Luton 3-2 Arsenal, 1988
Even though they were in the same division as their opponents, Luton Town were given little chance on a sunny day at Wembley against the League Cup holders, whose manager George Graham was assembling the side that would win the league 13 months later. Town took an early lead through Brian Stein, but normal service was resumed when Arsenal powered past with two goals in three second-half minutes from Martin Hayes and Alan Smith – and then won an 80th-minute penalty.
But stand-in goalkeeper Andy Dibble turned Nigel Winterburn’s spot-kick around the post to give the Hatters hope – and then minutes later came the kind of comical defensive failure all but eradicated under Graham. Nervy stand-in centre-back Gus Caesar resembled Benny Hill on speed in a chicken pen as he hashed a clearance, allowing Stein to cross for Danny Wilson to head home.
As Arsenal attempted to collect their thoughts for extra time, Stein scored a 90th-minute winner to give Luton their only major trophy.
QPR 3-2 West Brom, 1967
Having abandoned the previous home-and-away final format, the League Cup came alive with the first Wembley final. Top-flight West Brom were seemingly home and dry as Clive Clark brace’s put them two up at half-time. But Roger Morgan’s header halved the arrears, Rodney Marsh danced through the defence to equalise, and a memorable comeback was completed by the fittingly surnamed Mike Lazarus.
In 18 incredible minutes, the unfancied outsiders had stormed back from behind to become the first third-tier side to win a major trophy. Even if only temporarily, the League Cup had trumped the underdog romance of its big brother, the FA Cup.
Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool, 2005
Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea trophy came in a match to be remembered for a captain’s own goal and a subtle celebration by the ‘Special One’. With the Blues trailing to a first-minute John Arne Riise howitzer for most of the game, Mourinho had sent on forwards Eidur Gudjohnsen and Mateja Kezman – the latter for left-back William Gallas – when the previous summer’s high-profile Chelsea target Steven Gerrard clipped a header into his own net with 10 minutes remaining.
The Liverpool man’s misfortune was met with mirth by Mourinho, who scampered past Reds fans greeting them with a mischievous finger to his lips. He was subsequently sent off, but watched from the changing room as Chelsea won with extra-time goals from Didier Drogba and Kezman. If you think that was the latter’s only meaningful contribution for the Blues, consider that Liverpool’s late consolation was scored by Antonio Nunez.
Birmingham 2-1 Arsenal, 2011
Arsenal’s clearest chance of silverware in the last six years looked straightforward enough. Relegation-threatened Birmingham should have provided no problems for Arsene’s aesthetes, but again the Gunners’ haphazard defence cost them dear. Giant Serb Nikola Zigic put the Blues ahead before Robin van Persie’s volleyed leveller.
As Arsenal pressed, a string of fine Ben Foster saves earned the keeper a historic second Alan Hardaker Trophy (awarded for the League Cup final’s man of the match). Then came a winner of comical ineptness befitting the north Londoners’ downfall: a harmless long ball heading safely back to Wojciech Szczesny, until Laurent Koscielny’s interjection gifted it to late sub Obafemi Martins. The Blues were relegated three months later, but had won their first trophy since 1963.
Aston Villa 3-2 Everton, 1977 (second replay)
Better late than never: after two dull draws, this second replay at Old Trafford produced 120 minutes of memorable football, including a wonder strike from Chris Nicholl. The initial goalless draw at Wembley was so drab that no highlights were shown, and a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough didn’t do much to help the ratings.
In Manchester, Toffees target man Bob Latchford broke the deadlock before Nicholl’s 40-yard belter and Brian Little’s angled strike put Villa ahead. Mick Lyons equalised to make it three goals in four minutes, but Little scored again a minute from the end of extra time to give Villa their third League Cup success. Probably worth the 330 minutes.
Swindon 3-1 Arsenal, 1969
Two years after third-tier QPR had embarrassed top-flight WBA, another upset in a game that scarred a young Nick Hornby for life. Having scored against the run of first-half play when Roger Smart capitalised on confusion over a backpass from Ian Ure to Bob Wilson, Swindon defended doggedly until Bobby Gould’s 86th-minute equaliser took the game into extra time.
However, the minnows and neutrals found a hero in Don Rogers, who scored a brace to complete the fairy tale. Arsenal blamed flu and the heavy pitch, but nobody outside the mudslinging metropolitan media cared.
Nottingham Forest 3-2 Southampton, 1979
League Cup holders, league champions and 4-1 up after the first quarter-final leg of a European Cup they would eventually win, Forest were a confident team. So the night before the game, Brian Clough insisted that the team demolish a crate of champagne after some mild boozy success against Liverpool earlier in the season.
Forest started like a team hungover and went in at half-time 1-0 down to a David Peach goal, but after Frank Clark controversially blocked former Forest man Terry Curran on the edge of the box, the champions took control through Garry Birtles (2) and Tony Woodcock before Nick Holmes’ late consolation.
Liverpool 1-1 Birmingham (5-4 on pens), 2001
Football’s first major final at the Millennium Stadium brought Liverpool’s first trophy in six years – and like the other two cups they won that season, it was a struggle. Trevor Francis’s second-tier Birmingham put up a valiant fight after the Reds went ahead through Robbie Fowler’s thumping half-volley on the half-hour, but it took the much-loved Darren Purse’s injury-time penalty equaliser to send Blues fans into delirium.
A goalless extra time meant the first major English final to be settled on penalties; therefore someone had to be the villain – and it was the still-hirsute Andrew Johnson, a fortnight out of his teens, whose spot-kick was saved by Sander Westerveld.
Manchester City 2-1 Newcastle, 1976
A game that took on huge subsequent importance as both teams suffered trophy droughts. On its own merits, it will forever be remembered for Dennis Tueart’s overhead-kick winner. Teenage forward Peter Barnes put Manchester City ahead before Alan Gowling equalised 10 minutes from half-time, setting the stage for boyhood Toon fan Tueart to make Tony Book the first man to win the League Cup as player and manager.
It was City’s last cup triumph until 2011, and the closest Newcastle have come – with honourable mentions for the 1998 and 1999 FA Cup final defeats – to their first pot since the 1955 FA Cup. Unless you’re still all about that 2006 Intertoto Cup victory, obviously.
Tottenham 2-1 Chelsea, 2008
The elongated first League Cup final at New Wembley was something of a shock. Spurs, struggling in the league under Juande Ramos, fell behind to a superbly placed Didier Drogba free-kick – but fought back in the second half with a Dimitar Berbatov penalty. Jonathan Woodgate’s scrappy winner early in extra-time, helped in part by Petr Cech, gave Spurs only their second trophy in 17 years.
Ramos lasted another eight months at White Hart Lane, while Avram Grant was sacked within just three. Who says managers’ jobs are insecure?