Carling Cup Final 2012
Cardiff City 2-2 Liverpool
(Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)




Anthony Gerrard (above top) slides his penalty wide of Reina's post while Liverpool players (above below) lead the celebrations after the shoot-out


By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor from Wembley Stadium 

Anthony Gerrard agonisingly missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out as Liverpool lifted their first trophy in six years edging past a resolute and incredibly brave performance from Championship side Cardiff City in an entertaining and pulsating Carling Cup final.

It was a heartbreaking end for the Bluebirds who gave Liverpool everything they had and more whilst contributing hugely to a final that will live long in the memory in what was an exemplary advert for English football. Cardiff took the lead much to the delight of the travelling supporters who made the journey from Wales when young Joe Mason gave them the lead after 19 minutes slotting cooly home. The Reds had to wait until the hour mark for their leveller from an unlikely source as Martin Skrtel kept his composure to finish instinctively inside the six yard box after Suarez hit a post.

Substitute Dirk Kuyt looked to have won the trophy for Liverpool when he squeezed the ball in as he was falling backwards from the edge of the eighteen yard line although Cardiff showed character despite energy levels draining to force home the equaliser with two minutes of extra-time remaining when the outstanding Ben Turner prodded in a goal he and his team rationally deserved to take the game to a penalty shoot-out.

After the first three spot-kicks were missed, both Kuyt and Downing struck the ones that counted as Bluebirds defender Anthony Gerrard, on as a substitute for the equally impressive skipper Mark Hudson, slid past the post to be the villain of the piece and hand Liverpool the silverware on their first visit to the new Wembley.

Liverpool made mincemeat of Championship opposition last weekend in the FA Cup beating Brighton 6-1 at Anfield profiting from three own goals in the process and boss Kenny Dalglish decided to leave things on a wholesale scale as they were in the team with the one change made seeing Daniel Agger returning after rest to replace Jamie Carragher while proud Welshman and former Cardiff man Craig Bellamy, an almost guaranteed starter for the neutrals, was left among the substitutes along with Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez- two players who have played a massive part in helping the club to this stage of the competition. Gerrard, Suarez and Carroll started together for only the second time- the other time was last weekend.

Captain Mark Hudson passed a late fitness test to take his place in the Cardiff City defence after missing the last four games with a calf problem but Stephen McPhail didn't make the squad due to the effects of an immune system disorder Sjogren's syndrome. Goalkeeper Tom Heaton, hero of the semi-final penalty shootout win over Crystal Palace, resumed cup duties overcoming a knock to his ankle. Overall manager Malky Mackay made three changes from the loss by three goals at Ipswich in the Championship last weekend with Marshall, Kiss and Gerrard losing their places while forward Rudy Gestede making only a tenth start for the club as the side was bold and attack-minded with Kenny Miller leading the line making the first appearance of his career at Wembley.

The sun glistened upon Wembley on a spring-like day with a special game in the offing and that is certainly what was produced even from the moment Glen Johnson, an FA Cup final winner with Portsmouth against Cardiff in 2008, bent a terrific right-footed effort against the underside of the crossbar with Tom Heaton a statue on his goalline with barely two minutes on the clock. Steven Gerrard blasted the loose ball into orbit. From this point, it boded well for an exuberant final. The Liverpool chants and "You'll Never Walk Alone" anthem was being belted out with some passion even an hour before kick-off and continued throughout. Cardiff the underdogs played with no fear against the favourites Liverpool.

The atmosphere around the stadium was raucous but on the pitch Liverpool were exerting Cardiff early on with a lot of pressure on the Bluebirds to defend particularly against Andy Carroll's height in a bright opening from the seventh-placed Premier League side. Carroll jostled to win balls in the air from a couple of early corners tossed his way. There was half a chance for Cardiff in the tenth minute when Taylor's superb pass opened up some space in the Liverpool penalty area and Cowie's cute flick round the corner linked up with Miller to good effect but he blazed over with the chance of working Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina early on- the Spaniard being the only player to start every match of the Reds' cup run which has mainly been away from home.



Liverpool are only the second side to reach the final of the League Cup having played just one game throughout the competition at home- the other was Arsenal in 2006/07.


Liverpool bossed with Suarez having two attempted shots blocked by Hudson and Carroll a header which was plucked out of the air by Heaton while the Liverpool midfield were being given a lot of time and space to create things having said that the Reds didn't make the most of this. And much against the run of play, Cardiff broke the deadlock when the young and lively Joe Mason wrote his name under the lights at the national stadium to send the blue end of the ground into pandamonium with the otherwise impressive Martin Skrtel culpable for heading unchallenged straight back to McNaughton.

