Life as a Nottingham Forest fan is never easy, it seems, and the start of 2018/19 marked the twentieth season of exile from the top flight for the two time European champions.
With the team winning just one of its first five games, Forest were deemed more likely to drop than to go up, and there was a very familiar sense of misery around the City Ground.
That was the case, at least, until the evening of 29 August 2018, when a determined red tide swept away two-time Premier League runners-up Newcastle United in a commanding 3-1 EFL Cup win.
Though the effects of that morale-boosting win may be short-lived, it was a welcome break for all concerned with a so-called ‘sleeping giant’, reminding us all that the romance of domestic cup football is never dead.
Indeed the ‘romance’ was very much alive in these standout examples of EFL Cup shocks, the memories of which were provoked afresh after the big upset of the second round in 2018.
QPR Make History
Queens Park Rangers 3-2 West Bromwich Albion
Also eventual winners of that season’s Third Division trophy, QPR enjoyed a relatively straightforward run to the final.
Only one of QPR’s ties had to go to a replay, when Aldershot came tantalisingly close to scoring an upset of their own against the R’s, holding the Londoners to a 1-1 draw in the second round.
QPR won the replay 2-0, and proceeded to dispatch Swansea, Leicester City, Carlisle United and Birmingham City to set up a dream final against one of the most combative teams in the land.
In front of a packed Wembley, First Division West Bromwich threatened to produce the rugby score expected of them, with two goals from Clive Clark putting the Baggies 2-0 up.
One can only imagine what Alec Stock said to his battered Rangers during the break, but with nothing to lose, they came out a different side.
Roger Morgan got the recovery underway with a goal on 63 minutes, with Rodney Marsh equalising just twelve minutes later. Nine minutes from time, the aptly-named Mark Lazarus dealt the killer blow with a tap-in from a defensive error by Albion.
1967 - The Aftermath
West Brom would go on to defeat Everton in the 1968 FA Cup final through a solitary Jeff Astle goal – and slay a few inner demons in the process. Due to their third-tier status, QPR did not receive nomination for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup the following season.
That was but a minor disappointment, however, as the Rangers went up yet again, and embarked on the club’s maiden voyage into the English top flight.
Two years later, Swindon Town repeated QPR’s heroics, dispatching an Arsenal team in the First Division. The Robins are still the last English team to win a domestic cup final against an opponent two leagues above.
Woe For United In 1991
Manchester United 0-1 Sheffield Wednesday
In 1991, animosities between Manchester United and two of the biggest clubs from the rival county of Yorkshire – namely, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United – were re-stoked after years of dormancy.
Against the latter, United would battle to a losing end in their quest for the 1991/92 First Division title. Yet, in February 1991, a shock unfolded at the old Wembley Stadium, when Ron Atkinson’s Second Division Sheffield Wednesday team beat Cup Winners’ Cup winners-to-be Manchester United 1-0.
Perhaps distracted by their own Cup Winners Cup campaign on top of domestic duties, it was a strangely below-par performance from a United team which contained players with talismanic abilities, such as Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes.
Having already beaten First Division Chelsea 5-1 on aggregate in the semi-final, there was plenty of precedent for the Owls to do what they did.
As expected, United were dominant for the most part, but lacked real cutting edge in their attacks. Much of Sheffield Wednesday’s ease in soaking up attacks was mostly down to the immense performance of Wednesday captain Nigel Pearson at centre-back.
As vocal and uncompromising then as he is now, it was arguably his finest performance in the Owls’ blue and white. A goal from John Sheridan on 37 minutes was all that was needed to secure the club’s first silverware for five decades.
1991 - The Aftermath
Over the next four years, both clubs would enjoy good fortune.
United famously scooped their first two Premier League titles, while Sheffield Wednesday thrived immediately after going up in 1991, finishing third in the final season of the old First Division, and embarking on a European adventure.
Barnes Burns The Devils
Manchester United 0-3 York City
In 1995, United, fourth-favourites to lift the Premier League title before the September international break, was a club in a transitional period, with the Red Devils’ failure to win a trophy that year heralding a change in personnel.
Out went the old guard, making way for younger talents like Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, but it initially looked like a poor call. United lost their first game of 1995/96, 3-1 at Aston Villa, provoking the infamous, defining comment of Alan Hansen’s career in punditry.
Worse was yet to come, however, with Manchester United losing 3-0 at home to York City in the second round of the 1995/96 League Cup. While key players had been rested, there was still no doubting United’s status as odds-on favourites.
The Red Devils were swept apart and thoroughly outplayed, with the goalscoring opened by Paul Barnes after an excellent delivery by Graeme Murty.
In the second half, Barnes won a penalty and converted it to make it 2-0. York took advantage of a shell-shocked United side to add a third through Tony Barras, who headed home a free kick.
1991 - The Aftermath
The second leg, with a full-strength United team, yielded an inconsequential 3-1 defeat for York. The Minstermen immediately went out to QPR in the next round, but they were far from done.
A year later, York knocked out Premier League side Everton 4-3 on aggregate, beating the Toffees 3-2 at Bootham Crescent.
For United, the rest is history. Fergie’s fledgelings grew from their chastening night of shame, going on to overturn a twelve-point deficit in just two months, to lift the Premier League title – and win the FA Cup for good measure.
Within just four years of that humiliation, they became the first English club to win the post-1992 format Champions League.
Reds Fail On The Spot
Liverpool 2-2 Northampton Town (Northampton win on penalties)
It is easy to forget that with the exception of 2013/14, the days between the departure of Rafael Benitez in 2010, and the arrival of Jurgen Klopp in 2015, Liverpool FC was one of the most underachieving clubs in Europe.
Today, they are always frontrunners in the EFL Cup odds market. In the autumn of 2010, the financial situation at Anfield became critical before a bailout, and the effect of troubles upstairs reflected in Liverpool’s results of early 2010/11.
Possibly the most humiliating of these was a draw, and a penalty shootout defeat, to a Northampton Town side three divisions below the Reds.
As expected, it was a much weakened Liverpool side that entertained the Cobblers on the evening of 22 September 2010, but all fears initially appeared moot, with Milan Jovanovic scoring on nine minutes to put Liverpool 1-0 up.
The longer the Reds went without a ‘killer’ second, the more tensed up the Anfield faithful became. Those nerves resulted in poor defending on 56 minutes, with Billy McKay firing home to level the scores.
There was a late rally by Liverpool, but to no avail, and so began half an hour of gruelling extra time.
As the more match-ready and experienced team, Northampton continued to defend stoutly and create chances. A young Michael Jacobs put Northampton 2-1 up on 98 minutes, but David N’Gog equalised just four minutes before the end to set up a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.
Liverpool infamously failed to repeat against Northampton in front of 22,000 what they did five years previously against AC Milan in front of millions.
Northampton went through on penalties, and Liverpool were deservedly booed off the pitch.
2010 - The Aftermath
Northampton would proceed no further in the competition, going out after a 3-1 defeat at Portman Road in the next round.
The Cobblers would endure another six years in the bottom tier of the Football League, before gaining promotion to League One in 2016/17 and holding their own.
Actual liquidation excepted, the situation had to go as bad as it could for Liverpool to ring the changes. The Reds looked in danger of relegation for a while, but ultimately finished a respectable sixth – but the good times were not far off returning.