Bellamy hands Liverpool Wembley birth
Liverpool (3) 2-2 (2) Manchester City
Craig Bellamy provided an apt ending to an enthralling Carling Cup semi-final as his decisive goal sent Liverpool through to their first Wembley final for 16 years at the expense of Manchester City.
Travelling to Anfield with a one-goal deficit thanks to Steven Gerrard’s first-leg penalty, City twice went ahead on the night through Nigel De Jong and Edin Dzeko.
Gerrard’s second penalty of the tie had sandwiched the pair’s respective strikes, but it was Bellamy’s calm finish with 16 minutes left that settled the contest.
The Welshman sets up a League Cup final with former club Cardif City, with whom he spent the whole of last season on loan.
City were without Mario Balotelli, suspended, following his side’s decision not to appeal his four-match ban for stamping on Tottenham Hotspur’s Scott Parker, while Sergio Aguero and James Milner were both left on the bench as Roberto Mancini deployed a 3-5-2 formation.
While the visitors were searching for their fourth trip to Wembley in 10 months, Liverpool, who opted to leave Andy Carroll on the bench from the start, were looking for their first appearance at the home of football since 1996.
Kenny Dalglish was scathing following The Reds’ defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers at the weekend, and his side were keen to make amends early on, with Jose Enrique forcing Joe Hart into a smart save, before Stewart Downing blazed over.
The Premier League leaders were finding it more difficult to get into the game, but were denied an opportunity to gain a foothold in the contest from the penalty spot when Charlie Adam’s kick on Dzeko wasn’t spotting by referee Phil Dowd.
While Bellamy was providing a constant threat at one end City were looking uncharacteristically blunt at the other, and it took an effort from an unlikely source to draw first blood, and level the tie.
With their first shot on goal of the evening, De Jong curled sensationally past Pepe Reina, to stun the Kop and notch just his second City goal in over a century of City appearances.
But for just ten minutes City were level before Liverpool put themselves back in the driving seat, as Dowd controversially awarded a penalty when Micah Richards handled Daniel Agger’s shot.
Despite protests that the ball had to struck the England international’s foot before rebounding onto his hand, Dowd was unmoved, as Gerrard tucked the spot kick away in similarly emphatic fashion to his first-leg penalty.
Sergio Aguero replaced the uncertain Stefan Savic after the interval, but the home side continued to pile on the pressure, with Hart having to be alert to deny Martin Skrtel’s poked effort, and Downing’s volley.
The England No.1 was constantly handing City lifelines, and his side took full advantage mid-way through the second half as Aleksander Kolarov’s perfect cross-found an unmarked Dzeko, who tapped in leaving the away side ahead in the tie.
Just like with their opening goal, Liverpool barely let Mancini’s side settle, and re-took the initiative as Bellamy exchanged passes with Glen Johnson, before tucking the ball beyond Hart.
Needing to goal to salvage extra-time, Adam Johnson was quickly introduced, and could easily have notched that crucial goal, but only found Reina with his left-footed effort.
And the Spaniard’s goal couldn’t be breach in the closing minutes, handing Liverpool the opportunity next month to win the League Cup for record eighth time.