Miller rolled the ball past Enrique and the 20-year old Mason, an £800,000 summer purchase from cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle, bagged his eighth of the season when he slotted through the legs of Pepe Reina to give the Carling Cup final the lift-off it needed as the resolute Cardiff looked to duplicate last season's final which saw Birmingham defy the odds to beat Arsenal.

During the first half it looked as though Liverpool's home record was transferring to the game where they struggle to score goals, defend well and hit the woodwork or come up against a goalkeeper in the form of his life. Some of those factors certainly played a part. There were some vehement protests for a penalty kick from Liverpool who suggested to referee Mark Clattenburg that left-back Andrew Taylor- the only Cardiff player to start all seven of their League cup ties this season- handled although the County Durham based official, in charge of his first major final, was quick to disregard the claims. Liverpool weren't getting midfield runners up the pitch quick enough to support Carroll with Suarez dropping deeper and uneager to get in the box as part of a 4-2-3-1 setup. There was a nice ebb and flow to the open match with the form book going for a burton.

Henderson was certainly the villain of the match as he performed below the standards expected and his poor ball into the penalty area was scraped away by Hudson setting it invitingly up for Charlie Adam- who started Blackpool's fightback against Cardiff in the 2010 Championship play-off final- to smack it towards goal but inches wide of the post with Heaton struggling to make his way across to it and it could have found its way in had it been on target.

Liverpool were building up a head of steam and man of the match contender Downing tricked McNaughton inside and out once or twice in the first period and did so to fire a lovely cross which Henderson swung at and completely missed in mid air while Gerrard, who this week said trophies was more important than Champions League football, lashed high wide and not at all handsomely into the stands when the ball carried on to him arriving onto the scene unnoticed.

Just before the break, Daniel Agger had a golden chance to level when Gerrard centred a well-flighted free-kick and the Dane needed to guide the ball either side of Cardiff goalkeeper Tom Heaton who fielded it in well although it was straight into his gloves as he ran from an onside position freely.

Liverpool had more chances and Suarez had a half a sighting of the Cardiff net when a long ball into the box was knocked down not for the first time by Carroll- a scorer in the second round win at Exeter- while Ben Turner miskicked making the only error of his evening to note to allow Suarez to run onto the ball although with the angle against him it was always going to be extremely difficult for the Uruguayan, who has netted three goals in the three Carling Cups games he has played in this season, to get an effort away but he did as Heaton got a hand on it pushing it back into play where Hudson had the time to make a suitable clearance.

One element to Cardiff's excellent display was the timing of their tackling which was rarely out of line in particular in the penalty area something which couldn't be said of Jordan Henderson as the 21-year old was the first to test the patience of referee Clattenburg as far as cards were concerned wit a late tackle on Mason when the midfielder had lost the ball in a situation that could have been troublesome for the Reds on 52 minutes.



The last meeting between these two sides was in the Carling Cup fourth round in 2007 where Liverpool won 2-1 at Anfield.


The substitution of the disappointing and disappointed Henderson and the arrival of boyhood and lifelong Cardiff supporter Craig Bellamy from the Liverpool bench brought a warm reception from all four corners of the stadium as he entered the fray to a rapturous applause as his team laid siege to the Cardiff goal where yet another former Manchester United shotstopper was pressing hard to take home the man of the match champagne in a League Cup final, like Ben Foster in two of the last three seasons, Tom Heaton was alert at all times as the pressure mounted on the sixth-placed Championship side.

The pressure paid for the Reds as they were back level on the hour when Cardiff, who had been sound defensively for large parts if not all of the two hours played, failed to clear their lines from a corner as another Carroll knock-down found Suarez who was unfortunate to see his header come back off the post although Martin Skrtel showed striking instincts inside the six yard box to send the ball through Heaton's legs as the Slovakian defender scored for the second successive Sunday only this time on cup final day as the game looked to have a totally different complexion.

The Reds upped the ante and searched for the route to goal once more with Skrtel volleying straight at the goalkeeper as Cardiff looked no longer an attacking force in the match and more dependant on their defensive capabilities. Heaton was called upon once more to get down to his left to keep out Downing's low effort which took a nick of one of the bodies piled infront of him as the winger- a losing finalist in this competition with Aston Villa against Manchester United two seasons ago- shaped to shoot after cutting inside onto his left foot.

Adam cut across his effort as Heaton cushioned it down to make a comfortable save when a breakaway down the left hand side from Bellamy worried the tiring legs of Cardiff. Stalwart Jamie Carragher got his big moment on the pitch as he replaced Daniel Agger with a few minutes of the normal ninety to play who had a rib problem.

