The Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
League Cup Final
LIVERPOOL 2-0 MANCHESTER UNITED
|The League Cup Final 2003|
|MATCH REPORT - Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United|
Gerrard (with a little help from that Manc who dresses up like a woman) 39, Owen 86
Two years ago, the Worthington Cup provided the launchpad for Liverpool's success under Gerard Houllier. This time around, it might just prove his salvation. Back where their 2001 cup treble began, a mere single was still a welcome relief for the Liverpool boss amid a season of immense Premiership and Champions League frustration.
With the perfect retort to the knee-jerk pressure mounting on their boss, Houllier's side swept to a hard-fought victory against Manchester United.
Steven Gerrard fired Liverpool into a 39th-minute lead and Houllier was thereafter indebted not just to his stoic defenders or his battling midfielders, but to his much-maligned goalkeeper, Jerzy Dudek.
In his first appearance against United since the error-strewn display at Anfield late last year, which lost him his place, the Poland international pulled off a string of top-class saves.
And in rebuilding his own reputation, he served to enhance Houllier's and, above all, to guarantee him more time to resurrect his side's fortunes.
Michael Owen, who has endured his own share of criticism this season, then rounded off Liverpool's perfect day late on with his third strike within the space of a week. It was a case of 'Crisis, what crisis?' for all from Anfield.
As for Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, the frustration continues, especially on a day when Arsenal took an eight-point lead in the Premiership table with victory against Charlton.
Ferguson described finishing without a trophy last season as a "horrible numbness". His team have much to aim for yet, but their search for silverware continues.
Not that United failed to take this final seriously. Far from it, in fact.
There were certainly no reserve sides on show amid a feverish atmosphere under the closed roof of Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, with Ryan Giggs, Wes Brown and Paul Scholes all passed fit.
This, after all, was United against Liverpool - the sort of rivalry that could extend to a reserve fixture at Altrincham.
Liverpool, meanwhile, may have started with El Hadji Diouf on the right flank instead of Vladimir Smicer but their recent inconsistency was all too evident in their cautious start.
Indeed, had United not rushed their final ball, with Juan Sebastian Veron especially culpable, they could have seized the lead early on.
Instead, it was not until the 22nd minute that United found any real spark as Giggs spun wide before clipping in a low cross which Ruud van Nistelrooy toe-poked just wide at full stretch.
Liverpool, meanwhile, were non-existent as an attacking force, with just two of their players' minds not focused primarily on defensive duties.
When one of them, Emile Heskey, found the other one, Owen, his deft turn took him clear inside the box only for Fabien Barthez to block at his feet.
That moment on inspiration, albeit with 35 minutes gone still injected some much-needed urgency into Liverpool's approach with the non-stop figure of Danny Murphy lobbing a shot just over the top.
There were still few attacking options ahead of Gerrard when he received possession 30 yards out from John Arne Riise four minutes later.
The England midfielder responded by unleashing a powerful drive which deflected off David Beckham and then looped over Barthez before dipping under the bar.
It was the classic Liverpool sucker-punch, but it finally gave the game the edge which it had painfully lacked.
Back came a reinvigorated United side, with Dudek blocking Veron's effort before Stephane Henchoz somehow managed to deflect Paul Scholes' follow-up effort over the top.
United's hesitancy resumed after the break, while Liverpool's defensive resistance now took on a rather more heroic guise as Dudek flung himself full length to deny van Nistelrooy twice, as well as Scholes.
Milan Baros, meanwhile, came on for Heskey and almost immediately surged forward before slipping the ball to Gerrard at the last moment only for his shot to be tipped around the post by Barthez.
Murphy also had an effort blocked and it was United who now needed the positive impact of a substitution, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replacing Brown as Giggs moved to left-back.
Faced with such a packed Liverpool defence, what United really needed, however, was a moment of inspiration from the likes of Beckham and Veron, whose passing was letting them down.
Scholes went diving in search of a penalty but it was Liverpool who pounced. With United forced into all-out attack, that is exactly when Liverpool are at their most potent.
Mikael Silvestre's dreadful control in the centre of the field allowed Didier Hamann to thread Owen through, and he scuttled at full pace into the United penalty area before slotting his shot past Barthez.
Ferdinand cleared a late chance off the line but having experienced the frustration of sitting on the bench during the 2001 final, Owen had this time made his mark in the most public fashion.
So too had Dudek and Houllier.
Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz , Hyypia, Riise, Diouf (Biscan 90), Hamann, Gerrard, Murphy, Owen, Heskey (Baros 61), Baros (Smicer 89).
Subs Not Used: Arphexad, Traore.
Man Utd: Barthez, Gary Neville, Brown (Solskjaer 74), Ferdinand, Silvestre, Beckham, Keane, Veron, Giggs, van Nistelrooy, Scholes.
Subs Not Used: Carroll, Phil Neville, Butt, O'Shea.
Ref: P Durkin (Dorset).
captain and on the list for hip replacement its Roy Keane
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|Match Report filed: 3rd March 2003|