League Cup - Liverpool win epic final on penalties

Sun, 26 Feb 18:48:00 2012

Liverpool have ended a six-year trophy drought, beating Cardiff City on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the Carling Cup final at Wembley.

2012 Carling Cup final Liverpool-Cardiff Gerrard Carragher - 0

Liverpool won 3-2 in the shoot-out after Steven Gerrard's cousin Anthony missed the decisive kick.

His was one of five failures from the penalty spot - Steven Gerrard, Kenny Miller, Charlie Adam and Rudy Gestede also could not convert.

The drama capped off an amazing final that had seen Cardiff equalise two minutes from the end of extra time after it looked like Dirk Kuyt had handed Liverpool the trophy.

Joe Mason opened the scoring on 19 minutes before Martin Skrtel levelled just before the hour mark.

Kuyt looked to have broken Cardiff's marvellous resistance in the 108th minute, but Ben Turner scrambled in a 118th-minute goal to take the tie to penalties.

Cardiff manager Malky Mackay brought captain Mark Hudson back after injury, and the centre-back marshalled a heroic defensive performance. Though not 100 per cent fit, Hudson lasted 99 minutes while his centre-back partner Turner was equally exceptional.

Liverpool managed 19 corners to Cardiff's three, and totted up nearly 50 goal attempts, but saw their efforts largely thwarted by a succession of blocks and tackles from the Championship side.

Glen Johnson almost got the game off to a spectacular start, curling a 25-yard shot onto the underside of the crossbar, with Steven Gerrard blazing the rebound over.

Liverpool dominated possession, but struggled to break Cardiff down. Luis Suarez's touch was unusually clunking - the Uruguayan misplaced several passes and his communication with strike partner Andy Carroll left much to be desired.

Though Suarez twisted and turned with his usual elusiveness, he lacked precision, personifying a nervy Liverpool display.

On 19 minutes, Cardiff were in front through Mason. Jose Enrique was caught napping as Miller found his strike partner with a neat pass, and the 20-year-old finished through Pepe Reina's legs.

Liverpool were stung into action, but struggled to work Cardiff keeper Tom Heaton. Carroll's muscular presence did not translate into accurate heading or shooting, while Jordan Henderson took an airshot when teed up by excellent play from Stewart Downing.

Adam slashed a shot wide from the edge of the box, while Suarez did test Heaton, but without much conviction, striking the ball with the outside of his right boot.

On 44 minutes, the breakthrough should have come when Gerrard curled a delicious free-kick into the path of Daniel Agger. Had the Dane headed the ball half a yard either side of Heaton it would have been one-all, but he nodded straight at the grateful Cardiff keeper.

Just before the hour mark, Craig Bellamy came off the bench to replace the disappointing Henderson.

The former Cardiff man has been arguably Liverpool's player of the season so far, and it was a huge surprise to see him left on the bench.

Following his introduction, he tore into the opposition with his usual gusto. Seconds later, the leveller came, though Bellamy was not involved.

Downing's corner was headed goalwards by Carroll, then diverted onto the post by Suarez. Skrtel reacted fastest to seize the rebound and slam the ball low into the net.

The Slovak nearly doubled his tally on 74 minutes when an aimless header looped into his path and he struck a powerful volley that Heaton saved smartly.

As time ticked down, Liverpool pressed for a winner. Heaton saved from Adam, while Suarez and Gerrard also squandered presentable chances.

However, the best opportunity fell to Miller, who found himself clean through after a quickly-taken Cardiff free-kick. However, the Scot smashed his shot over from eight yards.

Into extra time, and Suarez's toils in front of goal continued with a low rasping shot and a header cleared off the line by Andrew Taylor.

Carroll headed just wide and Bellamy fired over, before Kuyt struck - the Dutchman saw a poor shot half-cleared, but reacted quickly and deposited the rebound past Heaton into the net.

There was surely no way back for a Cardiff side that looked out on their feet - yet back they came. Kuyt had to clear off the line before Turner bundled in the equaliser.

However, Cardiff's tired legs failed them in the shootout, with three of their five takers failing even to test Reina.

Liverpool did it the hard way, but their maiden visit to the new Wembley stadium ended in success and they pick up a trophy for the first time since lifting the 2006 FA Cup.

Alex Chick - @alexchick81 / Eurosport

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