City Flashback - 2011 | Bluebirds beat Blackburn on the way to Wembley
As we welcome Blackburn Rovers to Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday, we take a look back at a memorable clash in the 2011/12 League Cup campaign with City legend Kevin McNaughton.
Having progressed in the competition with wins over Oxford United, Huddersfield Town, Leicester City and Burnley, Premier League Blackburn were our Quarter-Final opponents.
In front of 19,436 fans at CCS, Scottish striker Kenny Miller put City in front after just 19 minutes, before Anthony Gerrard’s goal early in the second period put the result beyond doubt.
Securing a place in the Semi-Finals, fans’ favourite McNaughton recalled the memorable performance against the top-flight side.
“They were struggling in the league, so I think we smelled blood. We got at them early on, dominated for large parts of the game went on to win the game.
“Luckily for myself, I had been on the FA Cup run, so I knew what a good Cup run felt like. It was one of those games where there was no pressure on us, you just go out and enjoy yourself. That’s when you play your best football, when you’re under those conditions.”
With victory over Blackburn, the Bluebirds earned a Semi-Final clash with Crystal Palace, during a difficult season for the Eagles in the Championship.
Despite a narrow 1-0 defeat at Selhurst Park in the first-leg thanks to Anthony Gardner’s goal, the Palace defender put the ball into his own net at CCS to level the tie.
With the contest going to a penalty shootout, Craig Conway, Rudy Gestede and Peter Whittingham all netted to send the Bluebirds to Wembley, with goalkeeper Tom Heaton saving two penalties in the shootout.
McNaughton expressed that the Palace clash was another key part in a memorable campaign.
“I had experienced the feeling from the FA Cup run, but it was just as special because it was a different squad all together.
“There were a couple of boys still there, but there were a lot of new faces, so it was special for everyone. It was a nice experience knowing that we would face a team like Liverpool in the Final.
“Those are the games that you miss when you retire. It’s those times that you cherish.”
Just as Steve Morison’s side are set to face Liverpool in the Emirates FA Cup, it was the Merseyside club that City locked horns with in the League Cup Final.
Facing Kenny Dalglish’s side, which boasted the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suárez, was a prospect that McNaughton relished.
“It was incredible looking at their squad, the talent they had in their team. For me, to be able to play against a top team in a Final at Wembley, it’s something you dream about as a kid, I’ve done that twice with Cardiff. It was pretty special for me.”
The final at Wembley was played in front of a remarkable 89,044 fans, with a very strong following from the City faithful.
McNaughton expressed that the Bluebirds’ fans played their part when competing with the Premier League side.
“The support was amazing. It was just a shame that we fell short in the end. It was just the luck of a penalty shootout, I don’t think the boys could have given any more and the fans could see that.
“It was a bit of a sickener at the end, but throughout the game, we did as well as we could have. Penalties are always a lottery, but the fans were unbelievable that day. They kept us going all the way to the final whistle.”
After striker Joe Mason memorably put the Bluebirds ahead, Martin Škrtel levelled for Liverpool on the hour mark, with Dirk Kuyt netting in extra-time.
With just two minutes left, Ben Turner found a dramatic equaliser for City, taking the game to a penalty shootout.
“That moment was special,” McNaughton conveyed. “It felt like we were in it for most of the game. We just seemed to run out of steam, but then found something else at the end of the game, found an extra bit more.
“We managed to get the goal from Ben and I think Kenny (Miller) had a chance to win it late on, but it wasn’t quite our day.”
Despite City narrowly missing out in the shootout, the Bluebirds’ performance at Wembley was one to be extremely proud of. McNaughton expressed that the character shown in the final was testament to the squad’s attitude.
“The work ethic was one of the most impressive things about that squad, just in terms of fitness levels and application. The professionalism was as good as I saw during my time at the club.
“Throughout that squad, it was full of grafters. We had a few with special individual talent, but that campaign summed our squad up.
“Whenever we played anybody, even if they were more talented than us, they knew they had a tough game. The character and fighting spirit in the camp at that time played a part in that Final.”
A Championship title winner in 2012/13, the right-back spent nine years as a Bluebird, accumulating over 250 league appearances during his time in the Welsh capital.
Widely regarded by the City supporters as a fans’ favourite, the former Scotland international looks back on his relationship with the Bluebirds faithful very fondly.
“It was brilliant from day one. I maybe wasn’t the most talented footballer on the pitch, but I always gave everything, which is why the fans took to me.
“There were probably more talented players around me, but I think the fans could see that I gave 100%. That’s what the Cardiff fans expect from the players, whether the quality is there or not, they want you to give it all you’ve got. Hopefully, I showed that I did that over the years.
“I always love going back to Cardiff. It’s always like I’ve never been away with the fans, bumping into old faces.
There’s still a few faces there in the backroom staff, so it’s always good to see them. I try and get down to see a few games, and it’s always a pleasure.”