Do not adjust your screens. You have read the title of this live text correctly.
Darlington are about to play in the UEFA Cup final!
Yes it’s been quite a meteoric rise for this relatively small club from the County Durham in the North East of England, but when manager David Black took charge in July 1997, they sat in Division 3 having just finished 18th. Tonight, they stand on the edge of greatness.
19:05 Yes for the next 40 minutes we’ll being you all the build-up and team news ahead of Darlington’s date with destiny. They are in the unlikely position of playing the final effectively as the away team, as their opponents AC Milan actually play in the San Siro as their home ground. The chance to feature in a final at their own ground has doubtless spurred AC Milan on, whereas Darlington have gone into their very first European adventure one step at a time and been astounded at the results. The thrashing of Rangers, the penalties victory in Belgium, the last minute winner against Parma – so many memories to take from this campaign, but can they go one step further?
19:15 With just half an hour to go to kick off, it’s about time we delivered you some team news.
AC Milan have their fair share of absentees, with Iuliano, Worns and Peter Moller all out injured, whilst Pietro Infantino is suspended. Despite all of that, the Milan team is still very strong and includes the likes of Ricken, Leonardo and Revault
Darlington continue to be without influential midfielder Dave Oakes, who has been a long term absentee with a spinal injury. He does have a chance of featuring in the FA Cup final later this month however. Young stars Timir Kolev and Pedro Sanchez Txutxi are also missing through injury.
Milan: Revault, Mezzanotti, Smoje, Leonardo, Ziege, Ricken, Biagioni, Zambrotta, Pirri, Bjornebye, Bernardi. Subs: Andre, Buffon, Verolino, Berg, Bertin.
Darlington: Carlos Germano, Page (c), Costello, Wellens, Sansome, McGivern, Eadie, Ayew, Bose, Owen, Olivero. Subs: Guilherme, Diana, Hughes, Haslam, Lampard
19:20 It would be a huge upset in the grand scheme of things, make no mistake about it. But in terms of their form this season, both clubs sit 3rd in their respective leagues, and both made their domestic cup final. Milan ran out 3-2 aggregate winners over neighbours Inter, whilst Darlington will have to wait a while for their FA Cup final date with Derby.
19:30 With just 15 minutes until kick off, here’s a look at some players who could decide the game tonight.
Michael Owen – Many raised an eyebrow when Owen chose Darlington over some more illustrious clubs during the 03/04 season, but after a slow start, Owen has had an unbelievable season. 31 goals in 54 games and 16 assists suggests any good result for Darlington will have a lot to do with this man.
Alberto Bernardi – Bernardi has had a great season, underlined by him receiving his first International cap for Italy earlier this year. 20 goals and 19 assists suggests the form Juventus man is as pivotal to Milan’s chances as Owen is to Darlington’s.
Manga Ayew – The driving force in Darlington’s midfield, who has chipped in with 12 goals along the way. The Chad international is being courted by several of Europe’s elite, tonight could be one of his final games in the black and white of Darlington.
Christophe Revault – All good teams are built with a great goalkeeper, and Revault is certainly that. France’s number one has been in imperious form this season, when called upon, and Darlington are going to have to be at their best to better him tonight.
19:40 It’s crept up on us a bit, but the players are in the tunnel. Darlington will be looking to call on the spirit of their semi-final with Parma, where they were minutes away from exiting the competition, until young Nick Sansome popped up with a late, late goal to send them through. Milan had it slightly easier, beating Lazio 3-1 at home to clinch their final place – Lazio’s late goal turning out to be just a consolation.
The Darlington players are making their way along the line of AC Milan players – the handshakes are done, it’s kick off time!
KICK OFF – Milan kick us underway in a very noisy San Siro.
4 Minutes – Both sides are cagey here in the opening stages, trying to get everybody a touch ti steady their nerves
8 minutes – First chance of the game falls to Darlington. It’s a hopeful ball down the right hand channel of the Milan box which Olivero is on to, and from a tough angle he powers a shot goalwards but it whistles over.
9 minutes – Ooof he should do better here. Milan win the game’s first corner, which Zambrotta spins over. Leonardo is left all alone at the back post but glances the header wide. Good chance gone begging, and a let off for Darlington.
13 minutes – GOAL! AC Milan 0 – 1 Darlington (Manga Ayew)
Goodness me the underdogs are in front! Darren Eadie’s corner is right into the old melting pot and Manga Ayew leaps highest to power his header in. Revault no chance. Ayew ready for a celebration Darlington fans? (sorry)
15 minutes – That goal has angered Milan. The Darlo fans are still dancing but Bernardi has a good chance, shooting narrowly wide with a snapshot from the edge of the box.
17 minutes – Great save! Zambrotta’s corner is curled in and Bernardi gets ahead of Glen Costello, but his header is miraculously tipped away by Carlos Germano. Milan turning the screw now.
20 minutes – The one way traffic continues. Stig Bjornebye (not of Liverpool fame) has the chance this time, but he too shoots wide from a decent position.
