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Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2: match report footo

Birmingham City players celebrate - Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2 match report
Nikola Zigic and Obafemi Martins - Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2: match report
IObafemi Martins - Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2 match report
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Birmingham City supporters - Arsenal v Birmingham City match report
 John Lydon - Arsenal v Birmingham City match report
 Arsenal v Birmingham City match report

That winning feeling: Birmingham City players celebrate with the League Cup trophy after beating Arsenal 2-1 Photo: REUTERS
Nikola Zigic and Obafemi Martins - Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2: match report
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Keep right on: Nikola Zigic (left), scorer of Birmingham City's first goal, runs to congratulate Obafemi Martins after the Nigerian scored a late winner at Wembley Stadium Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Obafemi Martins - Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2 match report
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Head over heels: Martins celebrated his winning goal with a somersault Photo: PA
Birmingham City supporters - Arsenal v Birmingham City match report
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Singing the blues: Birmingham City supporters filled their seats ahead of kick off hoping to see their side cause an upset and win their first major trophy since 1963 Photo: AFP
John Lydon - Arsenal v Birmingham City match report
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London calling: John Lydon, the former punk and lead singer of the Sex Pistols, was in the crowd supporting Arsenal Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Arsenal v Birmingham City match report
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Showtime: the Arsenal and Birmingham City teams lined up at Wembley ahead of the Carling Cup final, the first opportunity of the domestic season to win any silverware Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2: match report
Read a full match report of the Carling Cup final between Arsenal and Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium on Sunday Feb 27 2011. 
And today is the day we’ve waited for”. Rarely has a line from a song been belted out with such passion. Wembley shook as Birmingham City’s players and fans shared a rousing rendition of Mr Blue Sky, a club favourite, saluting the end of 48 years of hurt.

Birmingham have waited since 1963 for this moment, for the lifting of a major trophy and the party was long and loud. All the sacrifices made by Birmingham’s players down the years, all the doubts suffered in their careers, the false dawns and broken dreams, were made worthwhile by a triumph rooted in sweat and spirit.

Two 34-year-olds were immense. Stephen Carr almost retired three years ago yet there he was, his knees showing no sign of weakness, as he charged down the wing. Lee Bowyer had been to Wembley only as a ball-boy before; the midfielder knew he might not get this close again so he ran and ran, relentlessly, between the boxes. Such was Birmingham’s commitment.

As the streamers fells from the heavens, the party began in earnest.

Liam Ridgewell ambushed Roger Johnson, pouring Champagne over the outstanding centre-half as he was interviewed. Craig Gardner grasped a Birmingham flag and conducted the supporters’ singing. Alex McLeish blew kisses to the crowd like an Oscar-winner.

Blues fans fans loved it. Some stripped to the waist, twirling their blue shirts in the air. Others lobbed a “Winnie the Pooh” beach-ball around. Others flourished a banner that read “English By Birth. Brummie By The Grace Of God”.

In front of them, McLeish and his players were seeking out Obafemi Martins. Everybody hugged the Nigerian newcomer, whose pouncing on a terrible mix-up between Wojciech Sczcesny and Laurent Koscielny, settled an absorbing Carling Cup final.

Everybody saluted Ben Foster, who had made three important saves to keep Arsenal at bay. Cameron Jerome hoisted the England keeper on his shoulder, almost dropping him. Foster certainly wouldn’t have dropped anything on Sunday. For the second time in three years, the former Manchester United keeper clutched the Alan Hardaker trophy for man of the match. Amidst all the distributing of garlands, praise needs sending to Dave Watson, Blues goalkeeping coach, who has done such good work with Joe Hart and Foster in recent years. Injury curtailed Watson’s own promising career but his influence clearly endures.

The sponsors’ bubbly could equally have gone to Johnson, to Bowyer, even Nikola Zigic, who ensured the alarm bells started ringing early in the Arsenal defence and stayed ringing. Carr, another contender, seemed on a personal mission to soak anyone with Blues connections with champagne, an operation he continued in the dressing-room afterwards.