Cardiff couldn't have asked for a better chance to smash and grab the win from Liverpool's reach on 87 minutes and couldn't have asked it to fall to a better player when Kenny Miller, top scorer this season with ten goals and who hasn't scored in six games, skied over the bar snatching at the chance as it went in a flash coming about after a quick free-kick caught the Reds cold. The Scotsman may have been put off by Andy Carroll who slid infront of him hoping to get in the way as the allotted ninety minutes came to a close with no separation.

The game was evenly poised and finely balanced going into extra time and it was a fast start with Suarez finding a shooting opportunity at goal in the first thirty seconds with an effort which was probably sailing wide although Heaton wasn't sure and once again turned it around to be on the safe side. Suarez was also denied by a goal-line clearance from Andrew Taylor while Hudson, who had been struggling for a while with severe cramp, ran his race as Anthony Gerrard joined older cousin Steven on the pitch while Andy Carroll couldn't be involved in the actual winning of the game as he was taken off for Dirk Kuyt who was desperate for his first winners medal since moving to Anfield just two months after the FA Cup final win over West Ham in 2006.

McNaughton gingerly trotted off with Welshman Darcy Blake introduced as Cardiff were becoming fatigued although they were used to such excersions with three previous ties in the competition going the distance in the meantime Liverpool stepped up the play keen to get the business done and dusted before penalties. They looked to have won it once and for all when the Dutchman Kuyt, who made a difference when coming on and who has been on the fringes this season, added fresh legs and initially drilled low and hard into the penalty area and as Gerrard's clearance for Cardiff came back his way squeezed a shot home first time catching the goalkeeper by surprise at his near post to score the most important goal out of the four he has managed this season to take the plaudits.

Cardiff who played the game and not the occasion rose to the challenge and were not done there with Kuyt having to make a clearance on the line to preserve the lead he had given his side. From the resulting corner, which was only Cardiff's third of the match, Ben Turner popped up with the equaliser that sent the place into bedlam once more as Liverpool couldn't hold on with the defending of the set-piece not up to scratch.

Man of the match Turner worked tirelessly for the cause and reaped his rewards when he benefitted from the ball rebounding back off Kuyt to him and reacted similarly to how Skrtel had done at the other end to stab the ball past Reina from close range with two minutes left on the clock as the former Coventry defender stripped off his shirt and whizzed it around and around in sheer delight as incredible scenes unfolded at Wembley. The yellow card he received afterwards the least of his worries as penalty kicks loomed.

The responsibiliy of the first spotkick lay in the hands of Steven Gerrard who was denied by a somewhat extraordinary stop from Tom Heaton who produced second to none reflexes and agility to stretch across to help the penalty onto the frame of the goal when you would have put your mortgage on the Liverpool skipper finding the net. Kenny Miller missed next hitting the post with elevation, adding to the never-ending and nail-biting drama. The normally reliable deadball specialist Charlie Adam was also off the mark as he missed by an utter distance.

Cardiff were one up through Cowie's well taken penalty while Kuyt sent the keeper the wrong way with his own. The pendulum swung Liverpool's way once again when 22 year old Rudy Gestede, the summer signing from Metz, thumped the post with Reina beaten as he stepped up looking tired. Whittingham placed his with precision while Johnson found the roof of the net in some style.

The shoot-out finished as it started with a wiery looking Gerrard stepping up to the breach although Cardiff's Anthony had to score but slid wide to ensure Liverpool earned their first trophy since Kenny Dalglish returned in his second spell as manager while the Scotsman- who celebrates his 61st birthday next week- won the League Cup for the first time. It had been a truly spectacular final with Cardiff deserving all the praise that comes their way despite the defeat but will be able to take an enormous amount of pride and dignity from this Wembley experience.

Liverpool have twelve Premier League games to prove themselves starting with a tricky home match with Arsenal who came from behind to beat Tottenham earlier in the day while Cardiff continue their push for promotion to the same division also with a challenging task at home to second-placed West Ham United next Sunday.

Click here for Carling Cup Final 2012 photo gallery



Adam Higgins
The Football Site-  Chief Football Editor

"It was a tremendously brave performance that the whole of South Wales can be proud of and certainly Malky Mackay can look back at without regrets from Cardiff City in a journey to the final in which they have rode their luck especially in the Crystal Palace semi-final. It has been a good run for them in the competition and for it to end as runners-up after missing a spotkick is a real shame. Liverpool have to be congratulated for taking this competition seriously this season by playing strong line-ups in all the rounds even against lower league sides and at least their supporters can celebrate some silverware. Hopefully for them, Kenny can guide them to more and this should help their league form. On another day this could have a different story and Cardiff will not want to do a Birmingham from last year and take a downward spiral letting affect their play-off push- tiredness definitely kicked in but to come back so late in extra-time and have enough effort to keep Liverpool shows the character they have. They are maintaing a play-off push too."



