Liverpool return to Wembley for the first time since 1996 on a night when Anfield passion extinguishes Manchester City’s Carling Cup hopes
LIVERPOOL 2 vs MAN CITY 2
Liverpool win 3-2 on aggregate
LIVERPOOL manager Kenny Dalglish invited his Manchester City counterpart Roberto Mancini to give him a call if he fancies discarding any more players of Craig Bellamy’s calibre, after the Welshman capped a scintillating display with the goal that ensured Liverpool’s place in next month’s Carling Cup final.
That the Merseysiders are able to celebrate a return to Wembley for the first time since 1996 is largely down to Bellamy, who excelled against his former employers and struck the decisive goal 16 minutes from the end in front of a delirious Kop.
Liverpool’s path to the final was complicated by Nigel de Jong’s goal on the half hour, but Steven Gerrard’s penalty five minutes before the break calmed the jitters that resurfaced once Edin Dzeko leveled the tie on aggregate midway through the second period.
The last word, however, went to Bellamy, who was sent out on loan by Mancini to Cardiff – Liverpool’s opponents at Wembley next month – last season and deemed surplus to requirements in the summer.
“Craig was unbelievable. If Man City have anyone else like that they don’t want to keep, they know where we are,” said Dalglish, who re-signed Bellamy on a free back in August. “It’s fantastic to have him here and he’s a great pro. He loves the club.”
Gerrard, meanwhile, who was delighted that a lifetime’s ambition to skipper his boyhood club at Wembley will, fitness permitting, become a reality, agreed the much travelled forward was deserving of significant praise.
“Craig was the difference,” he said. “His pace was always a threat and we know that if a chance falls to him he can finish. It’s a big thanks to him.”
Without striker Mario Balotelli, who served the first match of a four-game ban for violent conduct after his club decided not to appeal a Football Association charge, took the lead through an unlikely source when De Jong’s speculative 25-yarder curled up and over Pepe Reina.
Joe Hart frustrated Liverpool throughout but even he wasn’t able to get near Gerrard’s second successful spot kick of the tie shortly before the break.
Extra time looked on the cards when the England goalkeeper’s heroics were complemented by Dzeko’s slick equaliser.
But a pulsating match was denied the extra 30 minutes it deserved when a slick interchange involving Dirk Kuyt and Glen Johnson combined to present Bellamy with a chance he was never likely to pass up.
BY JAMES GOLDMAN
Refereeing controversy appears to be following City around of late and they can justifiably feel aggrieved at the award of the first half penalty which robbed them of the momentum. Quite how Micah Richards was supposed to prevent the ball hitting his arm after he initially blocked Daniel Agger’s shot with his leg is anyone’s guess.
I think it was not a penalty for Liverpool and was for us. This changed the game. Richard touched the ball on his leg, for this reason it was not a penalty. There is a referee on the pitch. It is enough. It was a penalty on Dzeko for us, incredible, clear. We did well, scored, we made some mistakes and conceded a stupid goal.
– Man City boss Roberto Mancini
Roberto Mancini will win no sympathy for complaining of a lack of squad depth, but judging by Stefan Savic’s recent displays, perhaps he should have shown a greater interest in Gary Cahill. For Liverpool, a night of celebration should also be met with an acknowledgement that a Carling Cup win would not alone represent a sound return on over a £100m worth of investment since Kenny Dalglish’s return this time last year.