Birmingham rallied to beat West Ham 3-1 after extra time Wednesday and set up a meeting with Arsenal in the League Cup final, while Liverpool climbed to seventh in the Premier League by edging past Fulham 1-0.
Craig Gardner was the match winner for Birmingham in a dramatic semifinal second leg at St. Andrew's, firing home from 25 yards in the fourth minute of extra time to earn the Midlands club a 4-3 aggregate win and a trip to Wembley. "It's unbelievable, you dream of these things," Gardner said.
"I was saying to my mates I wanted to get the winner to take us there and to do it was unbelievable." Carlton Cole scored a stunning goal in the 31st to put West Ham 3-1 up in the two-legged series but Birmingham took the game into extra time thanks to second-half goals by Lee Bowyer and Roger Johnson.
The Blues, whose only major trophy came when they won the League Cup in 1963, will be underdogs when they play Arsenal on Feb. 27. Arsenal qualified for the final by beating second-tier side Ipswich 3-0 in the second leg of their semifinal, winning 3-1 on aggregate.
Birmingham was comfortably second best in the first half against fellow Premier League struggler West Ham and looked out of the competition at halftime. The Hammers' superb run of results in the League Cup _ England's second-tier club knockout competition behind the FA Cup _ has helped keep manager Avram Grant in a job this season.
The London club took a deserved lead into the second leg and Cole, the striker who scored the winner at Upton Park two weeks ago, extended the advantage when he latched on to Wayne Bridge's throw-in and curled a dipping 25-yard shot into the far corner.
It was a different Birmingham after the break, with giant Serbia striker Nikola Zigic causing all sorts of problems after being thrown on by manager Alex McLeish for the second half. "I said to the players at halftime that, to all intents and purposes, we were out of the cup," McLeish said.
"I had to make the change and have an instant impact. Zigic made the difference." Gardner, the team's leading scorer this season, struck the post with a low, left-foot shot in the 53rd before Bowyer equalized six minutes later when he pounced on a loose ball following a corner and arrowed a powerful half-volley into the top corner.
After piling the pressure on for the next 20 minutes, Birmingham leveled the match on aggregate when Johnson rose to meet Bowyer's corner, heading the ball into the ground and past goalkeeper Robert Green.