23 minutes – Finally Darlo get back on the attack. Young Enrico Bose drives forward from midfield and gets a shot away, but it’s just over the bar.
27 minutes – Another headed chance for Ayew, but this time he gets the timing wrong and heads Darren Eadie’s corner over the bar.
Ross Jacobs, via text: This is unbelievable from Darlington! Can they hold on?
Jamie Heaton, via e-mail: Darlington looking very good here, can’t see Milan scoring.
34 minutes – GOAL! AC Milan 1 – 1 Darlington (Alberto Bernardi)
The game was just going through it’s first lull and it’s proved to be Darlington’s underdoing. There’s not enough pressure on the ball and it allows Milan’s front two to combine. Bjornebye slips in Bernardi, who makes no mistake. Quick as a flash, optimism evaporated.
UpTheBoro, via text: Great goal. Come on Milan!
DarloBill, via text: Heads up lads, we can still do this
38 minutes – Darlington are just trying to keep the ball, it’s been a breathless half.
41 minutes – Half a chance for Ryan McGivern, leaping to get his head on a Sansome cross but his header is wide.
HALF TIME – AC Milan 1 – 1 Darlington
All square then in a frentic first half. You have to say the finishing has left a lot to be desired but one goal each and honours even. It’s time for the managers to earn their corn.
Just looking over some of the stats here, Milan have managed 7 shots to Darlington’s 5, and Darlington’s only shot on target brought their goal. Milan have had more corners but Darlo have just shaded possession. It’s going to be all to play for in the second half.
KICK OFF – Darlington get us back in action, kicking towards their own fans.
48 minutes – Enrico Bose has been compared to Andreas Moller (can’t imagine why) and you can see why at times. This time the Young German curls a shot goalwards but it arrows inches wide.
53 minutes – Darlington are dominated proceedings in this half so far, and this time Ryan McGivern tries a shot but Revault gets down to push it away.
57 minutes – GOAL! AC Milan 1 – 2 Darlington (Michael Owen)
What a time to score your 32nd goal of the season. It’s an ugly goal, but it’s beautiful to Darlo. Eadie’s corner causes havoc and once again Ayew get’s on the end of it, crashing his header off the post. Nicolas Olivero follows up but Revault sticks a leg out, only for the ball to pop up for Michael Owen to stick it in the empty net. There’s pandemonium behind the goal, there’s a pile on in the corner. Darlo lead again!
60 minutes – Darlington are purring now. Can a football team purr? Manga Ayew is like a man on a mission, firstly drilling a low shot that Revault saves, then meeting McGivern’s cross with a header that is straight at Revault. The Frenchman holds on, his team need to ride out this storm.
65 minutes – What a chance! Good save or bad miss? Olivero slips Ayew in, who has run beyond his attackers. He should score but Revault makes himself big and saves before smothering the loose ball.
68 minutes – Milan manager Fabio Capello has seen enough, substituting the ineffective Lars Ricken for Teddy Bertin. It’s a change of shape to match Darlington’s 3-5-2.
69 minutes – YELLOW CARD
Welcome to the game Teddy Bertin. The 35 year old French midfielder is not up to the pace of the game clearly and is booked for fouling Bose, who is almost half his age.
72 minutes – YELLOW CARD
Once the card is out, it stays out. Darlington captain Robert Page is next to be cautioned for a late challeneg on Gianluca Zambrotta
Darlo4life, via email: Please hold on please hold on please hold on!
77 minutes – It’s getting nervy out there. Darlington manager David Black is pacing around his technical area, pondering substitutions.
83 minutes – YELLOW CARD
Olivero is in the book for Darlington for crunching Christian Ziege.
86 minutes – Tick tock, tick tock
88 minutes – Milan are launching it long. Robert Page is eating it up. Darlington 2 minutes away
90 minutes – Manga Ayew is announced as man of the match. There are 85,124 people here about to witness history
DARLINGTON WIN THE UEFA CUP
It’s over! Mayhem!
No sooner has Dave Black shook hands with Fabio Capello, he is mobbed by his staff. Young Nicholas Sansome is in tears. Robert Page has his hands on his big bald head. There’s disbelief amongst the Darlington players. The Milan players are gutted, slumped at various corners of their own stadium. This will hurt them – they still have 3 games to go in their league season.
Here’s a final look at the stats
Darlington manager David Black:
I just can’t believe it. When I took this job 8 years ago I never dreamed we’d get here. Of course you look at getting promoted, you want to go all the way. But to win the UEFA cup within 8 years? Not in my wildest dreams. We’ll be celebrating tonight, but we’ve got a huge league game on Saturday. I like the UEFA Cup but I’d prefer to be in the Champions League next season!
AC Milan manager Fabio Capello:
The players, they were tired. Congratulations to Darlington.
Darlington’s players have to pull themselves together, it’s time for the presentation. It’s their first major trophy, on their first European campaign. Remarkable.
As Robert Page lifts the trophy, the confetti streams down. It must be tough for Milan to play hosts on a night like this, but it could have been so different.
That’s it from us on this historic night. We’ll be back for the FA Cup final very soon