Carling Cup – Birmingham stun Arsenal to win Cup
The Nigerian came off the bench with seven minutes of normal time remaining, and in the 89th minute capitalised on a calamitous mix-up in the Arsenal penalty area to tap in the goal which lands the Blues only their second ever major trophy.
Alex McLeish‘s side spent much of the second half repelling attack after attack from the Gunners – with goalkeeper Ben Foster making a string of vital saves – before Martins was in the right place at the right time to pounce as Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny conspired to let the ball loose inside the box.
The Blues held on to win their second League Cup to add to their victory in the competition in 1963, and go some way to overcoming the heartache of their penalty shootout defeat at the hands of Liverpool in the final in Cardiff a decade ago.
For Arsenal, their six-year wait for a major trophy continues, and their attention must now turn to Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth round replay against Leyton Orient on Wednesday and then a Champions League trip to Barcelona the following week.
Arsenal dominated the possession for large parts of the match, although they were fortunate not to be a goal and a man down inside the first three minutes. Lee Bowyer was played through one-on-one with Szczesny, who brought the midfielder down inside the box. The referee’s assistant had already raised his flag for offside against Bowyer, even though he had been played onside by Gael Clichy.
After that, Arsenal began to get into their stride, with the absences of Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott not hindering their trademark passing play on the wide Wembley pitch. Samir Nasri came closest to opening the scoring when he had his shot saved by the legs of Foster.
Six of Birmingham’s last eight league goals against Arsenal have come from set pieces, but it was still a surprise when they opened the scoring against the run of play via that method.
Roger Johnson headed the ball goalward from the edge of the box and Zigic got in front of Szczesny to glance it past the Polish keeper for his fourth goal in his last five games.
The big Serb striker could have doubled Birmingham’s lead five minutes later when Craig Gardner was tripped on the edge of the box and the ball fell at his feet, only for Szczesny to make the vital block.
Arsenal levelled soon afterwards with a sweeping counter-attack. Jack Wilshere fired a strike off the crossbar but Andrei Arshavin kept the move alive. The Russian got to the byline and cut the ball back for Van Persie to lash in a crisp volley. It was the 13th goal since the turn of the year for Arsenal’s captain for the day.
The second half so Arsenal became even more dominant in possession and chances. Tomas Rosicky struck a half-volley just wide of the target before Foster made several crucial stops in quick succession.
Keith Fahey rattled the Arsenal post with a low drive, but it was the Gunners who looked odds on to score, particularly with Birmingham’s key defender struggling with an injury.
But, six minutes after replacing Fahey, Martins secured his place in Birmingham City history when Zigic’s flick-on caused confusion between Koscielny and Szczesny. The French defender went to hack the ball clear as the keeper came for it, and it bounced out of his grasp and into the path of Martins, who tapped into the empty net.
With a place in Europe next season secured and an FA Cup quarter-final coming up, the future looks bright for Birmingham. However, they must quickly focus on their present, as they host relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion next Saturday with just two points separating them from the bottom three.
Tony Mabert / Eurosport