Reds head to Wembley

LIVERPOOL. — Keeper Simon Mignolet proved the shoot-out hero as Liverpool reached the League Cup final on penalties after a gripping last-four second leg tie at Anfield ended 1-1 on aggregate on Tuesday night.

Mignolet saved twice in the shoot-out, including a brilliant stop to deny Marc Muniesa in sudden death, which allowed Joe Allen to stroke home the decisive spot-kick and send Liverpool to Wembley.

It was a fortunate end to an uncomfortable evening for the hosts, who were under pressure for much of the encounter which ended 1-0 to Stoke City after extra time.

Stoke took the lead in first-half stoppage time when Marko Arnautovic swept the ball home from an offside position, but the assistant’s flag stayed down and the goal was allowed to stand.

Liverpool struggled to breakdown a resolute Stoke defence and after neither side could add to the scoring for the remainder of the match, it went to penalties and Allen’s effort gave the hosts a 6-5 win in the shoot-out.

It was a thrilling end for Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp who could not bear to watch as Allen’s final penalty hit the net.

“It was a good game for my side against a difficult side to play. Wembley is a cool place to play football, but we go there to win. It’s not much fun to lose.”

Klopp said he did not see any of the penalty shoot-out against Stoke City that took his side to Wembley for the Capital One Cup final — but has set his sights on lifting his first trophy since arriving at Anfield.

Klopp said: “I didn’t see one shot. I was behind the wall of my players so I had to watch it from there. I will watch it on television at home but it was good watching the crowd instead.”

Liverpool will face either Everton or Manchester City in the final on February 28, with Roberto Martinez’s side holding a 2-1 lead heading into last night’s second leg.

“Being in the final is good, but the important thing is to win. Their goal was double offside but we got some luck in the penalties. Now we will watch the game between Everton and Manchester City (last night). It will be a north of England final. Wembley is a cool place to play football, but we go there to win — it’s not much fun to lose.”

Everton held a 2-1 advantage over Manchester City before last night’s second leg at the Etihad and Klopp would relish an all-Merseyside final.

“It is great to be here in Liverpool. It is a great place to be.

“It is great the Blues and Reds are together in normal life but want to beat each other in sport, which is normal,” added the 48-year-old German.

For Stoke manager Mark Hughes, there was little consolation to be had other than his side’s positive performance.

“I thought we merited a win,” he said.

“We got a win on paper — goodness knows how long it’s been since we won here — but the objective was to get to a Wembley final which we didn’t.”

Having not won at Anfield in any competition since 1959 with 36 fruitless visits in the interim, they were sharp, well-organised and the better team for the majority of Tuesday’s tie.

Liverpool, the record eight-times League Cup winners, struggled to create any chance of note in the first 45 minutes with their forays into Stoke territory frequently ending with a misplaced pass or a timely Stoke tackle.

The visitors got their reward for blunting Liverpool’s attack with a stoppage-time goal that prompted an angry response from the hosts, with Arnautovic having strayed a metre offside when he stroked home Bojan’s cross. — Reuters.

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