Today was Liverpool's third round match in the Capital One Cup against Championship side Middlesbrough at Anfield. The League Cup game saw summer signings Rickie Lambert (as captain), Lazar Markovic, and Adam Lallana start as well as on loan Javi Manquillo, who was subbed out after 21 minutes over the weekend against West Ham. The big team news however was the first team debut of 17 year old midfielder Jordan Rossiter, a lifelong Red from the age of 6.
Middlesbrough had the first chance of the game as a Boro corner was swung in towards former Liverpool defender Daniel Ayala. The Spaniard's header was tame and right at Mignolet, easy work for the Belgian. What happened next was the stuff of fairy tales.
In the tenth minute, Liverpool mounted an attack on the Boro goal as the Smoggies scrambled to regroup. The ball ended up in the possession of the captain Lambert at the edge of the box. Keeper Jamal Blackman, on loan from Chelsea, came out to block Lambert's shot up close. The ball would ricochet back out into space as Liverpool kept coming forward. The aforementioned Rossiter would take advantage of Blackman's poor positioning and careen the ball from thirty odd yards out past the Boro defense and the hapless Blackman to make it 1-0. What a goal for the teenage debutant and LFC was ahead!
The remainder of the first 45 minutes was controlled by the visitors. Liverpool had a couple chances through Adam Lallana but the only danger of the last twenty minutes came from Boro when in the 37th minute Mignolet had to get low to make a save on Lee Tomlin. A corner had fallen to the midfielder just outside the penalty area and his volleyed effort made the Reds net minder spring into action.
The second half started off slowly as the home side tried to defend their one goal advantage. Possession was at a premium and chances were ever more scarce. That all changed in the 62nd minute when the Championship squad equalized through Adam Reach. After Mamadou Sakho conceded a free kick, and saw yellow, Grant Leadbitter sent in a free kick that Reach expertly headed past Mignolet. It was 1-1 and the fight was back on for Liverpool.
Liverpool would bring on Mario Balotelli and hand another Jordan, this time Williams, a debut in the second half but once again Boro were the only ones making waves. Or should I say Adam Clayton made waves. The midfielder had two high quality efforts on the LFC net, one close and one from distance, but Mignolet was up to the task on both occasions. The 1-1 stalemate after 90 minutes would mean extra time.
The first half of extra time was uneventful as the two teams played extra cautiously to prevent chasing a goal in the second half. Extra time substitute Suso, who came on for Lazar Markovic, provided the only real shot goalward when his curling effort sailed over seconds before the halftime whistle.
Suso would get his first ever Liverpool goal in the second half of extra time. Just four minutes after the restart, the 20 year old who spent the last two years on loan at Almeria in Spain capitalized on a chaotic series inside the Boro box. Adam Lallana and Jose Enrique got into the area with a nice two man game before the ball squirted towards Mario Balotelli. The big Italian could not get his full boot through the ball and Boro keeper Jamal Blackman was able to get it away from the net. The ball only got as far as the Spaniard and he rifled it home to make it 2-1. It looked as if Liverpool were going through to the fourth round on that goal. Looks can be deceiving.
After a dream start to the game, the end was a nightmare. In the final seconds of injury time, Kolo Toure fouled Middlesbrough forward Patrick Bamford in the penalty area conceding a heartbreaking spot kick at the death. The fouled Bamford stepped up calmly and tied the game at 2 to send the game to penalties, the ultimate crapshoot.
Penalty shootouts are nervy to begin with but this one still has me shaking a bit. It started off well for the Reds as Balotelli presented them with a 1-0 advantage with a perfect penalty. The joy was compounded by Bamford, the man who sent the game to penalties, missing his. It went back and forth, Lucas to Clayton to Lallana to Reach to Suso to Albert Adomah. It came down to Raheem Sterling. If the teenage phenom could beat Jamal Blackman from the spot, Liverpool were through. It was not meant to be as his effort was saved which meant if Jelle Vossen could convert the shootout was going to sudden death. Vossen won the battle of Belgians versus Mignolet and the pressure was cranked up to 11.
Jordan Williams, just 18 years old, started off the sudden death portion of the shootout with a tremendous make. George Friend tied it up with an absolutely unstoppable shot for Middlesbrough. Speaking of unstoppable, Kolo Toure made up for his gaffe in extra time by hitting a scud missile of a penalty that made Blackman look as if he fainted. The remainder of the defenders continued to score for both sides and it was level 9-9 when Simon Mignolet took his turn. Yes folks, we got to the GOALIES in this shootout. The two keepers had their little dance as they swapped spots and traded goals against one another. It was back to the beginning of the order. Balotelli scored again with an eerily similar penalty to his first one and Bamford atoned for his earlier miss with a make of his own. Lucas and Lallana tallied for Liverpool while Boro's two Adams, Reach and Clayton, kept it all square. Suso's make heaped the pressure back on Adomah. After forcing Sterling to crack the first time through the order, the Ghanaian was the one to falter this time sending the Reds to round four with a scintillating 14-13 penalty shootout victory.
Liverpool's opponent will be drawn tomorrow and their next Capital One Cup match will occur the week of October 27th.
Image Credit: Liverpool v. Middlesbrough (101greatgoals.com)