This Sunday, Aston Villa head to Wembley to face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final aiming to keep the final score respectable at least. Pep Guardiola’s men destroyed Watford in last season’s FA Cup Final and many observers fear the same fate awaits the club from the Second City this weekend.
Over the years, the cup with the three handles has often given clubs both big and small a chance to showcase their ineptitude, as we take a look at five of the worst ever performances in what is traditionally the first showpiece occasion of the domestic season.
The League Cup was considered so pointless after its inception in 1961 that Wembley couldn’t be bothered to stage the final until 1967. Two years later, snooty First Division Arsenal took on Third Division upstarts Swindon Town in what looked like a complete mismatch, but when the Wiltshire side took the lead on 35 minutes on a playing surface that resembled the Somme, the Gunners were left with egg on their faces.
Bobby Gould’s leveller four minutes from time however saved their bacon and took the contest into extra-time, now surely there would only be one winner, right? Right – a brace from Swindon striking legend Don Rogers saw the minnows lift the cup and send 50,000 farmers into delirium.
The authorities were so pissed off that an English institution like Arsenal had been embarrassed in a major final, they struck up a deal with UEFA which stated that teams outside of the top division in English football that won the League Cup, would not be allowed to compete in the (forerunner to the Europa League) Fairs Cup.
NORWICH CITY 1975
The 1975 League Cup Final is regarded by many to be the worst football match to ever take place at the twin towers and it remains the only Wembley final between two teams outside of English football’s top division. The two finalists that day, Aston Villa and Norwich, could both have made this list, but seeing as Villa will probably get hammered on Sunday and the fact that they won this particular contest their blushes have been saved.
It was fitting that a game so dour was decided by a goal scored from a rebound after a saved penalty, with Villa’s Ray Graydon grabbing the all-important strike. Victorious Villa boss Ron Saunders, a man so miserable he was even blocked from ringing The Samaritans, won his third consecutive League Cup with his third different club and six years later he would lead Villa to the First Division title.
LEEDS UNITED 1996
Four years is a long time in football, so by the time Leeds United reached the League Cup Final in 1996 against Aston Villa, the memories of their 1992 League Championship triumph had already been long forgotten about.
To say that Howard Wilkinson’s team were second-best on the day at Wembley was probably the kindest thing you could have said after a 3-0 defeat which signalled the end of Sergeant Wilko’s reign at the West Yorkshire club, who would be competing in a Champions League semi-final within four years under the tutelage of David O’Leary.
Wilko would of course go on to be instrumental in setting up St George’s Park before he and his outdated tactics were consigned to history, only to be given a modern update this season by Newcastle United.
WIGAN ATHLETIC 2006
Sir Alex Ferguson was no great advocate of the League Cup and when his team reached the 2006 final against Wigan Athletic at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium, it’s (allegedly) understood that Fergie let his star-studded squad go out on the lash the night before the game.
As Messrs Rooney, Ronaldo and Giggs cleared their heads the following day, Wigan keeper Mike Pollitt, who’d started his career at Old Trafford, saw his big day ruined after 14 minutes after picking up a hamstring injury before Rooney put United ahead just after the half-hour.
Fergie, having let his lads off the leash the previous evening felt betrayed and at half-time he read the riot act to his underperforming stars, who came out in the second-half and duly put The Latics to the sword, scoring three times in the opening quarter of an hour. A Wigan side containing the likes of Jason Roberts, Henri Camara and Pascal Chimbonda were like startled deer in car headlights as United’s players got ready to top up from the night before at the post dinner banquet.
BRADFORD CITY 2013
When League Two Bradford City reached a major final for the first time since 1911, London was besieged by half the city’s population who were determined to enjoy themselves no matter what the final outcome. That determination would be tested to the limit when their side were three goals down by half-time against a Swansea City team who was appearing in their first ever major cup showpiece.
The mismatch on the field was replicated on the touchline with Bantams boss and former midfield journeyman Phil Parkinson having no answer to his opposite number, legendary Danish frontman Michael Laudrup. When referee Kevin Friend finally put the West Yorkshire club out of its misery, they’d shipped five unanswered goals but not to worry, they still had the chance to go drowned their sorrows by drinking £7.00-a-pint lager in the West End.Sunday 4.30pm: Villa 17/1, Draw 7/1, City 1/9