WEMBLEY: Liverpool were taken to penalties before finally winning a record-extending eighth League Cup – a first trophy in six years and their first since Kenny Dalglish returned as manager in January last year – after being held 2-2 by Cardiff City after extra time at Wembley.
In the end they won the shootout 3-2 – with Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard missing the first penalty and his cousin, Anthony Gerrard, missing the decisive last one for Cardiff.
The battling Welsh club, sixth in the second division, created very little but conceded very few openings either against a Liverpool side who had won away to Chelsea, Stoke and Manchester City on the way to Wembley.
The day had begun badly for Liverpool. Thousands of their fans had their travel plans disrupted because of an accident which had blocked the train line 30 miles south of Liverpool.
All of then, in the end, did appear to reach Wembley in time to see the Premier League outfit hit initial problems of their own.
In the opening phase of play Liverpool had 65pc of possession but they failed to create chances, apart from one effort from Glen Johnson which hit the bar.
Then they even fell behind to a goal from 20-year-old Joe Mason after 19 minutes, against all the odds and the run of the play. Veteran Scotland forward Kenny Miller provided the assist and Mason slipped the ball cheekily through Pepe Reina’s legs.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish had started with both Luis Suarez and the under-achieving giant, Andy Carroll, up front. Surprisingly Dalglish chose to leave Wales winger Craig Bellamy on the substitutes’ bench. Bellamy’s absence meant there was not one Welshman on the pitch at kickoff.
Cardiff goalkeeper Tom Heaton and his hard-working defenders somehow held Liverpool at bay in the closing minutes of the first half and, on the strength of that improvement, Dalglish made no changes until the 57th minute.
Then Liverpool finally brought on Bellamy against his old club and, within two minutes, were level. Martin Skrtel scored from close range after a header from Suarez, following a corner, ricocheted back off a post.
Cardiff should have been there for the taking but, battling bravely, they held out somehow. Miller even contrived to win one the best chances of the game before the final went into extra time for the first time since 2009. The last time Liverpool were in this final, they were also taken to extra time – and won on penalties.
Suarez had a shot cleared off the line in the first half of extra time but Liverpool’s pressure was finally rewarded three minutes into the second half with a goal from substitute Dirk Kuyt.
In the closing minutes, as Cardiff threw caution to the wind, Kuyt even headed off his own goal-line but Cardiff’s Ben Turner scrambled home an equaliser from the ensuing corner.