Joe Allen netted the winning penalty as Liverpool beat Stoke City 6-5 in a shootout in their Capital One Cup semi-final second leg on Tuesday.
Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was the hero as he saved Marc Muniesa's spot-kick in sudden death to give Allen the opportunity to send Liverpool through to the final at Wembley.
The Potters won the Anfield clash 1-0 over the 90 minutes, Marko Arnautovic scoring for the Potters in first-half stoppage time to cancel out the Reds' 1-0 advantage from the opening leg. But it is Liverpool who will travel to Wembley in February to face the winner of Wednesday's second semi-final between Everton and Manchester City.
Henry Winter of the Times provided the full team news ahead of kick-off, with Jon Flanagan returning to the Liverpool starting XI for the first time since returning from a long-term injury:
Henry Winter @henrywinter
#lfc v #scfc team sheet https://t.co/rtDNI1aLQH1/26/2016, 6:51:53 PM
A scrappy opening 25 minutes saw two efforts of note from Jon Walters as he twice was put through on goal by a long ball, but he could not convert either opportunity.
Emre Can looked the most eager of manager Jurgen Klopp's players to pepper the Stoke goal, but neither of his long-range efforts in the first half troubled goalkeeper Jack Butland.
It was an unsurprisingly cagey affair early on, with the hosts nervous of getting too far forward as they looked to protect their 1-0 aggregate advantage.
BBC Sport's Phil McNulty did not mince his words when describing the early exchanges:
Phil McNulty @philmcnulty
Truly rotten passage of play there with both sides basically passing the ball to each other. Not a classic.1/26/2016, 8:26:17 PM
But the Potters put the cat among the pigeons on the stroke of half-time as they went ahead through Arnautovic's cool finish.
Walters found Bojan Krkic on the right with a casual side-footed flick, and the Spaniard's squared cross was turned home by the waiting forward from seven yards out.
There was a strong suspicion of offside about the goal, but Liverpool were once again culpable for being caught on the counter-attack, per the Liverpool Echo's James Pearce:
James Pearce @JamesPearceEcho
Awful defending but half a yard offside. Poor decision from the assistant.1/26/2016, 8:32:26 PM
The response was immediate from the hosts when the second half got underway, Roberto Firmino being denied by the post in the 48th minute when the ball fell to him from a corner.
Walters forced Mignolet into a decent save after he was sent through on goal by a raking Arnautovic ball in the 55th minute, and the Irishman again went close seven minutes later. But Mamadou Sakho blocked his close-range effort.
Flanagan almost netted an equaliser 13 minutes from time, the ball having fallen to him in the box after substitute Christian Benteke failed to get on the end of Alberto Moreno's excellent cross.
However, the local favourite failed to sort his feet out properly, and a fairy-tale finish went begging, per the Echo's Neil Jones:
Neil Jones @neiljonesecho
Jon Flanagan, in front of the Kop. Couldn't get his touch right. Moreno's cross caused havoc.1/26/2016, 9:19:00 PM
A frantic final 10 minutes saw Liverpool denied a potential penalty when the ball struck Erik Pieters' elbow in the box, but referee Jon Moss was unmoved.
The Potters then threatened to deal a hammer blow deep into stoppage time with a couple of corners, but the final whistle confirmed extra time with the score still at 1-0.
Marco van Ginkel had the best chance for either side in the extra 30 minutes as he struck the post in the first half, but penalties seemed inevitable.
Can and Peter Crouch both missed early on, but some clinical spot-kicks saw the shootout into sudden death.
At 5-5, Mignolet saved at full stretch from Muniesa, and Allen then converted to seal the win for the Reds.
Klopp insisted after the clash that his Liverpool side deserved to go through on the balance of the two legs, per Sky Sports (via BBC Sport's Marc Higginson):
It was great, the atmosphere was special. It was a good game for my side against a difficult side to play. They changed their style today. It was Butland to Crouch so it was difficult to defend. We had a few problems, but they didn't have too many opportunities.
Their goal was double offside but, in the end, we had luck in the penalty shootout. Over the whole 120 minutes, the players, crowd and Liverpool deserved it. Wembley is a cool place to play football... but we go there to win. It's not much fun to lose.
Allen admitted being nervous before taking the winning spot kick but, like Klopp, praised the Anfield atmosphere, per Sky Sports (via Higginson): "I was nervous. There was confusion about who would take the seventh penalty, but I picked the right corner and it's electric here now."
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