'We felt we weren't going to lose' – 20 years on from Boro's cup win

Middlesbrough players hold the League Cup aloft at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium after victory over Bolton
Middlesbrough’s 2004 League Cup triumph remains their only major trophy in nearly 150 years

On 29 February, 2004, a group of men immortalised themselves in Middlesbrough’s rich footballing history when they became the first team to bring major silverware back to Teesside.

Steve McClaren’s Boro beat fellow Premier League side Bolton in Cardiff thanks to goals from Joseph-Desire Job and Boudewijn Zenden to secure the EFL Cup.

Captain Gareth Southgate hoisted the trophy aloft to delight the fans who had followed them on the journey.

20 years later, it remains the club’s only trophy in their 148-year history.

BBC Radio Tees Sport has taken a look back at the cup run with the characters who helped Boro achieve glory, round by round, in a new audio series – Boro’s League Cup Heroes: 20 Years On.

Round two: Joy and Pain

Middlesbrough’s road to the final began on a late September night on Teesside, when third-tier side Brighton & Hove Albion arrived at the Riverside.

In front of a sparse crowd, Boro found Seagulls goalkeeper Michel Kuipers in inspired form with a string of saves, forcing the game to extra time.

Malcolm Christie skips a tackle in Boro's game against Tottenham
Malcolm Christie’s time at Middlesbrough was punctuated by injuries

It was then that Boro found their hero, with Malcolm Christie stepping off the bench to nudge home a left-wing cross and settle the tie.

“It’s a goal that I’m immensely proud of,” Christie said in episode one.

While Christie’s part in the road to Cardiff will never be forgotten, his contribution to the season as a whole would be short-lived as he suffered a broken leg during a training session in November.

“Who would have known the way my journey went within six weeks I would have a broken leg and eight to 12 weeks later Boro are in the final of the cup.” Christie added. “I wanted to be part of that run.

“There are always moments you look back and reflect back in terms of a club’s history, and realise that was a big moment. It could have gone either way in that Brighton game.”

Listen to episode one

Round three: The nearly man

Boro’s next stop in the competition took them to a Wigan side who were harbouring ambitions of promotion to the Premier League.

There was no need for extra time on this occasion, as goals from Italian striker Massimo Maccarone and Spanish midfielder Gaizka Mendieta steered Boro through.

Maccarone’s goal, which owed much to a driving run and shot from Danny Mills which he got the final touch to, was one of several contributions he made during the run to the final.

Massimo Maccarone hugs Bolo Zenden after his goal for Middlesbrough
Massimo Maccarone (right) was part of the Middlesbrough squad that reached the final but was on the bench in Cardiff

However, despite playing in every round, the former Empoli forward was left on the bench for the final and remained an unused substitute.

“I remember it very well, I was very angry,” the Italian continued.

“Every player wants to play from the first minute, but you also don’t want to be the problem, after the game you have to be happy because we won all together.

“But the emotion was very strong, I was very happy for the team the club and the fans.”

Listen to episode two

Round four: Friends reunited

Danny Mills runs down the win for Middlesbrough
Danny Mills arrived at Middlesbrough from Leeds and revived his career under Steve McClaren

Everton came to the Riverside in round four, and a Middlesbrough side on a six-game unbeaten run were taken to the limit by the Toffees.

Mendieta did everything but score with a string of chances, while Maccarone was also close to scoring but could not hit the target when well placed.

When it came to penalties, Boro held their nerve. Mark Schwarzer saved from Leon Osman and Mendieta finally did beat Nigel Martyn to send the Teessiders through.

“We used to practice penalties, we used to go through those routines, it was very, very meticulous,” said Mills, who took one of the successful kicks.

“I think that was why we were very prepared for the shoot-outs.”

Listen to episode three

Round five: Allez French Franck

Franck Queudrue has a special place within Boro’s class of 2004, given he played every single minute of their march to success.

The French defender was a constant menace down the left for McClaren’s side, and showed his class and cool when Middlesbrough travelled to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham in the fifth round.

Franck Queudrue runs during Boro's Carling Cup final
Franck Queudrue was a true cult hero for Middlesbrough for his all-action displays on the left

Michael Ricketts’ late equaliser to cancel out Darren Anderton’s second minute opener took the game to extra time, and with no further goals, Boro were again reliant on penalties.

In the shoot-out, Schwarzer saved from Gus Poyet, but Kasey Keller denied Mendieta. Mauricio Taricco struck the post for Spurs, and Queudrue stepped up to smash home and send Boro into the semi-finals.

“It doesn’t matter whether you played every minute of the competition or just 10 minutes of the game,” Queudrue said. “You were in the team that won the cup.

“To make a good team you need strong characters, but ego can be a problem. But we were all putting our ego to the side for the team’s sake, and that made us quite hard to play.”

Listen to episode four

Semi-final: Invincible Arsenal

Arsene Wenger’s irresistible Arsenal side of the 2003-04 season were tagged ‘the Invincibles’ after going the entire Premier League season without defeat.

Boro felt the full force of that side in the top flight, twice shipping four goals in heavy defeats, and made it an unwelcome hat-trick when they again conceded a quartet of goals in a chastening FA Cup exit.

Revenge though was achieved in a sensational two-legged League Cup semi-final.

Boudewijn Zenden clips the ball over Graham Stack to put Middlesbrough further ahead in the League Cup semis
Bolo Zenden played a key role during Middlesbrough’s run to League Cup success, particularly in the later rounds

Juninho’s goal, drilled beyond Graham Stack, handed Arsenal their only domestic home loss of the campaign, and a raucous Riverside cheered on as Zenden and an own-goal by Jose Antonio Reyes saw the Teessiders progress despite Edu’s consolation.

“They were an incredible team at that time,” winning skipper Southgate said.

“With all of their big guns out we had some hammerings. Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, that was as good a pairing as I played against.

“You knew defensively they were strong, even if not all the first choice were there. I feel like Juninho was really good that night [of the first leg], Bolo Zenden was coming into his own. This was the stage of the competition where those players came alive.”

Listen to episode five

Final: The big day

Boro’s opponents in the final were fellow top-flight side Bolton Wanderers, who had beaten holders Liverpool earlier in the competition before getting past Aston Villa in the semi-final.

The Teessiders made a flying start, taking a 2-0 lead within the first seven minutes as Job fired home a Zenden cross and then was fouled by Emerson Thome to give Zenden the chance to double the lead from the spot.

Kevin Davies pulled a goal back but McClaren’s side were not to be denied, despite the presence of the much vaunted Jay-Jay Okocha in the Bolton squad.

George Boateng holds a trophy on his head
George Boateng said he was sick of the media hyping up Jay-Jay Okocha

“I was a bit agitated with the media,” Boro midfielder George Boateng recalls. “They were all hyping up on Jay-Jay Okocha, I was getting sick of it.

“I did the press, they asked me how we were going to stop Okocha, and I said: ‘Excuse me, we are playing 11 players, it’s not only Jay-Jay Okocha on the pitch, we’re playing Bolton’.

“Don’t get me wrong he was a good player, but in my head I was thinking what’s the hype about Jay-Jay Okocha, and that we’ve got Boateng so what’s the problem?

“I didn’t see much of Jay-Jay Okocha [in the final]. Did you? He’s not superhuman, I can stop him, it’s not a problem.”

Zenden added: “We had a feeling we weren’t going to be beaten that day. We were really confident.”

It was a special moment for a club that had never had success like that before in 128 years of history to that point.

Listen to episode six


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