Sunday 26th February 2012

Carling Cup Final

Wembley Stadium

Cardiff City 2-2 Liverpool                                  KO 4pm            Live on Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D & BBC1/HD          (HT 1-0)

Mason 19         Skrtel 60
Turner 118       Kuyt 108

(Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)

· Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) -missed 0-0
· Kenny Miller (Cardiff) - missed 0-0
· Charlie Adam (Liverpool) - missed 0-0
· Don Cowie (Cardiff) - scored 0-1
· Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool) - scored 1-1
· Rudy Gestede (Cardiff) - missed 1-1
· Stuart Downing (Liverpool) - scored 2-1
· Peter Whittingham (Cardiff) - scored 2-2
· Glen Johnson (Liverpool) - scored 3-2
· Anthony Gerrard (Cardiff) - missed 3-2

Cardiff City:  22 Heaton- 9/10, 2 McNaughton- 8.5/10 (Blake 106- 3/10), 5 Hudson (C)- 9/10 (Gerrard 99- 2/10), 25 Turner- 9.5/10, 3 Taylor- 8.5/10, 7 Whittingham- 8.5/10, 8 Cowie- 8.5/10, 17 Gunnarsson- 8.5/10, 20 Mason- 9/10 (Kiss 91- 4.5/10), 9 Miller- 8.5/10, 15 Gestede- 8.5/10.

Subs not used:  1 Marshall, 18 Naylor, 11 Conway, 10 Earnshaw

Booked:      Kiss (98), Turner (118)

Liverpool:  25 Reina- 8/10, 2 Johnson- 8.5/10, 5 Agger- 8.5/10 (Carragher 86- 5/10), 37 Skrtel- 9/10, 3 Jose Enrique- 8.5/10, 14 Henderson- 5/10 (Bellamy 58- 7/10), 8 Gerrard (C)- 7.5/10, 26 Adam- 8.5/10, 19 Downing- 9/10, 7 Suarez- 8/10, 9 Carroll- 7.5/10 (Kuyt 103- 4.5/10).

Subs not used:  32 Doni, 34 Kelly, 11 Maxi, 20 Spearing

Booked:      Henderson (58)

My Man of the Match:  Ben Turner (Cardiff City)- Rating 9.5/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:  Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)- Rating 5/10 



Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)- 9/10
Assistant Referees: Simon Beck and Mick McDonough
Attendance: 89,044


RELATED STORIES:    Clattenburg appointed referee for CC Final


Match Facts

Possession: Cardiff City- 47%             Liverpool- 53%

Shots: Cardiff City- 11               Liverpool- 39

Shots on target: Cardiff City- 7              Liverpool- 19

Shots off target: Cardiff City- 4               Liverpool- 20

Corners: Cardiff City- 3                Liverpool- 19

Fouls: Cardiff City- 11                Liverpool- 14

Offside: Cardiff City- 1                Liverpool- 5

Assists: Cardiff City- Miller             Liverpool- None




Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay

"They are obviously all disappointed. There is a way to lose. You lose with dignity and they have lost with dignity today. There is a learning curve and you have experiences in your life. Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. There is going to be a lot of stronger boys in there leading on after that, the way they played, the way they competed against one of the top teams in the country who have had excellent past pedigree in this competition. We need to turn our attention to earning promotion to the Premier League, where Cardiff need to be and hopefully we will playing against the likes of Liverpool on a regular basis next season. We have got 14 league games to go now. We are in the play-off places. We are up there in the mix at the moment and the group of players have been competitive all season. They have been fantastic. I am so proud of them."

Listen to the thoughts of Bluebirds boss Malky Mackay


Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish

"I'm delighted that our name is on the trophy. It was a hard game and we went the long way around but I am pleased for the players. It doesn't particularly matter how you win the cup final as long as you do. We didn't really play particularly well but Cardiff was always going to be difficult and we have to give them a lot of credit for the part they played in a terrific final. The big lad up top, Gestede, did well for them and there were some good defensive performances from them but at the end of the day it is us who have won. It was always a hard game and they put us under a lot of pressure. They were brilliant and they were always going to come back despite how tired they were and that was clear for all to see when they were taking their penalties. They were a great credit to Wales today. It was sad for the boy who missed the penalty and it was cruel for the match to be decided in that way. We've sent the 40,000 or so fans at Wembley home happy and that is what it is all about. It was important for us as a club to end this run without silverware."

Listen to the thoughts of Reds boss Kenny Dalglish


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