Team of the Week
Ben Foster was Man of the Match when he played for Manchester United in the 2009 Carling Cup final, and he was in fine form again as Birmingham recorded an historic win over Arsenal to lift the trophy on Sunday.
A brace of saves from Samir Nasri were the highlights for Foster, on an afternoon when he was not as troubled as many had predicted. The England stopper was a reassuring presence behind his backline and was reliable when called upon, unlike his Polish counterpart at the other end.
Stephen Carr retired from football a couple of years ago before being offered a return at Birmingham, who were then in the Championship. Two seasons on and Carr was lifting Birmingham's first major trophy since 1963. The veteran Irishman completely nullified the threat from the woefully out-of-form Andrei Arshavin, who was eventually hauled off by Arsene Wenger. Carr defied his advancing years by putting in a high-energy performance that typified the Blues never-say-die attitude.
Midway through the second half, Birmingham's Roger Johnson pulled up with an injury and it looked like the central defender would struggle to finish the Carling Cup final. Johnson soldiered on and frustrated Arsenal for 89 minutes before Alex McLeish's team nicked a last-minute goal. Even when Arsenal threw on both Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh in search of their first trophy in six years, Johnson and his defensive cohorts hung in and were rewarded with Martins' last-gasp tap-in.
Injury-prone defender Matthew Upson was assured and composed during West Ham's 3-1 triumph against Liverpool. Given the unenviable task of keeping Uruguay's Luis Suarez at bay, Upson made sure the former Ajax man hardly had a sniff during the Upton Park contest. At times this season, Avram Grant's team has looked deprived of leadership in defence, so Upson displaying this sort of form will be a huge boost for the team. If the England centre-back can stay fit and focused for the rest of the campaign, West Ham will stand a much greater chance of avoiding the drop.
Aston Villa recorded a morale-boosting 4-1 triumph over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, and their stand-in captain Ashley Young was pivotal in their emphatic win. Young opened the scoring early in the second half when he hammered home a penalty he had won himself, and moments later the 25-year-old teed up Stewart Downing to race clear and put the game beyond Rovers. He polished off a fine individual performance when he lashed a second goal past Paul Robinson in injury time, to complete a performance which will have impressed the watching Fabio Capello.
Slowly but surely, Nani is beginning to emerge from the shadow of his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford. The Portuguese winger has been one of United's key performers this season and he was at his slippery best against Wigan at the DW Stadium on Saturday. The home team made the critical error of giving Nani too much space for United's opening goal, as he slid a pass across the six-yard box into the path of the waiting Javier Hernandez. With Sir Alex Ferguson's team still searching for silverware at home and abroad, Nani will need to maintain his current high form.
West Ham skipper Scott Parker put in another inspirational performance during the Hammers' shock 3-1 defeat of Liverpool on Sunday. With the game locked at 0-0, Parker produced an innovative and deft flick of his right boot to prod the ball beyond a despairing Pepe Reina. All afternoon, Parker combined effectively with Thomas Hitzlsperger and ensured Grant's team maintained control of the midfield. Parker is reported to have a huge influence both on and off the pitch at Upton Park, and he will be crucial in West Ham's battle against the drop.
Saturday saw Wolverhampton Wanderers put in one of their best Premier League performances to defeat Blackpool 4-0 at Molineux, and it was the perfect response to their late disappointment against West Brom last week. A common theme in both matches was the goalscoring form of January-signing Jamie O'Hara. The Tottenham loanee excelled during a similar spell with Portsmouth last season, and after struggling with injury, he has made a flying start to his Wolves career. His 25-yard daisy cutter left Blackpool keeper Richard Kingson with no chance and gave Mick McCarthy's men the second goal their dominance had deserved.
Everton's Jermaine Beckford is showing signs that, after his pre-season arrival from Leeds United, he is beginning to get to grips with life in the top division. Beckford displayed speed of thought and foot to get behind the Sunderland rearguard and open the scoring via a Titus Bramble deflection on Saturday, and he was in the right place to bundle home a second goal and make the match safe for David Moyes' outfit. With the injured Louis Saha Everton's only other convincing striking option, Beckford will need to continue his improvement if the Merseysiders are to climb the table.
Javier Hernandez continued to excel during his debut Premier League season with a brace to help Manchester United see off the challenge of Wigan. The Mexican displayed predatory instincts to get the better of the Latics defence and finish Nani's low cross, before Hernandez showed his natural scoring touch by sliding a second-half effort under Ali Al-Habsi. Hernandez could be a key weapon for United during the title run-in.
West Ham have had a week to lift the spirits, with Senegal striker Demba Ba playing a major role in the feel-good factor now surrounding the club. The January signing from Hoffenheim netted a brace during the Hammers' second-half comeback against West Brom at the Hawthorns, and he followed that up with another strike on Sunday against Liverpool. Ba's powerful and athletic header from Gary O'Neil's pin-point cross gave West Ham a two-goal lead and showed why Carlton Cole spent most of the match warming the bench.
Alex McLeish secured his first major trophy in England against all the odds on Sunday, and Birmingham's triumph was testament to the work ethic instilled in them by their Scottish boss. Despite being heavy underdogs, City applied pressure to Arsenal from the off and restricted the Gunners to long-range shots. Birmingham took their two chances when they arrived and McLeish deserves massive credit for inspiring his charges to an impressive success.