McLeish looked on, smiling away, reflecting on the spirit of his players, who followed his game-plan expertly. Birmingham’s 4-5-1 tactics worked well, ensuring they could live with Arsenal’s dexterity in midfield. There is also a hunger about McLeish that imbues his players. There is a humility too. Birmingham had planned no post-match celebration, although St Andrew’s will be thrown open for a civic reception on Sunday.

As Birmingham’s players cavorted on the pitch, Arsenal fans disappeared quickly into the night while their players retreated to their dressing-room. Arsenal have waited since 2005 for trophy and the wait continues, with an added scar. Arsenal pieced together some of the trademark passing moves but never hit their thoroughbred stride. The brutal truth for Arsenal is that they badly missed Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, their defence folded when it needed to stand firm and they lacked Birmingham’s spirit.

Arsenal must re-group, must forget this grim experience. With injuries debilitating Arsène Wenger’s squad, they will rely even more on their youngest player, Jack Wilshere, one of the few Arsenal players to emerge with much credit.

Somebody must rally weary minds and bodies. Somebody must focus Arsenal on the challenges ahead. The mourning must be kept brief.

Difficult. Martins’ goal will haunt Wojciech and Koscielny for some time to come. It appeared a routine situation when Zigic’s flick was seemingly destined for Szczesny with the game seemingly destined for extra time.

What happened next was a snapshot of Arsenal’s flaws. Nobody took responsibility. Nobody communicated. As Szczesny stooped down to deal with the mild incoming danger, Koscielny confused the situation by swinging his right boot and failing to connect. The ball bounced off Szczesny and there was Martins playing the predator, sending Birmingham into the Europa League via Shangri-La.

Arsenal fans will demur but Birmingham deserved this.

Wenger’s side, the firmest of favourites, appeared to have started confidently enough, Gaël Clichy back-heeling to Andrei Arshavin and the little Russian then testing Foster’s reflexes, but Birmingham’s character was never in question. Nor were their clever tactics.

Barry Ferguson sat in front of the back-four, shielding and distributing, while Bowyer and Craig Gardner raced forward, like bolts of blue lightning, seeking and destroying Arsenal attempts at building momentum.

Secure in midfield, Birmingham looked to pick out Zigic. The tall striker showed surprising subtlety in releasing Bowyer through after two minutes. The midfielder raced on to the ball, entered the box and was brought down by Szczesny. It seemed a straightforward red card and penalty.

As Birmingham appealed, they noted with frustration that Ron Ganfield, the assistant referee from Somerset, had raised his flag.

Offside, he signalled. But Bowyer wasn’t. Clichy played him on.

Szczesny and Arsenal had a lucky escape.

A sense of injustice fuelled Birmingham’s fire even more. None of McLeish’s players hid. None seemed daunted by the scale of the occasion nor the vaunted reputation of the opposition. Keith Fahey had a shot held. Martin Jiranek put in immaculate ball-winning tackles on Arshavin, then Robin van Persie.

Birmingham took the lead shortly before the half-hour, although Arsenal were culpable of death by misadventure. Bacary Sagna gifted the ball to Birmingham, who swiftly forced a corner. When Sebastian Larsson lifted the ball across, Arsenal froze.

Koscielny failed to stick with Johnson, who flicked the ball goalwards. Johan Djourou lost contact with Zigic, who also exploited hesitancy by Szczesny and Van Persie to head in.

Arsenal responded. Wilshere hit the bar, then the youngster drove through again, setting the scene for the equaliser. Arshavin tricked his way down the right, beating Ridgewell, before cutting the ball back. Van Persie’s canny movement had wrong footed Jiranek, giving him a glimpse of goal which he found with a fine volley. Arshavin held his finger to his lips, making a shushing gesture to the Birmingham fans which simply raised their volume more.

At the break, McLeish told his players to keep calm, keep concentrating and they would be rewarded. Yet Arsenal were briefly raising their game. Tomas Rosicky shot wide. Alex Song went close with a header. Samir Nasri was twice denied by Foster. Birmingham still threatened, Fahey hitting a post, and then came Martins, making it the day they’d had been waiting for.