Carling Cup has enjoyed a renaissance

At times the Carling Cup has seemed the FA Cup's unloved and unwanted sibling. Yet recent seasons suggest it is enjoying a renaissance.

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The Carling Cup has always been the little brother among England's knockout competitions. At times it has seemed the FA Cup's unloved and unwanted sibling. Yet recent seasons suggest it is enjoying a renaissance - a tournament appreciated by both underdogs and favourites alike.

Rewind a decade or so and it represented an opportunity for the lesser lights to win a trophy while others set their sights on more prestigious prizes. Leicester City reached three finals, celebrating in two; Blackburn Rovers were winners, along with success-starved Middlesbrough.

The change can be dated to Chelsea's choice of coach in 2004. The mathematics-minded Jose Mourinho realised a trophy is a trophy.

The Carling Cup afforded the opportunity to pick up a prize before the business end of the season. Manchester United showed a renewed interest, too, mitigating an otherwise poor campaign in 2006 with a win and celebrating three times in six seasons.

Even Arsenal are belatedly seeing its significance.

And yet the competition has benefited from a blend of the expected and the unexpected.

While the elite tend to emerge triumphant, shocks have multiplied. This season Northampton Town triumphed against Liverpool at Anfield. In recent years, Manchester United fell to Southend, Manchester City to Chesterfield and Brighton, while Chelsea and Arsenal were both eliminated by Burnley. This alliance of minnows and masters has ensured more upsets, but fewer unlikely winners.