Birmingham through to League Cup final

Birmingham rallied to beat West Ham 3-1 after extra time Wednesday and set up a meeting with Arsenal in the League Cup final, while Liverpool climbed to seventh in the Premier League by edging past Fulham 1-0.

Last Updated: Jan 27, 2011, 12:50 PM IST

London: Birmingham rallied to beat West Ham
3-1 after extra time Wednesday and set up a meeting with
Arsenal in the League Cup final, while Liverpool climbed to
seventh in the Premier League by edging past Fulham 1-0.

Craig Gardner was the match winner for Birmingham in a
dramatic semifinal second leg at St. Andrew`s, firing home
from 25 yards in the fourth minute of extra time to earn the
Midlands club a 4-3 aggregate win and a trip to Wembley.

"It`s unbelievable, you dream of these things," Gardner
said. "I was saying to my mates I wanted to get the winner to
take us there and to do it was unbelievable."

Carlton Cole scored a stunning goal in the 31st to put
West Ham 3-1 up in the two-legged series but Birmingham took
the game into extra time thanks to second-half goals by Lee
Bowyer and Roger Johnson.

The Blues, whose only major trophy came when they won the
League Cup in 1963, will be underdogs when they play Arsenal
on Feb. 27.

Arsenal qualified for the final by beating second-tier
side Ipswich 3-0 in the second leg of their semifinal, winning
3-1 on aggregate.

Birmingham was comfortably second best in the first half
against fellow Premier League struggler West Ham and looked
out of the competition at halftime.

The Hammers` superb run of results in the League Cup _
England`s second-tier club knockout competition behind the FA
Cup _ has helped keep manager Avram Grant in a job this
season.

The London club took a deserved lead into the second leg
and Cole, the striker who scored the winner at Upton Park two
weeks ago, extended the advantage when he latched on to Wayne
Bridge`s throw-in and curled a dipping 25-yard shot into the
far corner.

It was a different Birmingham after the break, with giant
Serbia striker Nikola Zigic causing all sorts of problems
after being thrown on by manager Alex McLeish for the second
half.

"I said to the players at halftime that, to all intents
and purposes, we were out of the cup," McLeish said. "I had to
make the change and have an instant impact. Zigic made the
difference."

Gardner, the team`s leading scorer this season, struck
the post with a low, left-foot shot in the 53rd before Bowyer
equalized six minutes later when he pounced on a loose ball
following a corner and arrowed a powerful half-volley into the
top corner.

After piling the pressure on for the next 20 minutes,
Birmingham leveled the match on aggregate when Johnson rose to
meet Bowyer`s corner, heading the ball into the ground and
past goalkeeper Robert Green.

Cameron Jerome squandered a one-on-one chance by shooting
straight at Green in the 80th and Gardner crashed a fierce
drive onto the post with 20 seconds remaining of the three
minutes of stoppage time.

The match went to extra time and with almost a carbon
copy of his previous shot, Gardner skimmed a stunning low
drive into the corner from 30 yards for what proved to be the
winning goal.

"It was third time lucky _ it was a tremendous goal,"
McLeish said.

A 53rd-minute own goal by Ghana defender John Pantsil
gave Liverpool a narrow win at Anfield to maintain the team`s
resurgence under new manager Kenny Dalglish.

The Reds are now unbeaten in their last three games under
Dalglish, who took over for a second spell in charge of the
club on Jan. 9 following the firing of Roy Hodgson, the former
Fulham manager.

"It`s getting a bit more realistic but we aren`t getting
carried away with being seventh _ that isn`t where this
football club wants to be," said Dalglish, who inherited a
team which struggled for results in the first half of the
season. "We want to be further up than that."

The unfortunate Pantsil sliced a clearance into his own
net following a goalmouth scramble to gift Liverpool the win,
although Fulham rallied strongly in the second half.

Brede Hangeland saw his header cleared off the line by
Liverpool midfielder Raul Meireles, while Aaron Hughes and
Moussa Dembele had efforts saved by goalkeeper Jose Reina.

"I think Fulham will be feeling a little hard done by
because they will think they deserved something from the
game," Dalglish said.

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres had a goal harshly
ruled out for offside in the first half.

The three points lifted Liverpool five places in the
table. Fulham remained 15th.

Bureau Report

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