GIVEN Middlesbrough’s recent footballing travails, the Boro nation can be forgiven for indulging in a spot of nostalgia over the past week.
While the Teessiders are currently struggling to buy a goal, let alone a win, in another insipid season at the Riverside – with their lamentable goal drought now not far shy of 12 playing hours – a far more pleasurable milestone was passed a decade ago on February 29, 2004.
That day Boro won their first and still only piece of major silverware with Carling Cup victory over Bolton Wanderers at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Goals in the first seven minutes from Joseph Desire-Job and Bolo Zenden, who netted with the scruffiest of penalties, helped Steve McClaren’s Boro end 128 years of waiting for one of the game’s main prizes as they saw off Sam Allardyce’s Trotters 2-1.
For too long, Boro had been the bridesmaids on the trophy front, with their failure to lift a major trophy repeatedly used by north-east rivals Newcastle United and Sunderland as a stick to beat them with over the years.
Boro certainly had previous in missing out. Defeats to Chelsea and Leicester City in the finals of the FA Cup and League Cup in their relegation season of 1996-97 were followed by a loss to the west London club in the League Cup showpiece at Wembley the following campaign.
There were also cruel FA Cup quarter-final replay defeats to Orient (1977-78) and Wolves (1980-81) when Teessiders were scenting trips to Wembley.
The phrase ‘The Boro will always let you down’ has been uttered by many a hardened Teesside football fan over the years, but that day a decade ago in the principality ended all that.
Stoical Boro fans who regularly sang ‘We shall overcome some day’ – most emotionally during their League Cup final loss to Leicester at Hillsborough in the Spring of 1997 – finally had their moment with the sight of Gareth Southgate lifting the trophy aloft one that all supporters of the club will take to their graves.
Boro’s path to glory could hardly have started more inauspiciously, with McClaren’s side requiring extra-time to beat Brighton 1-0 in a second-round Riverside clash, substitute Malcolm Christie netting a 94th-minute winner.
Gaizka Mendieta’s first goal for the club proved the highlight in the 2-1 success at Wigan in round three, with Massimo Maccarone also netting, and a penalty success over visiting Everton followed in the fourth round.
The tie ended goalless, with Mendieta hitting the decisive penalty after Mark Schwarzer had saved Leon Osman’s spot-kick. The penalty route also saw them through at Spurs in the quarter-finals after a 1-1 draw, with Michael Ricketts firing an 86th-minute leveller for Boro ahead of a sudden-death penalty conversion from cult hero Franck Queudrue which saw the visitors home 5-4 on spot-kicks.
After eliminating Spurs, their north London rivals Arsenal were downed 3-1 on aggregate, with Boro winning both legs of their semi-finals, Juninho hitting the only goal in the first instalment at Highbury.
A late own goal by £17m striker Jose-Antonio Reyes on his first start for Arsenal helped rubber-stamp a Wembley place in the second leg as Boro won 2-1 on the night to help avenge an unfortunate FA Cup semi-final loss to the Gunners at Old Trafford two seasons earlier.
Then came the coup de grace against Bolton and, despite Sheffield-born Kevin Davies pulling one back for the Trotters 21 minutes in courtesy of a horror moment for Schwarzer, it was Boro’s day.
The party began in earnest, with the trophy memorably residing that night in the boot of chief executive Keith Lamb’s car overnight outside the Cross Keys in Yarm.
Reflecting on the epic day, Boro chairman Steve Gibson said: “When we got the two early goals, Keith said to me: ‘Bloody hell, it’s too early’.
“I replied, ‘Don’t be so bloody stupid, we’ll take two goals that quick any day of the week.
“It was just another sign of our nerves. We already had one hand on the cup and didn’t want to lose it.”