Carlisle United 0
(after sudden-death extra time)
It was a longer road than they wanted and a more hazardous journey than they had anticipated, but in the end Birmingham City were true to their battle anthem yesterday and lasted the course better than Carlisle as the Auto Windcreens Shield became the first at Wembley to be decided by a sudden-death goal in extra time.
The Football League call their experiment the "golden goal" formula, and for 49,000 ecstatic Birmingham fans there was no other way to describe Paul Tait's glancing header. With no chance for a gallant Carlisle to respond, it made Barry Fry's team the first to win this competition twice.
When Tait - a second-half substitute who was highlighted in the programme for his "daring forward runs" - did just that 13 minutes into extra time to pop up in the penalty area, Fry set off on a jubilant jig of delight that did not finish until he had reached the centre circle.
After catching his breath the ebullient City manager said that as his side had not "graced the place" he would like them to return and give a better show though not, he hastened to add, in the play-offs. On Wednesday Birmingham take on Brentford in a tussle which will almost certainly decide who takes the automatic promotion place from the Second Division.
That remains their priority and, Fry insists, the key to his staying on in the job next season. He might not need to be so pessimistic. David Sullivan, Birmingham's colourful owner, clearly enjoyed his first taste of success, donning blue ear-muffs to go with his all blue suit as he congratulated his winning team.
Sullivan, a newspaper publisher who has built a personal fortune out of the sex industry, would not include this among his racier productions. After a brisk opening with both sides squandering chances, the game became subdued and the fans, all 76,663 of them, which was a bigger audience than for last month's Coca-Cola Cup final, became subdued with it.
Then, in extra time as both parties embraced the do-or-die philosophy, the supporters joined in to set up an exciting finale. Their familiar "Keep right on to the end of the road" refrain was aimed at raising Birmingham's tired limbs but it was Carlisle whose prayers looked to be answered when Paul Conway fired narrowly past the upright.
When Steve Claridge was brought down by Dean Walling with no penalty awarded and the same striker soon after hooked the ball against the woodwork, Fry must have believed victory was not to be his. In the event he had only to wait another minute before Ricky Otto took possession and picked out the advancing Tait, who had been doubtful with a virus complaint but who makes a habit of scoring vital goals, including a similar sudden-death effort against Swansea in the quarter-final.
Carlisle, who are even closer to the Third Division championship crown, were a credit to the coaching of Mick Wadsworth and the sensible, if eccentric, chairmanship of Michael Knighton, the one-time Manchester United suitor.
The club from border country enjoyed their first visit to the twin towers, but doubtless would have enjoyed it more had Rod Thomas, the former "wonder kid" whose career has been largely disappointing, not completely missed his kick when staring at a fifth-minute open goal. Walling, their impressive centre-back, also missed with a heading opportunity and after that the underdogs were reliant on the excellence of their goalkeeper, Tony Caig, to take them to extra time.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Poole, Barnett, Daish, Cooper; Hunt, Ward, Shearer (Tait 63), Otto; Claridge, Francis (Donowa, 77). Substitute not used: Price (gk).
Carlisle United (4-4-2): Caig; Edmondson, Walling, Mountfield (Robinson, 100), Gallimore; Thomas, Conway, Haywood, Prokas (Thorpe, 91); Currie, Reeves. Substitute not used: Elliot (gk).
Referee: P Foakes (Clacton).