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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 20:30 GMT 21:30 UK
Cool Carter in blue heaven
Darren Carter celebrates Birmingham's play-off victory with his team-mates
Darren Carter enjoys his moment of glory
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By John May
BBC Sport Online

When Steve Bruce entrusted a 40m penalty kick to teenager Darren Carter he knew what he was doing.

The Blues boss cannily placed the responsibility on to the young shoulders of somebody who knew exactly what the all-important, shoot-out clinching penalty meant to Birminmgham City supporters.

After all, Carter is one himself.

Solihull-born Carter watched in agony as Birmingham missed out to Liverpool in a shoot-out in last season's Worthington Cup final.

  Birmingham reach Premiership

As he watched that day, the 18-year-old could never have predicted that he would have the chance to end the Blues' 16-year exile from the top flight of English football.

Carter is still a second-year scholar with Birmingham's academy.

I was a fan and I know how much it means to them
Darren Carter

He only made his debut in January when a string of injuries forced Bruce to throw him into the pressure cooker atmosphere of a local derby against West Bromwich Albion.

What Bruce saw that day would have convinced him that Carter had the mental make-up to entrust him with a penalty in the play-off final.

Promotion to the Premiership promised land will be worth around 40m to Birmingham, who suddenly do not have to worry quite so much about the collapse of ITV Digital.

As Carter put the ball on the spot, he would have known that Birmingham held the whip hand in the shoot-out.

Nico Vaesen had saved Phil Mulryne's penalty, and Daryl Sutch had missed for Norwich, while Stern John, Paul Devlin and Stan Laziridis had all converted their spot-kicks.

Darren Carter milks the applause for his winning penalty
Life is sweet for Carter after scoring the winner

The equation for Carter was simple. Miss and Norwich were back in it; score and the Blues were in the Premiership.

There was never any doubt as he coolly slotted his penalty past Robert Green to end Birmingham's 16 years of hurt and ensure a three-handed West Midlands Premiership presence next season, alongside Aston Villa and West Brom.

Amid Birmingham's wild celebrations, Carter said: "It's a dream come true.

"I was in the stands watching the final against Liverpool, so to play a year on in a game like this is unbelievable."

"I won't sleep for days now.

"Birmingham fans have been waiting for this for a very long time.

I'm delighted for him and his mum and dad who are Blue through and through
Blues' boss Steve Bruce

"I was a fan and I know how much it means to them."

Carter is an England U-19 international who is highly thought of at St Andrews.

Manager Bruce confirmed: "He's a very cool-handed, level-headed lad who has a very big future in the game.

"I'm delighted for him and his mum and dad who are Blue through and through."

Carter made 12 appearances for Birmingham this season, and scored one goal in establishing himself in the first-team squad.

His penalty gives him an ever bigger target next season.

He said: "This season is my first and to be playing in the Premiership next year is absolutely unbelievable."

BBC Five Live's Ron Jones
"A truly exhilarating game"
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