Six League Cup ties that were actually pretty exciting

Milk Cup, Coca-Cola Cup, Worthington Cup, Carling Cup, Capital One Cup, The ‘Who-Is-He?’ Cup, The ‘It-Doesn’t-Count-As-Silverware’ Cup – call it what you like but the League Cup remains a presence in the football calendar. France still has two cups, so it’s not like England is completely alone. Besides, we know it starts to matter when our club makes it past the fourth round. With its current early season slot and shorter length, it could soon be preferable to target than its big brother the F.A. For whatever reason, the currently sponsorless League Cup has produced its fair share of upsets, comebacks and absurd scorelines over the years. Here’s six.

1. Aston Villa 3-4 Liverpool, Fourth Round, December 2002

Yes, okay I’m a Liverpool fan. How else would I remember this game? The Reds have a rich history in this second-rate competition and enjoyed a rollercoaster game away to Aston Villa in 2002. Villa led early on through a penalty before Danny Murphy – who would later be the night’s hero – levelled the score with a free-kick before half-time. Second half goals from Milan Baros and a young Steven Gerrard put the away side two goals up but momentum swung once more. Thomas Hitzlsperger hammered one home to rejuvenate Villa before Dion Dublin’s volley diverted off Stephen Henchoz and past Chris Kirkland. Deep into added time Murphy converted his second to prevent an additional half hour. Both teams would feature again in League Cup thrillers over the next decade.

2. Arsenal 2-1 Wigan (AET), Semi-final, January 2006

Whilst all other games on this list feature at least seven goals, Arsenal’s ‘victory’ over Wigan in January 2006 relies on a little bit of scene-setting. Two legged semi-finals can kill the magic of knockout football – but not on this occasion. An Arsenal side featuring classic cup names such as Philippe Senderos and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie had lost the opening leg 1-0 at the Latics’ home ground. They responded by fielding a side featuring lauded duo Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp for the second leg. Wigan, recently promoted to the Premier League, refused to roll over but were pegged back on aggregate by an Henry strike after an hour’s play. The match roared into extra time with Wigan showing plenty of spirit. They seemed to have missed their chance, however, when Robin Van Persie ripped in a free-kick to put Arsenal 2-0 up on the night.  Jason Roberts would have been left rueing missed opportunities had one extra not come his way in the 119th minute. He seized on sloppy Arsenal defending and fired home to give Wigan a precious away goal and an appearance in the League Cup final.

3. Aston Villa 6-4 Blackburn, Semi-final, January 2010

Blimey, this one was truly mental. If Arsenal’s Baptista-inspired rout of Liverpool in 2006 suggested the League Cup was not a showcase for defending, then this 2010 semi-final confirmed it. Heavily rotated squads and a lack of pressure can lead to goal fests but neither played a part in Aston Villa’s 6-4 victory over Blackburn with both teams desperate to reach a final. The first leg at Ewood Park produced just the one goal, and it was Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn who arrived chasing the tie. They dominated the Midlanders early on and perhaps scored their desired away goal sooner than expected.  By the 26th minute they led 0-2, but Villa fought back to 2-2 by half time. Frenzy took hold of the game and Blackburn were 4-2 down before the hour mark. Emile Heskey made it 5-2 but ten men Blackburn netted twice more. Ashley Young scored in stoppage time but by then the game barely resembled a football match. None of the goals were even that good.

4. Derby 5-5 Scunthorpe, First Round, August 2012

We often await a big name quarter-final to really tune into the League Cup but it starts way back in August with sides from the lower tiers slugging it out whilst we’re still admiring our fading sun tans. The crazy thing about this 5-5 draw is that all ten goals came inside regular play (including stoppage time). Steve McClaren’s Derby raced to a 3-0 half time lead and the game looked to have been put to bed. Scunthorpe found the back of the net in the 51st minute but Derby swatted them away with another of their own less than two minutes later. Scunthorpe rallied back to 4-3 but a Nathan Tyson header would again keep the visitors at bay. The clock read 94 minutes when Scunthorpe got what looked to be their final consolation but play continued. More pressure followed and a foul on Michael Jacobs resulted in a 97th minute penalty and an equalising goal. Scunthorpe would eventually progress on penalties. Not bad for August.

5. Chelsea 5-4 Manchester United (AET), Fourth Round, October 2012

It’s funny to think Alex Ferguson was knocking about as recent as 2012. Three days before this fixture the two sides had met in the league with United winning 3-2 and Chelsea left bitter by a Fernando Torres red card and a questionable refereeing performance. Whilst neither club really cared for this trophy the league game had left a hangover and it quickly became evident neither side had considered defeat. After a goalless twenty minutes Ryan Giggs put a much changed United ahead before David Luiz levelled. Poacher Javier Hernandez restored United’s advantage before half-time. Further goals were exchanged shortly after the break and Chelsea trailed 3-2 as the game reached its final half hour. The match grew feisty before substitute Eden Hazard levelled from the spot in the 93rd minute. Momentum stayed with the blues and goals from Daniel Sturridge and Ramires put Chelsea 5-3 up in extra-time before the match came full circle with a second Giggs goal.

6. Reading 5-7 Arsenal (AET), Fourth Round, October 2012

The fourth round of the 2012 League Cup was pretty special. A day before the drama at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal visited Reading for a game of football which was always going to appear on this list. You can understand why most League Cup games get relegated from memory but this one deserves a second watch for the farcical way it unfolded. Arsenal – perennial Premier League challengers and masters of their own downfall – arrived at Championship side Reading with a reasonable looking squad. After twenty minutes Reading were 3-0 up, and Noel Hunt soon made it four. The opening blitz was shocking but it was the fourth goal that underlined Arsenal’s embarrassment. It’s the fourth goal that kills off hope; three goals up is a dominant display, four is game over. Except it wasn’t. Walcott netted before half time and Gunners fans were left hoping for a miracle. Arsenal needed a quick second goal but they didn’t get one.  It was the 63rd minute when Olivier Giroud scored and their third goal came just two minutes from time. Reading remained the underdog but everybody likes a comeback and Walcott tucked one away deep into stoppage time. Arsenal took a 5-4 lead in extra time but Reading fought back through Pavel Pogrebnyak (remember him?). Walcott claimed his hatrick in the 119th minute before Maroune Chamakh added a twelfth goal.


Mike Franchetti

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