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Two giants of the English game - one current; one historical - clash in Sunday's concluding fixture of the League Cup, but how did they get there?

The Football League Cup has often been cited as one of the lesser competitions, and one that stadium tour-guides would perhaps conveniently gloss over while walking past the trophy cabinets on their way to the more glamorous trophies.

Within English society it has historically been regarded as a "Mickey Mouse cup." It is a term often spat with disdain or mock-praise by snobbish supporters of the top four elite, as lifting a three-handled trophy in order to gain a route to the UEFA Cup is hardly a priority when the club in question is chasing a Hollywood, and lucrative, Champions League spot.

Rival fans will always find a way of belittling their neighbours' achievements. Should Tottenham Hotspur win the cup for the second year running - in a year when Arsenal may have to wait another season in order to fill their new home with silverware - then Gooners will no doubt be swift to ridicule when Spurs release their celebratory end-of-season DVD.

But this is no new phenomenon. The term: "Mickey Mouse" was first coined in the late '70s when Liverpool fans needed to find a way of emasculating Everton's failed attempt to capture the League Cup in a year that saw the Reds pocket their first of five European Cups.

Make no bones about it though, this year it will be different as both sides stride out onto the Wembley turf with the full intent of winning a much-needed, and much-wanted, trophy - but for altogether contrasting reasons.

For Manchester United, the chance of an unprecedented clean domestic sweep is a reality, as the League Cup could be the first of three - even four - honours as the hunt for the FA Cup, Premier League, and Champions League resumes post-Sunday.

Tottenham Hotspur on the other hand fielded a makeshift and very reserve-looking Spurs side on Thursday in the UEFA Cup in order for their first team to stay fresh for this domestic cup final. The irony of course being that the hard work put in last season to secure European football has been sacrificed in order to qualify again next season.

Each team has played five times to get this far with the Hotspurs equalling Manchester United's record of four wins out of five, with one of the semi-final legs producing a nervy, shock defeat.

Standing United

United - in keeping with their traditional policy of blooding their youngsters - have, for the most part, combined a mixture of youth with fringe players and experience; the likes of Jonny Evans (who has proved a key player when called upon in domestic and continental competition this season) have been selected along with Darron Gibson, Rafael da Silva, John O'Shea, Nani, and Carlos Tevez.

Their first appearance in the competition arrived in the third round, and was more noteworthy for the horrific injury to Rodrigo Possebon, in a tackle by Emmanuel Pogotetz, that prompted Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate to issue a public apology. United though emerged triumphant with a 3-1 scoreline, and the full match report can be found here.

Next up were mega-rich Championship club Queen's Park Rangers, who could only be brushed aside due to a late second-half Carlos Tevez penalty conversion. Arguably the game of the competition arrived in the fifth round when an eight goal thriller was contested between Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers, Argentine international Tevez almost single-handedly disposing of the Blue and White halved Lancashire side by finding the net no fewer than four times.

The semi-final pitted Manchester United against Derby County, where a promising young English manager - Nigel Clough - had only recently been installed. Clough watched on in the stands as his Rams provided a shock at Pride Park in the first leg, County marching to a 1-0 victory through Kris Commons' effort. Clough was then present on the touchline for the trip to Old Trafford, but could not prevent a devilishly rampant Red Devils side from booking their place at Wembley with a 4-2 scoreline. Match reports for both legs can be found here, and here.

Hotspur's Hotshots

Tottenham Hotspur also entered the competition in the third round, and brushed aside a troubled Tyneside outfit in Newcastle United with goals from Russian striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and midfielder Jamie O'Hara. High-flying Liverpool then stood in the way of progression to the fifth round, but an unforgiving Hotspur side slayed the Merseysiders with a 4-2 victory.

Hertfordshire-based club Watford awaited Tottenham in the fifth-round, but super-sub Darren Bent sealed a winner after an early Tomas Priskin effort for the Hornets. Full match report is here.

A two-legged January affair with Burnley (who had already inflicted capital punishment by knocking out Arsenal, Chelsea and Fulham) awaited Tottenham, and even though they had a three goal cushion from the first leg - a 4-1 win at White Hart Lane - they found Burnley battling back with great spirit at Turf Moor. The Clarets went three goals up to force extra-time, but two late goals from Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe spared Spurs' blushes and broke Burnley supporters' hearts. The first leg report is here, while the second is here.

3rd Round
Man Utd
3-1
'Boro
N'Castle
1-2
Spurs
4th
Man Utd
1-0
QPR
Spurs
4-2
L'Pool
5th
Man Utd
5-3
Rovers
Watford
1-2
Spurs
SF 1st leg
Derby
1-0
Man Utd
Spurs
4-1
Burnley
SF 2nd leg
Man Utd
4-2
Derby
Burney
3-2
Spurs


Alan Dawson, Goal.com

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