The final of the Worthington Cup – as it was then known – at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Sunday February 25, 2001 laid key foundations for Gérard Houllier’s Reds.
It was the first major silverware won at the club by the French manager and numerous players – including Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypiä – while it also preceded two more trophies that season and four more that calendar year.
In some ways, the immense value of this particular victory is best reflected in how it almost feels a little overshadowed by what followed it. A 63-game season would conclude with the FA Cup, UEFA Cup and a third-place finish also secured.
In isolation, though, this particular triumph was a notable monkey off the back and a source of valuable confidence. Because it was the first silverware for Houllier and co – and because it was the club’s first major honour since they’d won the same competition in April 1995.
It wasn’t the easiest to achieve, either. After overcoming Chelsea, Stoke City, Fulham and Crystal Palace to reach the first major football final played at the Welsh venue, Trevor Francis’ Blues pushed the Merseysiders all the way.
For a long time, it looked like a single moment of immense quality from Robbie Fowler was going to be enough to edge them out. The captain gave Liverpool the lead in the 30th minute when Emile Heskey flicked Sander Westerveld’s ball forward into his path and, from 25 yards, he looped a stunning first-time left-footed volley over goalkeeper Ian Bennett and in.Embed from Getty Images
Birmingham – who would finish the season fifth in the Championship – kept the deficit to one and were rewarded for one of their late pushes. In the third minute of stoppage time at the end of the 90, Martin O’Connor was scythed down in the box by Stéphane Henchoz and referee David Elleray was left with little option but to point to the spot.
It wasn’t until the sixth additional minute that Darren Purse was able to take the penalty – courtesy of O’Connor receiving lengthy treatment – but he coolly found the bottom-right corner, much to the delight of the Brum fans at that end.
Extra time it was and despite chances for both sides 1-1 it stayed – which meant penalties. Here too, there wasn’t much to split the sides, but Liverpool would eventually edge it at the death.
The scene; after five penalties each, it was 4-4. Darren Purse, Marcelo, Stan Lazaridis and Michael Hughes scored for Francis’ side, while Martin Grainger was denied by Westerveld. Gary McAllister, Nick Barmby, Christian Ziege and Fowler found the net for Houllier’s team, while Bennett kept out Dietmar Hamann.
Up stepped Jamie Carragher, who rammed his spot-kick into the top-right corner to make it 5-4, which left 20-year-old Andy Johnson – who’d later play for Everton, amongst others – having to score to keep the contest going. He didn’t.Embed from Getty Images
Westerveld was the hero as he dived to his left to palm Johnson’s effort away, which sparked wild celebrations amongst the hordes of reds fans behind the goal. Liverpool – Worthington Cup Winners 2001.
It was admittedly cruel on Birmingham – who would be promoted to the top division via the playoffs at the end of the following season – but they’d more than contributed to the enthralling contest.
Unfortunately for them on this day, that much-craved silverware was returning to Anfield. The delight – the relief, perhaps – was evident as the trophy was passed from player to player and coach to coach. Here, finally, was a tangible, shining marker of progress, of success. Here was evidence that those in this trophy’s reflection could be winners – and could be winners again. They made sure of that.
On May 12, Liverpool were back at the Millennium to collect another piece of silverware. After a game spent largely on the back-foot, Michael Owen’s late double secured a 2-1 win over Arsenal and the club’s sixth FA Cup. Four days later, a golden goal sealed a 5-4 win over Alaves and the UEFA Cup.
The Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup followed in August and there was further silverware in 2003, 2005 and 2006 that was won by many of the same players. Plenty of those successes may have seen Liverpool FC hit higher heights and produce more memorable moments than on February 25, 2001.
February 25, 2001, though, could justifiably take a share of credit in every one of them. This was a silver-tinted foundation that was very well built on.
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