REDS IN SHOOT-OUT GLORY
By Alex Livie
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
The Reds snatched the trophy thanks to fine saves by Sander Westerveld from Martin Grainger and Andy Johnson.
The shoot-out was full of tremendous penalties, with both keepers given very little chance for the most part, but the two crucial saves by the Dutchman helped his side lift the trophy.
For a large majority of the game, a typically opportunistic Robbie Fowler strike looked to have given Liverpool the win, but late drama and Darren Purse`s penalty took the tie into extra-time.
Fowler latched onto hopeful long-ball after half-an-hour and promptly thumped an effort over the despairing dive of Ian Bennett, but a foul by Stephane Henchoz on Martin O`Connor resulted in Purse scoring the late leveller.
Liverpool appeared devoid of attacking ideas at the start of the extra-time period but came alive in the latter stages and it was fitting that the two teams finished level - leading to the drama of the penalty shoot-out, where The Reds held their nerve to claim victory.
Liverpool tried their best to assert themselves in the early stages, with Fowler going within inches of opening the scoring. Vladimir Smicer raced clear down the left and whipped in an inviting cross for the resurgent striker, but his goal-bound effort was diverted away for a corner.
Birmingham were sensible with their possession and their set-pieces were causing problems. A Martin Grainger free-kick led to a scramble in the area, but The Pool eventually hacked the ball to safety.
Martin O`Connor survived a moment of controversy mid-way through the first-half, when Steven Gerrard raced clear, only to be brought down when moving in on goal.
Luckily for O`Connor, though, the assistant referee flagged for offside and Birmingham were awarded a free-kick.
For a team famed for their passing football, Liverpool`s opener owed much to route-one football.
Westerveld launched a long-ball that Emile Heskey flicked into the path of Fowler, who appeared to have few options but launched a fabulous 25-yard volley that curled and dipped over Bennett.
Another long-ball nearly doubled the advantage, as Smicer latched onto a Heskey flick, but he wastefully chipped wide when only faced with the keeper to beat.
Birmingham could, and possibly should, have equalised moments after the interval, but the chance fell to Andy Johnson, who was probably cold after coming on as a substitute seconds earlier. Nicky Eaden whipped in a dangerous near-post cross, but Johnson turned his shot wide of goal.
Liverpool resorted to their passing game after the break and Markus Babbel was set free down the right, and only a fine Darren Purse tackle denied Fowler a second goal.
Smicer was looking full of confidence and drive, and the Czech created a chance for Heskey, but the England man, who was playing in his fourth League Cup final, blazed wastefully over.
Moments later, Smicer found himself in acres of space beyond The Blues` defence but he shot straight at Bennett.
As you would expect from a team who were behind in a cup final, Trevor Francis` men had a solid spell of possession, but the Liverpool defence, marshalled superbly by Sami Hyypia, stopped Birmingham testing Westerveld.
Purse had an excellent opportunity from a corner, but he headed high over the bar when unmarked in the box.
Francis` side looked to be heading for defeat when, in injury-time, the previously supreme Stephane Henchoz lunged wildly at O`Connor in the box and gave David Elleray little option but to award a penalty.
After a considerable delay due to an injury to O`Connor, Purse showed remarkable composure to stroke the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net and send the tie into extra-time.
Birmingham started the extra period far more confident, while Liverpool looked visibly tired, and Bryan Hughes wasted a fine opportunity as he fired over when well placed.
Fantastic interplay between Stan Lazaridis and Hughes allowed the latter to go clear and he launched a chip that was destined for the top corner, but Westerveld clawed the effort to safety.
In the final minute of the first extra period, Birmingham were denied what looked a certain penalty when Johnson appeared to have been fouled by Henchoz, but neither Elleray nor assistant referee Phil Sharp consented to award the spot-kick.
Liverpool attempted to assert their authority in the second period, and both Fowler and Hyypia went close with headers.
Dietmar Hamann then thundered an effort that smashed against the post and diverted to safety - the last chance of the game before the drama of the shoot-out.
Gary McAllister scored the first for Liverpool, but Grainger immediately put his side under pressure when he saw his effort saved.
Nick Barmby and Christian Ziege scored for Liverpool, while Purse and Marcelo did likewise for Birmingham.
Hamann then saw his effort saved and when Lazaridis scored it was all level. Fowler then scored, as did Bryan Hughes, meaning the game was set for sudden death.
Jamie Carragher then confidently slotted home the final goal, as Johnson saw his effort saved by Westerveld.
It was terrible luck for Johnson, as he had caused the Liverpool defence untold problems, but his first touch, a miss from close-range, and his last proved costly for The Blues.