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Football: STEVIE THUNDER; The FA CUP History repeating as Gerrard leads Reds to shoot-out glory.

Byline: paul SMITH

LIVERPOOL 3

Cisse 32, Gerrard 54, 90

WEST HAM 3

Carragher (og) 21, Ashton 28, Konchesky 64

AET: Score at 90 mins 3-3 Liverpool win 3-1 on penalties

JOSE REINA saved face as well as three penalties as Liverpool, inspired by Steven Gerrard, pulled off an astonishing FA Cup triumph.

Twelve months ago Jerzy Dudek was in goal when Liverpool fought back from 3-0 down against AC Milan to win the European Cup after a penalty shoot-out in Istanbul.

This time they were 2-0 and 3-2 down with the Spanish keeper as their last line of defence - and a frail last line he'd been, too. Reina had been culpable for two of the Hammers' goals, but his gaffes were forgiven as he saved three penalties in the shoot-out.

Dietmar Hamann, Gerrard and John Arne Riise all beat Shaka Hislop, who saved a spot-kick from Sami Hyypia. But Reina saved from Bobby Zamora, Paul Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand. The only West Ham player to beat him from the spot was 40-year-old Teddy Sheringham.

The saddest man in the Millennium Stadium must have been young Ferdinand, who saw Reina palm away his tame shot to bring Liverpool another cup triumph.

A resurgent West Ham side were looking to upset the odds against six-time winners Liverpool just a year after winning promotion and having finished a creditable ninth in the Premier League.

Boosted by the return of injured duo Dean Ashton and Matthew Etherington despite failing to train all week, the Hammers were facing a Liverpool side who went into the match on the back of 11 straight wins and were boosted by the return of Xabi Alonso.

A frantic opening saw the game switch from one end to the other. But chances were scarce with only Riise threatening from a free-kick that found the wall instead of the target.

The pace of Marlon Harewood was beginning to bother Liverpool though, and when they broke down the right in the 21st minute disaster struck for the Reds. Harewood came tearing into the box and when Lionel Scaloni sent a low cross into the area, Jamie Carragher put through his own goal.

Liverpool were still attempting to regain their composure when their day took another turn for the worse. A long ball was headed on by Ashton, Etherington unleashed a first-time shot and when Reina failed to hold the ball Ashton followed up to bundle it over the line.

Weaker teams would have disintegrated but the former European Champions are made of far sterner stuff. The two-goal lead was to last just four minutes - and the goal that reduced the deficit would have graced any game.

Captain Gerrard sent a glorious 40-yard angled pass into the path of Djibril Cisse and the Frenchman clinically volleyed home past the despairing dive of Hislop.

Ashton threatened to restore the two-goal lead when his drive went narrowly wide. But the momentum remained with Liverpool and they ended the half well on top.

Nevertheless, the Hammers almost increased their lead a minute after the break. Etherington broke down the left and Harewood tore into the box only to shoot straight at Reina from point-blank range. The rebound fell kindly to Yossi Benayoun but Reina pulled off another save.

Liverpool immediately reinforced their strike options, replacing Harry Kewell with Fernando Morientes. And in a pulsating game they drew level in the 54th minute. Alonso's cross was headed down by Peter Crouch and Gerrard unleashed an unstoppable right-foot shot past Hislop.

But there were no signs of the Hammers giving up the ghost and they got a real slice of luck in the 64th minute. Paul Konchesky raced down the left and his cross sailed over Reina and into the net.

Jan Kromkamp and Dietmar Hamann came on for Liverpool and Ashton was replaced by Bobby Zamora for West Ham.

Twice Morientes headed over the bar as Liverpool threw everyone forward in sheer desperation.

But there was always likely to be another twist. As the fourth official announced four minutes of added time, Riise's long ball was headed into the path of Gerrard and from fully 30 yards he unleashed a half-volley that flew into the net for one of the most memorable Cup Final strikes ever.

Seven minutes into the first period of extra-time, the Reds threatened to take the lead for the first time when Riise's 25-yard drive appeared to brush the top of Hislop's bar. Moments later Cisse found himself unmarked in the penalty area but failed to control the ball.

Liverpool had their tails up while West Ham, who had brought Sheringham on before the end of normal time, were struggling to get the veteran into the game. But with two minutes to go the woodwork saved Liverpool. Reina tipped Nigel Reo-Coker's header on to the post and Harewood miscued the rebound in the last meaningful act of extra-time.

REF WATCH

ALAN WILEY Missed nothing and allowed the game to flow whenever he could. He made a vital contribution to one of the FA Cup Final dassics.

LIVERPOOL WEST HAM

5 Shots on target 8

14 Shots off target 5

3 Shots blocked 2

5 Corners 4

13 Fouls conceded 25

3 Offsides 2

2 Yellow cards 1

0 Red cards 0

CAPTION(S):

OUT OF THIS WORLD: Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard unleashes the thunderbolt that brought the Reds level at 3-3 in stoppage time
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 14, 2006
Words:902
Previous Article:Football: LIVERPOOL RATINGS; The FA CUP.
Next Article:Football: WEST HAM RATINGS; The FA CUP.


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