10 League Cup Cult Heroes

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor ISeptember 22, 2014

10 League Cup Cult Heroes

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    The Football League Cup returns this week in its latest guise, the Capital One Cup, with 32 sides still competing to claim the 2014-15 crown.

    It is a tournament that has very much played understudy to the more prestigious FA Cup over the years and been treated with disdain by supporters and clubs alike at various points in its history.

    However, for all that, it remains a trophy valued by those who achieve success and is often a route for smaller sides to achieve success that may normally be unobtainable.

    For that reason, it is a competition that spawns heroes whose exploits will live long in the memory. Who, then, are some of the League Cup's most recognisable faces?

Rodney Marsh

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    Queens Park Rangers have won one major trophy in their history—the 1967 League Cup. Predictably for Rangers, they did it the hard way and came back from a 2-0 first-half deficit to West Bromwich Albion.

    Inspired by Rodney Marsh, who scored an incredible 44 goals that season, the west London side were not content to sit back and accept their fate.

    In his Mavericks column on ESPN FC, Robin Hackett describes Marsh's equaliser thus:

    Marsh's equaliser went down in legend: he collected the ball and gracefully danced past a sea of defenders before unleashing a controlled shot into the net via the post.

    Rangers had their trophy, remembered fondly among the club's older supporters to this day, and Marsh's hero status at Loftus Road was cemented indefinitely.

Clive Allen

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    Another star of League Cups past with QPR connections is striker Clive Allen, whose 12 goals for Tottenham Hotspur in the 1986-87 edition of the tournament remains a historical best.

    David Pleat's side played a 4-5-1 system to get the best out of their lone striker and came close to striking gold in three separate competitions. Their League Cup campaign, though, would end in defeat to north London rivals Arsenal at the semi-final stage.

    Allen's achievements went down in League Cup folklore, even though Spurs never claimed the success the striking star's performances deserved.

    To this day, his goalscoring record is regularly brought up by commentators discussing Spurs' striking options.

Ian Rush

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    The only five-time winner of the League Cup and Liverpool's all-time top goalscorer, Ian Rush is unquestionably one of the competition's greatest players.

    Rush scored a remarkable 48 goals in 78 competition appearances for Liverpool, it is fair to say that the Welsh striker produced some of his best form in cup action. Indeed, his eight goals in the 1983-84 season were crucial to Liverpool's success.

    Even in the autumn of his career, Rush still managed to turn back the clock in League Cup action. More than a decade on, in 1994-95, the striker managed six goals in seven appearances en route to the last of his triumphs in the competition.

    In terms of League Cup heroes, few can come close to the longevity or consistency of Rush.

Dean Saunders

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    Aston Villa ended a run of 12 years without a trophy by winning the 1993-94 League Cup, and it was Welsh striker Dean Saunders who was the hero on the day, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Wembley.

    It was a difficult season for the striker in comparison to his success the year before. However, his four goals in League Cup action mean that it is a year that stands out in both his career and the history of Aston Villa football club.

    The League Cup has always given such clubs a shot at silverware, and thanks to Saunders, it was Villa's turn in 1994. As a result, he is undoubtedly one of the competition's standout names.

Paul Barnes

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    It is fair to say that Paul Barnes' football career is not remembered by most observers for much more than one match in particular, a 3-0 victory for York City over Manchester United in the 1995/96 League Cup second round.

    Barnes, a one-in-two striker at York City, scored twice on the night and could easily have had a hat-trick had it not been for a further effort being disallowed for offside.

    The striker's success at York would take him to Birmingham and Burnley in subsequent years, but it is for one night at Old Trafford that his name will live long in football circles.

Frankie Bunn

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    Six goals in a game is no mean feat, but that is exactly what Oldham striker Frankie Bunn accomplished in the third round of the 1989-90 tournament during a 7-0 success over Scarborough.

    The haul, which ranks as the best single-match goal tally in the tournament's history, ensures Bunn's name is remembered by commentators to this day.

    Despite an otherwise unremarkable footballing career, Bunn ranks as one of the League Cup's standout individuals.

Roberto Di Matteo

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    Pictured with the FA Cup he helped Chelsea win a year previous, Italian midfielder Roberto Di Matteo continued to be a thorn in Middlesborough's side with an extra-time goal in a 2-0 win over the same opponent in the 1998 League Cup final.

    Di Matteo may be more associated with the other major cup competition, which he won twice, but he epitomised the Chelsea side that proved so successful in cup competitions in the late 1990s.

    A classy midfielder who sadly suffered greatly with injury later in his career, Di Matteo would return to the Blues as manager in 2012 and guide the club to a long-awaited Champions League trophy as part of a cup double.

    As both a player and manager, he is the definition of a cup specialist.

Matt Elliott

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    Leicester City reached three League Cup finals in the space of four seasons around the turn of the century, winning two under the management of Martin O'Neill.

    It was the second of their triumphs in 1999-2000 that was dominated by captain Matt Elliott, with the defender scoring twice in final success over Tranmere Rovers.

    A previously unspectacular career with the likes of Oxford United and Torquay was elevated to new levels with Leicester City heading into the UEFA Cup the following year.

    Elliott may never have been the stereotypical star, but he had his day in the limelight at Wembley Stadium in the Worthington Cup.

Obafemi Martins

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    Birmingham City are a club not accustomed to winning major silverware, yet they secured League Cup success in 2011 thanks to victory over Arsenal in the final.

    It was no ordinary victory, either, with the winning goal coming in dramatic style in the closing minutes of the game as a terrible mix-up in the Gunners' defence left Obafemi Martins with the simplest of tasks to finish.

    Martins' Birmingham career may have been otherwise completely unexceptional, but he won the club their first national-level title since 1963.

    For that reason alone, the current Seattle Sounders striker will forever live in Birmingham City and League Cup folklore.

Nathan Dyer

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    Nathan Dyer was the man of the hour for Swansea City in 2013 when his brace helped the Welsh club to victory over Bradford City at Wembley to claim a first major honour in the club's history.

    Dyer has perhaps not seen his achievements of the past few years gain the credit they deserve in the media or with the England national team, but he has written his name large in the history of his club and the League Cup.

    Right now, it may be a step too far to describe his achievements as reaching League Cup hero status. However, in time, that is exactly how he will be regarded unless Swansea are to become regular trophy winners in the years ahead.

    An excellent servant to the club, his performance that Sunday afternoon in London will not soon be forgotten by the Swans faithful.