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Liverpool edge their way to Wembley after nail-biting penalty shoot-out against Stoke

Liverpool 0 - Stoke City 1 (aet, Liverpool won 6-5 on pens)

By Mark Ogden

Simon Mignolet secured Liverpool's passage to Wembley for next month's Capital One Cup final with two penalty shootout saves before Joe Allen struck the decisive spot-kick to eliminate Stoke City.

With the game going to extra-time and penalties following Marco Arnautovic's contentious first half goal - the Austrian was clearly offside when released by Bojan Krkic - the Reds booked their 12th League Cup final appearance - on February 28 against either Manchester City or Everton - after Mignolet saved from Peter Crouch and Marc Muniesa.

Following a season that has seen him subjected to persistent criticism, the Belgian goalkeeper was cheered off the Anfield pitch after his match-winning heroics.

Earlier, Stoke ended their 57-year wait for victory against Liverpool at Anfield thanks to Arnautovic's controversial winner. His goal, deep into first half stoppage time, levelled the score on aggregate.

Jordon Ibe's goal in the first leg at the Britannia Stadium had given Liverpool the 1-0 advantage which forced Stoke manager Mark Hughes to go for broke in the return fixture.

The Welshman's game-plan was obvious once the team sheets had confirmed the presence of Crouch up front for Stoke, with the former Liverpool and England forward supported by the attacking threat of Jonathan Walters, Bojan and Arnautovic.

Liverpool's frailty when defending set-pieces - indeed any aerial ball - had forced Jürgen Klopp (pictured) to admit he had held "intensive" talks with his players in order to eradicate the problems that have led to panic whenever the ball has approached Mignolet's penalty area.

Liverpool tend not to lose at home to Stoke and such was the confidence of the Kop that one banner proclaimed, "Anfield South Awaits".

When Liverpool won four successive League Cups in the 1980s, Wembley was every inch Anfield South due to the regularity of the club's trips there for major finals, but Klopp's team went into this game with trophies in thin supply in recent years.

Two unsuccessful semi-finals last season, with defeats against Chelsea in this competition and Aston Villa in the FA Cup, only served to increase the frustration of a club that has become desperate to recreate the magic of their glory days.

Stoke have proven their ability to beat the best this season, with Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United all falling victim at the Britannia, but their form has been less convincing away from home.

Chances were few and far between. Walters saw an early shot from 20 yards deflected behind by Milner, before the Republic of Ireland forward, born across the Mersey on the Wirral, flashed a left-footed effort wide of Mignolet's far post after running onto an Erik Pieters pass.

Liverpool were happy to sit back and contain Stoke. But the two chances which came their way before half-time fell to midfielder Emre Can - the first a drag-back and shot from 20 yards which flew high and wide before the German fizzed a right-footed strike inches wide from 25 yards.

Stoke made the breakthrough in first-half stoppage time with a goal that should not have been allowed as Arnautovic appeared to be at least a yard offside when he was released by Bojan.

Hughes's team had at least sensed the chance to catch Liverpool off guard, breaking with a swift counter-attack as the home side waited for referee Jon Moss to blow the whistle for half-time. But when Walters fed Bojan on the right, Arnautovic had already raced ahead of Kolo Touré and Mamadou Sakho into the penalty area.

The Austrian failed to halt his run and the assistant referee's flag should have been raised as soon as Bojan played the ball, but the flag did not move and, as Liverpool's bewildered defenders appealed for offside, Arnautovic guided a right-foot strike past Mignolet in front of the Kop.

After the break, Roberto Firmino struck the foot of the post with a right-foot volley on 48 minutes, but as the volume inched higher inside Anfield, it was the visitors who grew in stature.

And but for two crucial defensive blocks by Sakho - both from Walters - Stoke would have deservedly doubled their lead inside the opening 15 minutes.

Then came the moment when Christian Benteke, on as a substitute, somehow failed to connect with Alberto Moreno's cross, six yards from goal. The ball appeared perfectly weighted for the Belgian to power into the net, but he ducked at the vital moment, leaving Jon Flanagan to stumble on the ball.

Stoke dominated the half an hour of extra-time. Substitute Marco van Ginkel struck the post on 104 minutes and then forced a fine save from Mignolet 10 minutes later after Crouch had gone close.

But Liverpool made Stoke pay in the most heartbreaking fashion in the shootout.

LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Flanagan (Ibe 105), Toure (Allen 85), Sakho, Moreno, Henderson (Benteke 58), Lucas, Can, Milner, Firmino, Lallana.

Subs not used: Lovren, Smith, Ward, Teixeira.

STOKE: Butland, Johnson, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Pieters, Whelan, Afellay, Walters, Krkic (Adam 71) (Van Ginkel 98), Arnautovic (Shaqiri 78), Crouch.

Subs not used: Bardsley, Joselu, Wilson, Haugaard.

Man of the match: Mignolet (above)

Referee: Jon Moss (W Yorkshire)

Match Rating: 6/10

Att: 43,091

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