Wednesday, 25 January 2012

League Cup - Bellamy fires Liverpool into Carling Cup final


Craig Bellamy came back to haunt Manchester City as his second-half goal earned Liverpool a 3-2 aggregate win over his old club after a fraught Carling Cup semi-final second leg at Anfield.
The Welsh striker's 74th minute goal handed Liverpool a meeting with another of Bellamy's old clubs Cardiff City on February 26 with Liverpool progressing by the odd goal in five over the two legs after a 2-2 draw on the night.
It will be their first appearance at Wembley since losing 1-0 to Manchester United in the 1996 FA Cup final at the old stadium.
Liverpool began the evening with a 1-0 lead from the first leg at the Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago, but were pushed all the way by the Premier League leaders despite being the sharper side for most of the night against a visiting team who were forced back for long spells.
Steven Gerrard's 40th minute penalty had cancelled out Nigel de Jong's thumping long range opener for the visitors nine minutes earlier.
With Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart in imperious form, City moved ahead in the tie when Edin Dzeko struck on 67 minutes only for Bellamy to have the final say with a fabulous finish from inside the box that left Hart with no chance after fine play involving Glen Johnson.
Liverpool could and should have won the match, but were denied by some supreme goalkeeping by England man Hart and his ability to excel on such evenings.
The visiting goalkeeper's work began early on when he halted a shot by Jose Enrique after a mistake by Aleksandar Kolarov on six minutes.
City should have had a penalty when Charlie Adam clearly felled Dzeko in the area, but the referee Phil Dowd missed the late challenge amid a busy penalty area.
With Stefan Savic - posted in a three-man defence alongside Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards - enduring a forgettable night before he was replaced by Sergio Aguero at half-time, Hart was needed to repel a shot by Bellamy after the forward had spun beyond the nervy Savic.
Despite looking the likelier side, it was Roberto Mancini's team who levelled the tie on 31 minutes with their first shot at the home goal.
David Silva picked out De Jong 25 yards from goal. The Dutch midfielder lost his balance but did enough to lift the shot over a bamboozled Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina.
Liverpool responded in some style as neat play in the box by Adam ended with Daniel Agger seeing a shot blocked by Richards.
Richards could not get his hand out of the way after throwing his frame in front of the ball, but Dowd harshly decided to point to the spot.
Gerrard - like in the first leg - stepped up to plant a shot at some pace beyond Hart, low to the keeper's right.
Hart continued to defy Liverpool as he repelled a Kuyt effort on 48 minutes before somehow swatting Martin Skrtel's shot over the bar five minutes later.
Kuyt then managed to pick out Stewart Downing on the run, but Hart spread himself magnificently to stop the volley from finding the net.
City were toiling to get out, but somehow equalised when Kolarov sped beyond Gerrard to fire the ball across goal for Dzeko to convert from close range.
City tried to rescue the game after Bellamy's goal, but Agger made a timely tackle on Dzeko as he prepared to shoot while Aguero's shot was dealt with by Reina as City's hopes finally fizzled out.
Liverpool are 1/4 to win their first major trophy since the 2006 FA Cup with Cardiff City posted at 9/2 after ousting Crystal Palace 3-1 on penalties on Tuesday after the all-Championship semi-final had ended 1-1 over two legs.
Cardiff contest their third major final at Wembley in four years having lost 1-0 to Portsmouth in the 2008 FA Cup final. They also went down 3-2 to Blackpool in the Championship play-off final two years ago.

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