Liverpool 2-2 Man City (3-2 agg)

By Phil McNultyChief football writer at Anfield

Liverpool booked their first Wembley appearance since 1996 as they edged out Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-final at Anfield.

City - trying to overturn Liverpool's one-goal advantage from the first leg at Etihad Stadium - took the lead twice on the night to revive their hopes of joining Cardiff City in the final.

Liverpool, however, were determined not to let the prize slip from their grasp, responding with spirit to earn the aggregate victory that their performance on the night deserved.

Nigel de Jong's spectacular goal for City - only his second for the club - put them ahead but Liverpool drew level before the interval through Steven Gerrard's hotly-contested penalty, awarded after Micah Richards deflected Daniel Agger's shot onto his own arm.

Edin Dzeko's close-range strike once again sparked anxiety around Anfield, but the outstanding Craig Bellamy had the last word against his former club, sliding home a cleverly crafted strike with 16 minutes left.

We deserved to reach final - Dalglish

Liverpool's late nerves could have been settled earlier but for a superb display from City keeper Joe Hart, who produced a string of top-class saves, particularly from Martin Skrtel and Stewart Downing in the second half.

For delighted Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, it marks a return to the stadium that was a familiar scene of triumph during his first spell as player and manager at Anfield and he will now set his sights on Liverpool's first piece of silverware since their FA Cup win against West Ham United in Cardiff in 2006.

City boss Roberto Mancini, who will now turn his attention back to claiming the Premier League title, found a former star returning to haunt him in the shape of Bellamy, who was a constant danger throughout and was deservedly afforded a standing ovation when he was substituted in the dying moments.

City were without suspended striker Mario Balotelli after deciding earlier on Wednesday not to appeal his four-match ban for violent conduct after his apparent stamp on Tottenham's Scott Parker.

Mancini decided to leave Sergio Aguero and James Milner on the bench and started with three at the back - a system that allowed Liverpool to play on the nerves of centre-back Stefan Savic.

The Montenegrin endured a nightmare 45 minutes before being removed almost as a merciful release.

Liverpool, the victims of rare public criticism from Dalglish after last Saturday's loss at Bolton, opened in the manner of a side wounded by those harsh words and could have taken an early lead.

Jose Enrique capitalised on careless work by Aleksandar Kolarov, but his shot was blocked by the legs of Hart and Downing lashed the rebound wildly off target.

Charlie Adam and Bellamy - who was Liverpool's main attacking threat with £35m Andy Carroll dropped to the bench - also tested Hart as City struggled to find any rhythm early on.

It was against the run of play, then, when they took the lead just after the half-hour with something of a rarity, a rising 25-yard shot on the slide from De Jong that curled into the top corner beyond the stretching Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina.

Anfield was suddenly a worried place, but the concerns of Liverpool's supporters were eased when they drew level on the night and moved back ahead on aggregate four minutes before half-time.

Richards blocked Agger's shot with his foot only for the ball to ricochet up and strike his hand. Referee Phil Dowd pointed to the spot and Gerrard, as he had in the first leg, beat Hart with power and placement.

Mancini questions penalty decisions

Mancini relieved Savic of his duties at half-time and sent on Aguero, but it was Liverpool who made all the early running after the restart and only the brilliance of Hart prevented them putting the tie to bed.

He dived athletically to his right to make a magnificent one-handed stop from Skrtel after 53 minutes and was City's saviour again seconds later when he blocked Downing at the far post as he tried to turn in Dirk Kuyt's cross.

City, as they did in the first half, then scored while Liverpool were exerting supremacy.

Kolarov's low cross was allowed to flash across the six-yard box and Dzeko arrived with perfect timing to convert a simple chance.

Their lead on the night only lasted seven minutes before Liverpool scored again to put themselves back on the road to Wembley. Bellamy, who will now face the club he played for last season in the final, worked his way into the area after a slick exchange with Glen Johnson and passed in a precision finish that even Hart was powerless to stop.

There was no coming back this time for City, leaving Liverpool and their supporters planning what they will regard as a long-overdue return to Wembley for the seven-times League Cup winners.

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