Liverpool have reached the Capital One Cup final after beating Stoke 6-5 on penalties. Stoke won the semi-final second leg at Anfield 1-0 for a 1-1 aggregate score.
Midfielder Joe Allen was the penalty shoot-out hero as his spot-kick sent Liverpool to Wembley after a tense Capital Cup semi-final second leg at Anfield.
The second-half substitute, who had scored in his previous two midweek outings, slotted home after much-maligned goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had saved Stoke defender Marc Muniesa’s effort in sudden death.
There was some irony the decisive moment was produced by one of the smallest players on the pitch in a match which manager Jurgen Klopp had predicted just before kick-off would be “a heading festival”.
The ball certainly saw some air time but four shots on target in 120 minutes underlined the lack of quality in the game and penalties were almost inevitable from the moment Marko Arnautovic struck a controversial offside goal in the first half.
However, Liverpool extended to 42 occasions their proud record of never having been knocked out when returning to Anfield with a first-leg lead.
They have also never lost the home leg of a League Cup semi-final and have reached a record-extending 11th final, from which they have returned victorious eight times.
Stoke have still to win at Anfield since 1959, which includes 31 defeats and five draws, but this was just about as close as you could get.
They fielded five outfield players at 6ft-plus to Liverpool’s two and it seemed they would target Liverpool’s weakness at set-pieces.
Former Reds striker Peter Crouch, head and shoulders above his markers at 6ft 7ins, won virtually everything in the air but Liverpool, with Lucas Leiva at the forefront, did a reasonable job of mopping up the second ball.
But the hosts were undone seconds before the interval with a move through the middle of the pitch which picked out Bojan Krkic and, with left-back Alberto Moreno nowhere to be seen, he slid a pass across to the unmarked Arnautovic who side-footed home despite replays indicating he was offside.
It was the first shot on target in the game and the sixth time in 2016 Liverpool had conceded from such.
Jon Walters and Bojan both had chances for the visitors but Liverpool, holding a 1-0 lead going into the second leg, seemed reluctant to shoot with Adam Lallana and James Milner both guilty of passing inside the penalty area, although Emre Can and Jordan Henderson had attempts from distance.