Alex McLeish 'We weren't given a prayer but we never stopped believing'

Birmingham manager praises players' courage and impact of Martins after cup triumph

Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish described his team's Carling Cup final victory over Arsenal as "titanic and heroic", while goalkeeper Ben Foster claimed it was the underdogs' greater team spirit that saw them emerge triumphant.

Birmingham claimed their first major silverware since 1963 when substitute Obafemi Martins scored the winner in the 89th minute, knocking the ball into an empty net following a terrible mix-up between Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

McLeish, who won seven trophies with Rangers including two Scottish Premier League titles, described the victory as the sweetest of his managerial career. The Scot said: "We had a game plan and we stuck to it. We had some luck but we deserved our luck. It was a titanic performance by the players. Heroic. I thought if we could keep it as close as possible then the quicker players like Martins could come on and win it for us.

"At Glasgow Rangers I was expected to win trophies, even though we were against big rivals Celtic. To come to England, my first trophy for a small club like Birmingham to beat the might of Arsenal is a dream come true. It is the best achievement ever for me, as a manager."

McLeish said the spirit of his side made the difference. "No one gave us a prayer, we were massive underdogs, but sometimes bookies do not get it right. We proved that with phenomenal belief, courage and good football," he said.

Foster was voted man of the match for several fine saves, including a reflex stop to deny Nicklas Bendtner, and had words of sympathy for his opposite number Szczesny. The England goalkeeper said: "Apart from the birth of my two children that was the greatest feeling of my life, unbelievable. I think it was our team spirit. It's amazing. They have quality players but they haven't got the team spirit we have and it showed.

"It's been a long time coming for Birmingham. We deserve it. Wojciech has done a fantastic job since he came into the Arsenal team. He has to put this behind him because he is an amazing prospect."

Birmingham took the lead in the 28th minute with a header from 6ft 7in striker Nikola Zigic, but Arsenal equalised 11 minutes later with a volley from Robin van Persie. The Dutch striker, however, injured his knee in scoring and is now a doubt for Arsenal's Champions League knockout stage second leg with Barcelona in the Nou Camp.

Birmingham, whose owner Carson Yeung celebrated his 51st birthday yesterday, were then under siege for much of the second half until Martins' late winner, and at the final whistle the players celebrated in front of their raucous supporters.

Birmingham captain Stephen Carr said: "We knew if we got right in their faces that we could get the result. There's a lot of belief in that dressing room. You could say there's more quality in their dressing room but there's not more heart. It's amazing, such a long time that the fans have been waiting for. This will make their year, maybe their lives."

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger admitted that Koscielny and Szczesny were "destroyed" by their errors and had apologised to their team-mates in the dressing room afterwards.

Wenger said: "I am bitterly disappointed, like the whole team. The goal was a lack of communication and determination to clear the ball. When the ball is in no-man's land someone has to take responsibility. Both of them are destroyed. We have to lift them and help them. That's what a team is about. We had enough opportunities to kill the game off before that."

Wenger backed his team to put this devastating blow behind them. "I'm confident we are strong enough mentally to come back from this and win things this season," he said. "We don't deny it's a massive disappointment. But we have massive challenges in front of us. We can be proud of our attitude. We will face questions now about out attitude but this is an opportunity to show we have the mental strength. I am confident we will do it."



Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn