WHEN it was all over, 27 of 30 penalties had been converted, Middlesbrough were on their knees in despair and Liverpool were too shattered to indulge fully in celebration. One of the most remarkable shoot-outs in English history brought relief for Brendan Rodgersâ€™ team as they edged into the fourth round courtesy of an exhausting finale at Anfield and one final miss from the unfortunate Albert Adomah.
The Middlesbrough winger sliced the 30th and final spot-kick into the Kop to settle a seemingly never-ending tie at 10.42pm. Both teams had gone through the card in the shoot-out, goalkeepers included, with Patrick Bamford, whose penalty in extra-time stoppage time carried the Championship club so far, and Raheem Sterling having efforts saved before Adomahâ€™s miss.
It was the longest penalty shoot-out in the history of the League Cup, the previous record set at 9-8 on three occasions, and more extensive than the FA Cupâ€™s highest total when Macclesfield beat Forest Green 11-10 in 2001. Of major English competitions only the Football League Trophy can equal it, also boasting a 14-13 shoot-out.
Rodgers could afford a wry smile afterwards, even though Liverpoolâ€™s defending and lack of creativity were evident again, and this time against Championship opposition. It was simply cruel for the Boro manager, Aitor Karanka, having seen his side twice come from behind and pose a persistent threat all night.
â€œI donâ€™t have words to explain my feelings now,â€ said the former Real Madrid assistant manager. â€œIâ€™ve never experienced anything like that before. We have played a Champions League team at Anfield and weâ€™ve met them face to face. Everything was brilliant except the last penalty.â€
In normal circumstances this would have been the night Jordan Rossiter claimed the headlines, having marked his Liverpool debut with the opening goal from 30 yards. But with Liverpool unable to defend set pieces, enabling Adam Reach to head in a deserved Middlesbrough equaliser, Kolo TourÃ© conceding a ridiculous penalty in the 122nd minute and both sides showing rare composure during the shoot-out, normality took its leave at Anfield.
â€œItâ€™s good to win no matter how you win,â€ said the Liverpool manager. â€œWe played OK, we didnâ€™t create much to be honest but we showed good perseverance. We made too many mistakes, as it has been for us at the moment, and we got punished.â€
Rossiter, a 17-year-old born not far from Anfield, has caught the eye in Liverpoolâ€™s youth teams in recent years and prompted inevitable comparisons with a young Steven Gerrard given his position, background and severe teenage haircut. It is premature of course, even though Robbie Fowler has also announced the midfielder has the potential to follow the Liverpool captainâ€™s career path, but a long-range goal on debut is not a bad way to start.
Lucas Leivaâ€™s through-ball should have been routine for the on-loan Chelsea pairing of Kenneth Omeruo and the goalkeeper Jamal Blackman as it rolled into the Middlesbrough area. Blackman, making his Boro debut, came but failed to collect, spilling the ball to Rickie Lambert but blocking the Liverpool strikerâ€™s first-time shot.
The rebound fell to Rossiter who drove low from distance under the goalkeeperâ€™s poor attempt at an interception and into the centre of an unguarded goal. The goalscoring debutantâ€™s reaction was one to behold: a combination of astonishment, bewilderment and delirium producing a celebratory routine that had clearly not been rehearsed.
Boro threatened on the counter-attack and from set pieces all game. There may have been greater energy and purpose to the Liverpool performance in the second half but, as has been the case for most of the season, it came almost entirely from Sterling, whose 122-minute outing was not ideal preparation for Saturdayâ€™s Merseyside derby.
Lazar Markovic was anonymous on his second start for the club, Adam Lallanaâ€™s work-rate could not be faulted but the Â£25m summer recruit was unable to find an end product while his former Southampton team-mate Lambert endured a difficult first start of the season. The boyhood Liverpool supporter was also handed the captainâ€™s armband for the night, despite having appeared only as a substitute previously.
Middlesbrough levelled from an inevitable source when Mamadou Sakho was penalised for handball and Grant Leadbitterâ€™s free-kick was glanced in by Reach. Adam Clayton had a chance to knock Liverpool out in the 85th minute but his close-range shot, after he was released by Lee Tomlinâ€™s clever reverse pass, struck the outside of a post. Then Suso appeared to have decided the outcome when he fired through a crowded area in extra time. Bamfordâ€™s penalty, after Sterling had surrendered possession and TourÃ© sent the on-loan Chelsea player sprawling, confirmed otherwise. It was merely a dress rehearsal for the madness to come. – The Guardian