2011 will be a year that few Bluenoses will forget in a hurry. There was relegation from the top flight in May and all the financial turmoil the following summer.
But there was also the European adventure, with famous victories in Maribor and Brugge. Not forgetting of course, the Carling Cup Final on Sunday, February 27, 2011. This has to be one of the best days in recent history for Blues … and the journey to Wembley was special, too.
Who though, would have thought we would win the competition when Gary Jones gave Rochdale the lead in our first game? Thankfully, Blues turned things around through a controversial penalty, and a goal apiece from David Murphy and Matt Derbyshire before Jones netted again to make the final score 3-2 to Blues.
The next two rounds were also at home to League One opposition. MK Dons were the first of them and Blues ran out 3-1 winners thanks to first-half goals from Hleb, Zigic and Gardner. But Brentford proved to be much more of a challenge and deservedly took the lead through Sam Wood.
But super Kevin Phillips was on hand to net a very late equalises to send the game into a fruitless extra time then penalties. Maik Taylor proved to be the hero for Blues as he saved Craig Woodman’s spot-kick to send Blues through to the quarter-final after a 4-3 penalty win. This proved to be Taylor’s last game for Blues.
Aston Villa stood between Blues and the semi-final. Blues started well with a Seb Larsson penalty before Gabby Agbonlahor equalised, even though Blues had the ball over the line 30 second before that – the linesman had flagged for offside.
The game looked to be heading for extra time again, but Nikola Zigic sent St Andrews into raptures with a deflected shot five minutes from time to make the final score 2-1 to Blues.
So, the two-legged semi-final was against West Ham with the first leg staged at Upton Park. West Ham dominated the first half and deservedly led through Mark Noble. But the second half was all Blues and Liam Ridgewell headed the Blues level.
But Carlton Cole restored the Hammers’ lead despite being down to 10 men and that’s how the first led ended. The first half of the second leg was dominated by West Ham and Carlton Cole gave the Hammers what felt like, at the time, an unassailable lead by half-time.
But Lee Bowyer and Rodger Johnson scored in the second half for Blues to make the aggregate score 3-3. Blues then won the tie in extra time through Craig Gardner, who had already hit the post twice earlier.
So, Blues were in the final against Arsenal who were odds of 4-1 on to win the Carling Cup. Blues should have had a penalty in the very first minute when Lee Bowyer was brought down by the goalkeeper but the linesman had already put his flag up for offside, even though Bowyer was a good yard onside.
Blues took the lead through a Nikola Zigic header in the 28th minute but Robin van Persie cancelled that out in the 40th minute. The game looked to be heading for extra time but Szczesnyy and Koscinely got in each other’s way to allow Obafemi Martins to score into an empty net with one minute left.
This is one of Blues’ best days in recent history and, with the European adventure ahead, there would be plenty more to come.