Liverpool Under-18s are in the final of the FA Youth Cup following a dramatic night of football at Anfield played out in front of a delighted Rafa Benitez.
The young Reds came from behind to beat Newcastle 3-1 on the night, 7-3 on aggregate, thanks to a Craig Lindfield brace and a late scorcher from Jimmy Ryan.
Both sides had a man sent off in a fiery encounter, Astrit Ajdarevic receiving a straight red for the hosts following a rash challenge early in the second half.
The holders will now battle it out against Manchester United or Arsenal as they seek to become only the fifth team to retain the trophy since its inception in 1953.
Coach John Owens was worried complacency would creep in following the 4-2 first-leg victory at St James' Park, and his fears were not eased on 28 minutes when the visitors broke the deadlock following a defensive lapse from a corner.
Newcastle's aerial ability was there for all to see 10 days ago, so the Liverpool bench would have been furious when visiting captain Rob Cavener was given a free header inside the six-yard box. He couldn't miss.
Six of tonight's starting line-up took part in last year's final when the Reds almost surrendered a 3-0 lead over Manchester City. Now, 4,034 spectators huddled together in the Kop were beginning to wonder if they'd learned their lesson.
It wasn't as if the Reds hadn't been warned. The Magpies twice came close during the opening exchanges, striker Andy Carroll forcing a fine save from Danish stopper Martin Hansen on 13 minutes.
From the resulting corner Reds' captain Jay Spearing was forced into a hero-clearance off the line.
Steve Heighway's side were not short of ideas themselves, Ryan Flynn rounding Mark Cook in the Newcastle goal early on only for his finish to let him down.
Minutes later Jimmy Ryan, always one for a pot shot, drove a fierce effort narrowly wide.
It may have been a night for long sleeves, but perhaps the young Reds needed a dressing down at half-time. Whatever was said in the Liverpool dressing room, it certainly did the trick.
Just three minutes after the break the aggregate score became 5-3. Cook could only parry a speculative effort from Ray Putterill, and Craig Lindfield was on hand to convert from close range. It was just what the doctor, or Steve Heighway, ordered.
What happened next certainly was not. The impressive Swede Astrit Ajdarevic, normally so composed in the middle of the park, was shown a straight red following a rash challenge of Carroll.
Liverpool responded well to the sending off, however, and could have opened a three-goal aggregate margin when the head of Ray Putterill met an inswinging corner from Charlie Barnett. Unfortunately the resulting header dipped agonisingly over.
The reigning champions didn't have to wait long to make amends, though. Again the goal followed a mistake from Cook and again it was Lindfield who was on hand to tap in to an empty net.
The scores may no longer have been level, but the numbers soon were when Magpies Kazenga Lua-Lua was ordered off the field for dissent.
Newcastle, who've achieved the unenviable feat of two semi-final defeats in two years, never recovered.
Their misery was complete on 83 minutes when Jimmy Ryan bulged the net with a 25-yard scorcher.
Arsenal or United await the Reds in a two-leg final, with the Gunners currently holding a 1-0 lead going into the second leg at Old Trafford.
man of the match: Jay Spearing.
Liverpool Under-18s: Hansen, Darby (Kelly 84), Burns, Spearing (capt), Threlfall, Barnett, Ryan, Ajdarevic, Lindfield (Scott 89), Flynn, Putterill (Irwin 81).
Newcastle Under-18s: Cook, Cowan, Critchlow, Taylor (Francis 79), Morris, Cavener (capt), Godsmark (Marwood 86), Doninger, Carroll, Donaldson (Grieve 87), Lua-Lua.
Well done lads good luck in the final,and lets hope a few of them are good enough to progress into the first team.
« Last Edit: Mar 19, 2007 09:35:54 pm by Glenbuck »