ANFIELD ONLINE MATCH REPORT
Jose Reina was Liverpool's penalty hero as the Reds won the most thrilling FA Cup final of recent times against a brave West Ham at the Millennium Stadium.
There were scenes reminiscent of Istanbul as Rafael Benitez's side showed remarkable powers of recovery against Alan Pardew's fearless side, who this time last year were getting ready for the Championship play-offs as Liverpool prepared for the European Cup final against AC Milan.
An own goal from Jamie Carragher and Dean Ashton's toe-poke saw the Hammers take advantage of a slipshod first-half display from Reina, although Djibril Cisse's volley brought Liverpool back into the game before half-time.
Steven Gerrard then crashed in the equaliser for 2-2 before Paul Konchesky's cross caught Reina cold to put the London side back in front.
However, West Ham saw their dreams fade and die when, moments after the fourth official had signalled four minutes of injury-time would be played, the England midfielder smashed home another equaliser from 30 yards to send the game into extra-time.
Reina then made a fabulous save from Nigel Reo-Coker at the end of extra-time to send the final into a penalty shoot-out and he saved spot-kicks from Zamora, Konchesky and Ferdinand.
Pardew was able to include both of his injury doubts with Ashton and Matthew Etherington recovering from hamstring and ankle injuries respectively, while Liverpool included Xabi Alonso in their midfield after the Spaniard recovered from an ankle injury picked up last weekend at Portsmouth.
Liverpool's first effort was a wayward overhead kick by Peter Crouch which bounced wide.
Carl Fletcher gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position 10 yards outside the penalty area by impeding Gerrard. But John Arne Riise fired the ball into the wall.
In the 20th minute West Ham took the lead when Carragher put the ball in his own net.
Yossi Benayoun neatly laid the ball off to Ashton in midfield after Alonso lost possession, and the striker cleverly slid the ball through the Liverpool defence for Lionel Scaloni to run on to down the right.
He fired across the area towards the waiting Harewood but Carragher, while trying to intercept, got it all wrong and deflected the ball inside the near post to put the Hammers in front.
Liverpool responded but Cisse was penalised for handball as he tried to bring down the ball just outside the area.
And they were rocked when West Ham doubled their lead in the 28th minute. Ashton challenged for the ball just outside the area and it fell to Etherington, who squeezed in a shot despite the close attention of three Liverpool defenders.
It should not have troubled Reina but the Spaniard spilled it and Ashton was in like a flash to poke the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net.
Crouch thought he had pulled a goal back for Liverpool from Gerrard's quick free-kick. He volleyed past Shaka Hislop but was harshly adjudged to be offside.
But the Merseyside club were right back in the game just after the half-hour mark when Alonso squared to Gerrard deep in midfield and his glorious long ball into the area was fired past Hislop by Cisse.
Back came West Ham and Ashton's slaloming run into the danger area ended with an angled shot which flashed past Reina's post.
Liverpool forced a couple of corners but were repelled as they piled the pressure on West Ham, for whom Benayoun could only muster a weak shot from the edge of the area which Reina gathered easily.
Within seconds of the restart West Ham almost got a third goal. Etherington raced down the left and fired low into the box for Harewood to see his shot blocked by Reina.
The ball fell to Benayoun but he could not beat Reina who blocked the shot.
A minute later Liverpool replaced Kewell with Morientes, pushing Cisse onto the left.
And the Reds were level on 54 minutes when Crouch headed down Alonso's long ball for Gerrard to smash home from 12 yards.
Ashton was booked on 60 minutes for a late challenge on Steve Finnan and two minutes later Carragher was also in the book for a foul on the West Ham striker.
West Ham had refused to stop going forward, Benayoun running Liverpool ragged and the Hammers grabbed the lead again on 63 minutes. Konchesky hurled in a deep cross from the left which sailed over the head of Reina and into the top corner.
And when Alonso fouled Benayoun on 66 minutes he immediately signalled to the bench that his ankle injury was hurting and Jan Kromkamp took over.
On 70 minutes West Ham sent on Bobby Zamora for Ashton and at the same time Liverpool replaced Crouch with Dietmar Hamann.
Benitez was becoming an increasingly animated figure on the sidelines as Riise blazed over from long range.
West Ham brought on Christian Dailly for Fletcher as they tried to protect their 3-2 lead. With 10 minutes remaining, Cisse crossed but Morientes could not direct his header goalwards.
West Ham brought on Teddy Sheringham but his first touch was a handball which gave Liverpool a free-kick in a dangerous position. However, Gerrard's free-kick sailed over.
Liverpool looked to be dead on their feet - only for Gerrard to save them yet again with an astonishing finish from 30 yards.
Moments after the fourth official had signalled there would be four minutes of injury-time, Gabbidon headed away but Gerrard, who had been struggling with cramp, was on the ball in a flash and slammed it past Shaka Hislop to send the game into extra-time.
Riise fired over the bar after a corner for the first real chance of extra-time, with players from both sides tiring.
In the second half of extra-time, Gerrard needed treatment for cramp on the pitch from his team-mates as play continued, and Harewood could barely walk as he limped off for treatment.
Nigel Reo-Coker nearly grabbed the winner for West Ham in the dying moments from Benayoun's free-kick but this time Reina made a fabulous save to tip the ball onto the post and Harewood could not turn the ball into the net to set the stage for penalties.
Reina saved from Zamora, Konchesky and Ferdinand as Liverpool - despite seeing Hyypia's spot-kick saved - won 3-1 on penalties.
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|Match Report filed: 13th May 2006|