Wembley, here we come!
Liverpool FC will return to ‘Anfield South’ on February 28 after edging past Stoke City to reach the Capital One Cup final.
However, in true Liverpool fashion, we did things the hard way!
SEE ALSO: Liverpool player ratings v Stoke
We were beaten 1-0 in 90 minutes on Tuesday night courtesy of a wrongly-awared Marko Arnautovic goal, which tied the two-legged contest up at 1-1 following our narrow triumph in Staffordshire two weeks ago.
Thirty minutes of extra time came and went before the lottery of penalties was needed to decided the outcome.
Fortunately got us, our numbers came up as we prevailed 6-5 thanks to Simon Mignolet, who pulled off saves to deny Peter Crouch and Marc Muniesa from 12 yards.
Jurgen Klopp made two changes from the team that started Saturday’s 5-4 win at Norwich City, with Jon Flanagan and Adam Lallana coming in for Nathaniel Clyne and Jordon Ibe.
Flanagan got a huge pre-match ovation from the Anfield faithful, who were in superb voice.
All four corners of our great stadium rose to salute Owen McVeigh on 12 minutes – the gesture coming days before the brave lad, who died from leukaemia just before Christmas, would have celebrated his 12th birthday.
Owen had been a regular at Anfield since he was five.
The first meaningful attack of the night came moments later when a great through pass split Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho to send Jonathan Walters hurtling towards goal. Walters got a shot away, but Alberto Moreno made a good block, which presented Stoke with their first corner.
Anfield fell silent, petrified that Stoke were about to send us back to set-piece hell. But they didn’t. Sakho cleared with a committed diving header. In fact, we defended all of the Potters’ corners without too much drama – something that should not go unnoticed, given recent horror-shows.
We defended a corner, We defended a corner, We are Liverpool and we defended a corner! — Dave O’Connell (@DaveOCKOP) January 26, 2016
Walters threatened to break the deadlock in Stoke’s favour again midway through the first half. His movement was better than that of Sakho, who was left chasing the tractor-like forward, but, luckily for us, the shot was dragged wide of Mignolet’s goal.
We slowly began to grow in confidence as the opening period wore on. Emre Can had our first shot in anger, fizzing an effort just wide from long range shortly after the half-hour mark.
However, Stoke struck with a sucker punch on the stroke of half time as Arnautovic tapped home. Despite the Austrian clearly being offside, the flag stayed down and the tie was level at 1-1.
We flew out of the blocks at the start of the second. Roberto Firmino, who had been starved of service in the first 45, rattled the post, after James Milner miraculously managed to beat the first man with a corner kick.
Seconds later, Milner appealed for a penalty after being barged to the ground just inside the box, but the referee gave a goal kick and then looked away as if to suggest that the England midfielder should have been stronger.
Having been penned in for the first five minutes of the second half, Stoke came very close to going 2-0 up. Arnautovic sent a pass over the top looking for Walters, who was beaten to the ball by Mignolet. The goalkeeper’s clearance was poor and fell to Bojan, who found Walters. He hit a low shot goalwards, but Sakho – who was excellent – made a fine block.
Captain Jordan Henderson was withdrawn before the hour, as Christian Benteke was thrown on by Klopp.
Benteke’s presence created an opportunity for ‘young Flanagan’ to live up to his Red Cafu hype, but the chance passed him by.
Flanagan failed to get his shot away under intense pressure from Arnautovic, who may well have clipped the right-back, but his refusal to dive made it easy for the referee to resist pointing to the spot.
Another penalty appeal was lodged by Klopp’s men before 90 minutes was up – this time when the ball hit the arm of Erik Pieters. Again, protests were ignored.
Regulation time ended with Peter Crouch heading harmlessly over the bar from a corner. It was Stoke’s 11th shot inside 90 minutes. Liverpool had tried their luck nine times, but each side only hit the target once – a statistic that illustrates how different this game was compared to what went down in Norfolk three days earlier.
Lucas Leiva dropped into central defence for extra time, after Joe Allen had come on for a tiring Toure. Our longest-serving player did OK at the back, but we’d be lying if we said he kept composed! The fiery Brazilian demonstrated his fine English language skills to complain against another refereeing decision which went in Stoke’s favour…
Liverpool nerves became even more frayed when Stoke sub Marco van Ginkel hit the outside of Mignolet’s near post in the final minute of the first period of extra time.
That was as close as either side came to finding a shootout-preventing goal.
Both sides went into the spot-kick battle with excellent records.
We had won 10 of of last 12 shootouts, while Stoke had won five in a row, scoring with their last 23 shootout penalties.
Walters and Lallana got the contest off to confident start with pens of supreme quality.
However, Crouch then saw his poor effort parried by Mignolet, before Emre Can missed the target.
Glen Whelan, Benteke, Ibrahim Afellay, Firmino, Xherdan Shaqiri, Milner, Van Ginkel and Lucas then all hit the net, but Mignolet ended the scoring run by palming away Muniesa’s placed pen.
Mignolet’s second save of the shootout presented Joe Allen with the chance to make himself a hero. The rest, as they say, is history.
We will play either Manchester City or Everton in the final. Who do you want to face in North London? That’s a stupid question, right!?