magilton's cross struck Danny Sonner on the arm. It was clearly ball-toarm but referee Clive Wilkes pointed to the spot.
Last time Blues had featured in a League Cup semi-final, against Leeds in 1996, manager Barry Fry revealed post-match that he was trying to sign striker Marcus Stewart from Bristol Rovers. This time Stewart was present, in Ipswich colours, and coolly converted the penalty.
When the half-time whistle sounded, seconds later, eight Blues players continued their protests about the decision to Wilkes who also enjoyed the benefit of Francis's opinion in the tunnel. Had Blues lost their composure? Would they lose the plot? No. With Darren Purse and Michael Johnson rock-solid in front of goalkeeper Ian Bennett, full-backs Steve Jenkins and Martin Grainger patrolling diligently and captain Martin O'Connor leading a bullish mid-field display, they kept Ipswich mostly at arm's length in the second half.
Hermann Hreidarsson headed against a post and Stewart squandered a decent chance but Blues almost snatched an equaliser through substitute Marcelo's header from Bryan Hughes' cross. It finished 1-0, a good job done.
Still, Blues had to fly in the face of recent history to go through. In none of the last nine meetings between the clubs had either side scored more than once.
Blues had to score twice, at least if they were to avoid the trauma of a penalty shoot-out. A fullhouse 28,824 crowd, generating an electric atmosphere, packed St Andrew's to see them try.
Patience was required. As halftime approached, the game was still goalless with the best chance, a gilt-edged one, having fallen to the visitors.
On 25 minutes, Hreidarsson closed in on goal and St Andrew's held its breath - only for the Icelander to roll the ball wide. A goal then would have left Blues dead and buried. Instead, three minutes before the break, the contest lurched t he other way as Dele Adebola forced the ball into the box and Grainger was there at the far post to net from two yards. A goal-of-theseason contender it wasn't but it lifted the roof off St Andrew's.
Seven minutes later, Adebola fed Geoff Horsfield who put Blues in front in the tie for the first time but the advantage lasted only 30 seconds before James Scowcroft beat Bennett at the second attempt.
For ten minutes, the only ten minutes all night, Blues wobbled, as Hreidarsson and Scowcroft went close, but the flurry subsided and the match went into extra time.
With 103 minutes on the clock, Horsfield struck again, finishing off a move by O'Connor and former Ipswich man Sonner. 3-2 on aggregate.
Then, with four minutes left, came a moment to haunt Richard Wright as John McGreal's backpass took a bobble. The goalkeeper missed his kick and presented Andrew Johnson with an open goal. The party could begin.
"One of the most memorable nights of my life," gasped Francis who hailed his whole team but none more that Horsfield, the former bricklayer whose magnifi-cent work up front was the foundation stone for Blues' victory. "His energy levels were unbelievable," the manager said. "He has had injuries and is not fully fit yet but had real presence."
The Horse - and Blues - had delivered.
IAN BENNETT Born: October 10, 1971, Worksop. Position: Goalkeeper. Blues career: 339 games between 1993 and 2003. Other clubs: Newcastle, Peterborough, Sheffield United, Coventry, Leeds, Huddersfield. Consistent with Blues for a decade, still registered as a player with Huddersfield where he coaches.
JERRY GILL Born: September 8, 1970, Clevedon. Position: Right-back. Blues career: 54 games between 1997 and 2002. Other clubs: Forest Green, Cheltenham, Northampton, Yeovil. Honest right-back who played every League Cup round up to the semi-final in 2001 and was then dropped for the final.
MARTIN GRAINGER Born: August 23, 1972, Enfield. Position: Leftback.
Blues career: 258 games (28 goals) between 1996 and 2005. Other clubs: Colchester, Brentford, Coventry. Tough-tackling defender, also dangerous at the other end with long-range set-pieces.
DARREN PURSE Born: February 14, 1977, Stepney. Position: Centre-half. Blues career: 172 games (11 goals) between 1998 and 2002. Other clubs: Leyton Orient, Oxford, West Brom, Cardiff, Sheffield Wednesday. Highly-rated at Blues and talked of an as Arsenal target but never developed to the top level. Now Owls captain.
MICHAEL JOHNSON Born: July 4, 1973, Nottingham. Position: Left-back/centre-half. Blues career: 262 games (12 goals) between 1995 and 2004. Other clubs: Notts County, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday. Wholehearted defender, popular wherever he played, whose career began and ended at Notts County where he is currently youth team coach.
NICKY EADEN Born: December 12, 1972, Sheffield. Position: Right-back/midfield. Blues career: 86 games (6 goals) between 2000 and 2002. Other clubs: Barnsley, Wigan, Nottingham Forest, Lincoln, Kettering. Solid player whose versatility did him no favours as he plugged holes in the Blues team so struggled to make one position his own.
DELE ADEBOLA Born: June 23, 1975, Nigeria. Position: striker. Blues career: 102 games (41 goals) between 1998 and 2002. Other clubs: Crewe, Coventry, Nottingham Forest. Powerful striker, affected by injury during his time with Blues. Unstoppable on his day, but also capable of missing the biggest sitters.
Class of 2001 GEOFF HORSFIELD Born: November 1, 1973, Barnsley. Position: Striker. Blues career: 91 games (29 goals) between 2000 and 2003. Other clubs: Scarbrough, Halifax, Fulham, Wigan, West Brom, Sheffield United, Leeds, Leicester, Scunthorpe, Lincoln, Port Vale. Bustling, big-hearted, former bricklayer who overcame testicular cancer and is now on coaching staff at Port Vale.
MARTIN O'CONNOR Born: December 10, 1967, Walsall. Position: Midfield. Blues career: 225 games (19 goals) between 1996 and 2002. Other clubs: Bromsgrove, Crystal Palace, Walsall, Peterborough, Shrewsbury, Kidderminster. Tough-tackling organiser and enforcer, captain of the Blues side that reached the 2001 final.
STAN LAZARIDIS Born: August 16, 1972, Australia. Position: Winger. Blues career: 160 games (8 goals) between 1999 and 2006. Other clubs: West Adelaide, West Ham, Perth Glory. Injuryprone but devastating at times, won 58 caps for Australia.
BRYAN HUGHES Born June 19, 1976, Liverpool. Position: midfielder. Blues career: 228 games (42 goals) between 1997 and 2004. Other clubs: Wrexham, Charlton, Hull, Derby, Burton. Signed for Blues after impressing against them in cup tie for Wrexham. Trained with Walsall and Scunthorpe this season before joining Burton Albion.
ANDREW JOHNSON Born: February 10, 1981, Bedford. Position: Striker. Blues career: 53 games (13 goals) between 1997 and 2002. Other clubs: Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham. Pacy front man who won eight England caps. Steve Bruce didn't drop many big clangers as Blues boss but selling 'AJ' to Palace for just pounds 750,000 was one of them.
DANNY SONNER Born: January 9, 1972, Wigan. Position: Midfield. Blues career: 41 games (2 goals) between 2000-2002. Other clubs: Burnley, Bury, Viktoria Koln, BFC Preussen, FC Erzgebirge Aue, Ipswich, Sheffield Weds, Walsall, Nottm Forest, Peterborough, Port Vale, Wrexham. A much-travelled midfielder, who has never spent more than two seasons at a club.
Lead: Geoff Horsfield celebrates the first of his two goals. Close range: Martin Grainger brings Blues level on aggregate. Cardiff bound: Blues manager Trevor Francis is mobbed by joyous fans at the final whistle.