Birmingham through to League Cup final

Posted By: Pti

London, Jan 27 (AP) Birmingham rallied to beat West Ham3-1 after extra time Wednesday and set up a meeting withArsenal in the League Cup final, while Liverpool climbed toseventh in the Premier League by edging past Fulham 1-0.

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

"It''s unbelievable, you dream of these things," Gardnersaid. "I was saying to my mates I wanted to get the winner totake us there and to do it was unbelievable."

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

The Blues, whose only major trophy came when they won theLeague Cup in 1963, will be underdogs when they play Arsenalon Feb. 27.

Arsenal qualified for the final by beating second-tierside Ipswich 3-0 in the second leg of their semifinal, winning3-1 on aggregate.

Birmingham was comfortably second best in the first halfagainst fellow Premier League struggler West Ham and lookedout of the competition at halftime.

The Hammers'' superb run of results in the League Cup _England''s second-tier club knockout competition behind the FACup _ has helped keep manager Avram Grant in a job thisseason.

The London club took a deserved lead into the second legand Cole, the striker who scored the winner at Upton Park twoweeks ago, extended the advantage when he latched on to WayneBridge''s throw-in and curled a dipping 25-yard shot into thefar corner.

It was a different Birmingham after the break, with giantSerbia striker Nikola Zigic causing all sorts of problemsafter being thrown on by manager Alex McLeish for the secondhalf.

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

Gardner, the team''s leading scorer this season, struckthe post with a low, left-foot shot in the 53rd before Bowyerequalized six minutes later when he pounced on a loose ballfollowing a corner and arrowed a powerful half-volley into thetop corner.

After piling the pressure on for the next 20 minutes,Birmingham leveled the match on aggregate when Johnson rose tomeet Bowyer''s corner, heading the ball into the ground andpast goalkeeper Robert Green. More (AP) AT

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

The match went to extra time and with almost a carboncopy of his previous shot, Gardner skimmed a stunning lowdrive into the corner from 30 yards for what proved to be thewinning goal.

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

A 53rd-minute own goal by Ghana defender John Pantsilgave Liverpool a narrow win at Anfield to maintain the team''sresurgence under new manager Kenny Dalglish.

The Reds are now unbeaten in their last three games underDalglish, who took over for a second spell in charge of theclub on Jan. 9 following the firing of Roy Hodgson, the formerFulham manager.

"It''s getting a bit more realistic but we aren''t gettingcarried away with being seventh _ that isn''t where thisfootball club wants to be," said Dalglish, who inherited ateam which struggled for results in the first half of theseason. "We want to be further up than that."

The unfortunate Pantsil sliced a clearance into his ownnet 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 byLiverpool midfielder Raul Meireles, while Aaron Hughes andMoussa Dembele had efforts saved by goalkeeper Jose Reina.

"I think Fulham will be feeling a little hard done bybecause they will think they deserved something from thegame," Dalglish said.

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

The three points lifted Liverpool five places in thetable. Fulham remained 15th. (AP) AT

Story first published: Thursday, January 27, 2011, 15:00 [IST]
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