Those who insist England’s third-rate cup competition is meaningless and merely a chance to utilise untested youth players were in fact treated to an exhilarating night of knock-out football.
Roy Hodgson rested Fernando Torres, Jamie Carragher, Pepe Reina and Steven Gerrard for Northampton Town’s visit to Anfield. It was a decision which backfired with Liverpool’s lack of strength and depth embarrassingly punctuated by a side languishing in 17th place in League Two.
Despite an early strike from Milan Jovanovic giving the home side a crucial early breakthrough, the second string Reds struggled to compete with Northampton. Billy McKay levelled matters for the minnows and Michael Jacobs then scored what appeared to be the winner in the 98th minute of extra time.
With five minutes of extra time remaining, it seemed David N’Gog had save Liverpool’s blushes with his 116th-minute strike. The Anfield outfit had only lost on penalties six occasions but misses from N’Gog and Nathan Eccleston provided Abdul Osman the opportunity to secure a famous victory over the five-time European champions. Osman duly obliged and a rain drenched Hodgson could only apologise to the Liverpool supporters for a dismal display.
Meanwhile, at Stamford Bridge a hat-trick of injuries to Gael Kakuta, Salomon Kalou and Yossi Benayoun left Chelsea reduced to 10-men as they sought to reverse a 3-1 deficit. Patrick van Aanholt put Chelsea into an early lead before goals from Shola Ameobi and Ryan Taylor put the Toon in front.
Ameobi’s speculative long-range effort in the second half then cemented a two-goal cushion. With Chelsea a man down Nicolas Anelka seized the initiative and the Frenchman’s brace restored parity as the tie inevitably headed towards extra time.
However, a late Gutierrez corner was met by Ameobi who completed his three-goal haul and put Chris Hughtons’ men into the next round.
At the Hawthorns, newly promoted West Brom came from behind to claim a 2-1 victory over Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. The Italian manager had eyed the Carling Cup as a possible first trophy of his reign but was denied by fellow countryman Roberto Di Matteo – the former Chelsea midfielder masterminding the Baggies comeback.
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