League Cup Semi Final Second Leg
Wednesday 25 January 2012, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Richards (c), Lescott, Savic (Aguero 45), Kolarov, Zabaleta, de Jong (A Johnson 78), Barry, Nasri, Silva, Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Clichy, Hargreaves, Milner, Rekik
Goals: de Jong (31), Dzeko (67)
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the Match: Joe Hart
It wasn’t a great start from the visitors, who gifted the hosts a chance to get themselves further into the lead with just six minutes played. Enrique though could only find Joe Hart, who saved well with his feet to keep the scores level on the night. It was all Liverpool in the opening stages, with every time City got the ball clear it came straight back at them.
With 22 minutes on the clock, Bellamy forced a good save from Hart, who got across well to push the ball away, after the former City forward had escaped the attention of Stefan Savic. Bellamy had the ball in the City net shortly after, but it was flagged offside and City weren’t in any deeper trouble.
However, it got better for the visitors and, against the run of play, they pulled the aggregate score level and took the lead on the night. Nigel de Jong picked the ball up from 25 yards out and, despite slipping, he managed to curl it around Reina and find the corner of the net. The scores were level and Liverpool’s away goal had been cancelled out from the most unlikely of sources.
But the lead didn’t last long. Micah Richards was adjudged to have handled a fierce drive inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. It was a very harsh decision – Richards blocked with his foot before the ball ricocheted up onto his arm and the ball was struck from three yards in front of him – but the referee waved away the protests and Gerrard slotted the spot kick home. Liverpool had been the better team, but City had been very hard done to at the break.
City switched to a more orthodox back four for the second half in an attempt to get more ball possession further up the pitch, but it was the hosts who had the first chance after the restart. Bellamy got in behind Lescott and crossed low for Kuyt, though Richards cleared. The rebound was struck straight back at goal and Hart could only parry, but Lescott was at the rebound first. Barry then smashed a shot straight over Reina’s bar.
A Gerrard free kick then caused Hart problems as he tried to punch, but could only put it on the foot of Martin Skrtel. The Liverpool centre-back shot at goal and the England keeper re-adjusted well to fingertip the ball over the bar. Hart was then on hand to block from Downing, after he was unmarked to volley Kuyt’s cross. City were penned in.
Kolarov then picked up a yellow card after he was on the receiving end of a late challenge from Jordan Henderson, before Bellamy once again got in behind Lescott, but Richards recovered to block the City old boy’s cross. Though, after Silva had wasted a free kick on the right flank, City re-took the lead, again against the run of play – Kolarov smashed a cross low and Dzeko got in at the back post to smash the ball home from inside the six-yard box.
But, just seven minutes later, Liverpool were back in front. A poor clearance from Lescott put the hosts back on the attack and a quick one-two between Bellamy and Johnson allowed the former City man to slide the ball past Hart, giving the England keeper no chance. City were once again behind on aggregate.
Edin Dzeko played a great ball towards Johnson to set the substitute free down the right flank with just under ten minutes to go to the whistle. Johnson, though, couldn’t get the ball onto his left foot to shoot quickly and his effort was easily collected by Reina. City were struggling to create anything and Liverpool were content to defend their aggregate lead.
With four minutes to play, Johnson found Zabaleta cutting in from the right flank and the Argentine’s low ball found Dzeko on the edge of the six-yard box. He turned and shot, but Agger blocked, with the City fans appealing for handball. The referee, though, waved away the protests. A last gasp chance from City wasn’t enough to retake the lead, as Aguero’s overhead kick from a long kick from Hart was straight at Reina.
City could feel hard done to with a fair few refereeing decisions, but they could have no complaints as to who was going to progress to the final – the visitors had given themselves far too much work to do after the defeat at the Etihad Stadium.