In February 2001, Liverpool reached the League Cup final. For Jamie Carragher, it was an opportunity to win the first trophy of his Reds career.
The opponents were Birmingham City and the game, at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, represented a chance for the club to secure their first piece of silverware since 1995.
Carragher had burst onto the scene in the FA Youth Cup final of 1996, when he and Michael Owen had been amongst a team that won the cup.
He would break into the first team soon after, but the Reds would struggle under Roy Evans and eventually Gerard Houllier would take charge of the team in 1998.
Thanks to the Frenchman, Carragher, who had not seen a winner’s medal in five years, would bag three in 2001. The first came in the League Cup final and Jamie would play a key part in the team’s success.
Over 73,000 people were in Cardiff to see the game, most of them were there to support Liverpool.
Houllier’s rebuilding job was well underway. In goal was Sander Westerveld and in front of him was Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz, while Carragher was right-back.
Didi Hamann had joined Steven Gerrard in the heart of midfield and Emile Heskey would be club captain Robbie Fowler’s strike partner.
The pair would combine brilliantly on the half-hour mark to create the Reds’ opener. Westerveld cleared downfield and Heskey flicked the ball on to Fowler, who cracked a brilliant shot from fully 25 yards.
The game was far from a walkover for Liverpool, though, with Birmingham going toe-to-toe with the Reds throughout. Still, it looked like Houllier’s men would hold on for that all-important first trophy, when in the 92nd minute disaster struck.
Henchoz brought down Martin O’Connor in the penalty area. The referee immediately pointed to the spot. It was a crushing blow for Reds supporters, who were getting ready to party.
To add to their agony the spot-kick was delayed as the player received treatment for an injury. He was eventually stretchered off.
Up stepped 24-year-old Darren Purse to take the penalty, who showed no signs of nerves and beat Westerveld easily. The final would go into extra-time and it would prove a real test of the nerves.
Both sides had chances. For Liverpool, Fowler went close and Hamman hit the woodwork. Birmingham probably should have had another penalty.
However, the deadlock could not be broken and, as is so often the case with Liverpool, the final went to penalties.
After five spot-kicks each, the shoot out was tied at 4-4. Hamann had missed for the Reds, as did Martin Granger for Birmingham.
It was now sudden death and walking from the halfway line was the last player Liverpool supporters wanted to see: Jamie Carragher.
There was no doubting his versatility, or his grit and determination, but Carragher was not a goalscorer and certainly not someone you wanted taking a crucial penalty.
TV cameras panning the crowd revealed images of supporters chewing what was left of their fingernails, as the player shaped up to take the kick.
His run-up looked huge. Surely he’d given the ‘keeper ample opportunity to guess which way he was going to shoot.
Didn’t it also mean there would be time for Carragher himself to second-guess himself and change his mind as he approached the ball?
We needn’t have worried though, because the lad from Bootle had nerves of steel. Here’s how Carragher recalled it:
“People remind me about my run-up for the penalty I took in the shootout and how it must go down as the longest in history. It was sudden death but I didn’t have any nerves. I knew where I wanted to put it and thankfully it went in.
“It was my first trophy with the senior Liverpool team and it was the catalyst for us to go on and win the cup treble.”
The goal put Liverpool in the driving seat and a miss by Andy Johnson, who would later go on to play for Everton, handed the cup to the Reds.
Liverpool fans were jubilant, but on the pitch, Birmingham manager Trevor Francis was disconsolate. Cameras caught him crying as he attempted to console his players.
Houllier would urge his team to use the feeling of victory to drive them to ever greater glory. They did and it would prove to be a case of one down, two to go in what would turn out to be a historic and memorable season.