MIGNOLET SAVES KEY SPOT KICK TO DEFEAT STOKE
LONDON – Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet proved the shootout hero as they reached the League Cup final on penalties after a gripping last-four second leg tie at Anfield ended 1-0 to Stoke City after extra time and 1-1 on aggregate.
Mignolet saved twice in the shootout, 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.
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 defense 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 shootout.
Liverpool will face either Everton or Manchester City in the final on Feb. 28, with Roberto Martínez’s side holding a 2-1 lead heading into Wednesday’s second leg.
Stoke will probably feel hard-done-by. Having not won at Anfield in any competition since 1959 with 36 fruitless visits in the interim, they were sharp, well-organized and the better team for the majority of Tuesday’s tie.
Liverpool, the record eight-time 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 meter offside when he stroked home Bojan’s cross. Liverpool’s Firmino rattled the outside of the post after the break, but Stoke continued to pile on the pressure with the hosts’ defense looking increasingly erratic as the encounter wore on.
In the shootout, former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch had his effort saved by Mignolet and Emre Can struck the post for the hosts before Muniesa’s effort was kept out and Allen stroked home to seal the tie.