Cup goes to the Kop

CARDIFF: Goals from England duo Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen and a superb display by goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek gave Liverpool a record seventh English League Cup win at the expense of Manchester United here yesterday. 

Gerrard’s first-half strike and a clinical shot from Owen five minutes from the end secured what was ultimately a deserved win for Gerard Houllier’s side. 

“This atmosphere reminds a bit of Dortmund when we won the 2001 UEFA Cup,” said a beaming Houllier as his players sang the club’s anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on the pitch. 

“It is a special bond between the fans and the team which is why I wanted the players out here.” 

Houllier said the relief was enormous after Thursday’s victory over Auxerre to reach the UEFA Cup quarter-finals and then this first trophy for two years. 

“It was a difficult week,” he said, before paying tribute to his goalkeeper. “We have beaten a good Manchester United, Jerzy was the hero of the game at times.” 

Gerrard, whose shot took a deflection off David Beckham’s shin, said his goal had come at a vital time. 

“That settled us down as we had been a bit slow out of the blocks and the United midfield were running things,” he said. 

Owen said it was great to have given the fans something to smile about after fading in the Premier League and being knocked out of the Champions League and the FA Cup.  

“We’ve taken a bit of stick but this is worth it and gives us something to build on.” 

But Liverpool also needed a string of saves from Dudek to secure a trophy that will offer Houllier’s side some consolation after the collapse of their Premier League and Champions League campaigns at the end of last year. 

“Houllier told me before the match that I would go from villain to hero and that he believed in me ... but this is scarcely credible,” said the Polish international. “I am just so satisfied at this and for the rest of the team as we have taken some flak.” 

With Arsenal looking increasingly unassailable in the league after yesterday’s win over Charlton, United’s hopes of avoiding a second successive season without any silverware now rest on winning the Champions League. 

After a scrappy opening period, United came agonisingly close to taking the lead in the 22nd minute after the Liverpool defence accorded Paul Scholes the time and space to turn 40 yards out. 

Scholes fed Ryan Giggs whose low cross passed through the legs of Jamie Carragher and onto the outstretched boot of Ruud van Nistelrooy, whose contact sent the ball spinning an inch to the right of Dudek’s upright. 

Liverpool’s fans had to wait until ten minutes before the break to see their team mount a meaningful threat. 

Gerrard was the architect of a counter-attack that finished with Owen skipping round Rio Ferdinand with embarrassing ease inside the box. 

The ball ran away from Owen on that occasion but his flash of menace galvanised Liverpool into a spell of pressure which yielded a goal six minutes from the break. 

Picking up a pass from Danny Murphy on the left of the United area, Gerrard had time to lift his head and unleash a shot that, with the help of a deflection from Beckham, looped up and over Fabien Barthez. 

Despite their brief spell of pressure, Liverpool barely deserved their lead and it took a goalline clearance from Stephane Henchoz to prevent Scholes equalising after Dudek had beaten out Juan Sebastian Veron’s fierce drive a minute before the break. 

But it was Liverpool who came out looking the sharper for the break and it took well-timed interventions from Wes Brown and Roy Keane to deny, respectively, Owen and Emile Heskey. 

Murphy then tested Barthez with a first time shot from Heskey’s lay off. 

At the other end, van Nistelrooy’s sharp turn and shot drew a good stop from Dudek. 

With the United back line pushing forward, the danger of being caught on the break increased and Liverpool took advantage of United’s stretched defences to kill the match four minutes from the end. 

Silvestre carelessly lost possession on the half-way line, leaving Dietmar Hamman with the simple task of sending Owen sprinting away from Ferdinand to slot a low shot past Barthez. – AFP 

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