Liverpool Versus Birmingham City
Liverpool's path to the final started on 1 November 2000 with an all-Premier League encounter with Chelsea. Hosted at Anfield. The game was tied after 90 minutes at 1-1 nevertheless Liverpool declared victory with a 104th minute strike from Robbie Fowler. Their reward was a 4th round connect away to Stoke, who Liverpool thrashed 8-0, with Fowler declaring a hattrick in the match. In the quarter finals, Liverpool beat Fulham 3-0 at Anfield, nevertheless all three goals came in additional time as the tie finished 0-0 after 90 minutes. Liverpool suffered a scare in the semi-finals as they lost the very first leg 2-1 away to Division One side Crystal Palace, however a 5-0 victory in the return leg sealed the Reds' place at the Millennium Stadium. This was Liverpool's first final since the 1996 FA Cup.
Birmingham City were having the time of their lives in the lead-up to the 2001 League Cup final. The players truly delighted in the spotlight and the weight of Blues' trophy-less history was not pressing heavily on them at all.
Birmingham City- a Division One side at the time- advanced to the final following victories over Southend, Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday and three Premier League sides- Tottenham, Newcastle and Ipswich.
It was a happy-go-lucky cup run and when Trevor Francis took the team away to the St Pierre Hotel, Chepstow, to prepare for the game at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium versus Liverpool, the fun and esprit de corps magnified.
Then the magnitude of what was to come and the event hit home.
The Worthington Cup Final
Gerard Houllier juggled his starting line up with Liverpool competing on four different fronts, and Steven Gerrard was the surprise choice on the teamsheet as he had recently suffered a groin injury. Liverpool began the match well, and almost took the lead in just the seventh minute as Vladimir Smicer delivered a good cross from the left side into the box, nevertheless the unmarked Robbie Fowler to make contact with the ball at the near post and Birmingham cleared for a corner. Over the coming moments, the match was fairly even with both Liverpool and Birmingham enjoying possession but few opportunities were being created. On 28 minutes, Birmingham high pressure obliged a weak punch from Liverpool keeper Sander Westerveld, however he was in a position to save the follow up attempt coming from Jon McCarthy. Almost immediately after that, Liverpool broke the deadlock. Westerveld sent a lengthy clearance downfield which was flicked on by Emile Heskey for Fowler to unleash a fierce dipping volley from 25 yards that struck the rear of the net. Liverpool pushed for a second as the first half drew to a close. On 41 minutes, Smicer struck from the edge of the area, however his shot was deflected for a corner. The Czech international was then responsible of missing a one-on-one opportunity as he was put through on goal after Heskey flicked on a Stephane Henchoz clearance, however he put his shot wide.
At half time, Birmingham caused young striker Andy Johnson and it almost paid immediate dividends as Johnson headed Nicky Eaden's cross only inches wide of the goal on 46 minutes. Liverpool instantly countered nevertheless and a last-minute block from Darren Purse was required to prevent Fowler firing home after being set up by Markus Babbel. Birmingham appeared revitalized nevertheless Liverpool were still the side creating the much better possibilities. Fowler, Heskey and Smicer all had opportunities for Liverpool, whilst Geoff Horsfield and Stan Lazaridis posed concerns for the Liverpool defence. On 76 minutes, Gary McAllister came on to change Steven Gerrard and after that 7 minutes later Nick Barmby replaced Smicer as Birmingham appeared to be lacking concepts to make their breakthrough. Nevertheless, they were gifted a way back into the match in injury time when Stephane Henchoz recklessly pulled down Martin O'Connor in package. A charge was granted, which Darren Purse- dealing with cramp throughout the latter phases of the match- fired home.
The goal sent the match into extra time, and only 5 minutes in, Liverpool made their final replacement- causing Christian Ziege for Igor Biscan. Buoyed by their goal, Birmingham made an intense start as Johnson, McCarthy and Bryan Hughes all had possibilities to put the Blues ahead. Bryan Hughes- a boyhood Everton fan nearly netted Birmingham's 2nd on 99 minutes with a 30 yard chip, nevertheless Westerveld reached the shot and tipped it over with his fingertips. 5 minutes later, Henchoz almost cost Liverpool a second penalty as he tugged down Johnson, nevertheless the referee waved play on- much to the surprise of the majority of seeing on. With 9 minutes to go, Liverpool began to promote their winner when Fowler brought a good save out of Birmingham keeper Ian Bennett with a close-range header. Bennett then produced another good save to deny Sami Hyypia's header from a Ziege free-kick. With four minutes to go, Dietmar Hamann struck the post with a 25 lawn shot on goal, however neither side had the ability to find a way through and the match went to penalties.
Gary McAllister took Liverpool's very first spot kick, and he planted his shot confidently into the high corner of the net. Martin Grainger took Birmingham's very first kick, nevertheless Westerveld guessed correctly and saved the penalty by diving to his left. Nick Barmby then put Liverpool 2-0 up with a comparable strike to McAllister's. Darren Purse put Birmingham on the scoresheet, and Ziege netted Liverpool's third with a powerful effort. Marcelo maintained Birmingham's chase in positive style, and Bennett then produced an excellent save to stay out Hamann's strong effort. Stan Lazaridis brought Birmingham level at 3-3, nevertheless Robbie Fowler netted Liverpool's fifth area kick. Hughes equalised for Birmingham to send the shoot-out to sudden death. Jamie Carragher stepped up for Liverpool to hammer home into the top of the net, and Sander Westerveld then saved Andy Johnson's effort to win Liverpool the cup.
Liverpool won the 2001 League Cup Final, hosted at the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff, by beating Birmingham City 5-4 on penalties after the match ended up 1-1 after additional time. This was the first final held at the Millenium Stadium, which hosted a series of English football finals in the early 2000s whilst Wembley Stadium was being reconstructed. It ended up being a happy hunting ground for Liverpool, who would revisit contesting for silverware on a further 7 celebrations over the next 5 years.
The Blues had not experienced a major final for 38 years and a chance had indeed slipped through their grasp.