One of the most astonishing shoot-outs in English history was finally settled when Albert Adomah, the Middlesbrough winger, missed the 30th kick, giving Liverpool a 14-13 victory.
The level of penalty-taking was phenomenal, and Mario Balotelli could give lessons in composure and technique from 12 yards. He was not the only one. Even the goalkeepers netted theirs. It was a shoot-out that will surely find a place in the history books. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the 2005 Namibian Cup final had one of 48 penalty kicks, with KK Palace beating Civics 17-16. There were 32 when England Under-21s lost 13-12 to their Dutch counterparts at the 2007 Euros.
This was certainly the highest in League Cup history, breaking the 9-8 mark set by Arsenal against Rotherham in 2004, and Manchester City against Stoke City and Aston Villa against Colchester (both in 1982). It was the biggest shoot-out score in FA Cup history, eclipsing Macclesfield’s 11-10 defeat of Forest Green in 2001.
The Football League Trophy boasts a grander scoreline, 14-13 as Dagenham and Redbridge outlasted Leyton Orient in 2011. Few, though, could match this shoot-out for quantity and quality. For all their frustration at going out, Middlesbrough should remember it with pride.
Their players showed real character, walking towards a baying Kop, taking their penalties. Liverpool fans will love reflecting on the shoot-out, especially the memory of Balotelli’s two finishes.
After two hours of football had deservedly ended level, Balotelli took the first penalty, stuttering in his run-up John Aldridge style, before placing the ball low past Jamal Blackman. Patrick Bamford, whose late penalty in extra time had set up the shoot-out, stepped up next but could not repeat his earlier feat and this time Simon Mignolet saved. Bamford punched the loose ball into a cackling Kop.
Lucas then calmly walked forward and stroked his penalty in, heaping the pressure on Adam Clayton. The Kop whistled and jeered and gesticulated but Clayton stayed composed, placing his kick to Mignolet’s left.
Adam Lallana made no mistake with his kick, bringing Adam Reach to the spot. The midfielder ignored all the noise and swept his kick past Mignolet. Suso struck his kick firmly into the net, bringing Adomah on to the scene. Effortlessly, Adomah drove the ball into the net, such a contrast to his later effort.
Raheem Sterling now walked forward confidently, but Blackman guessed right in every sense and saved well. As Middlesbrough’s bench celebrated, Jelle Vossen brought the scores level. On it went, young Jordan Williams firing his kick home. As the Kop continued to boo, George Friend stayed calm and rolled his penalty low past Mignolet.
This brought Kolo Touré up and a few Liverpool supporters looked nervous but the defender’s finish was emphatic, thumped into the net as the Kop leapt for joy. On it went, Daniel Ayala showing his poise with an unstoppable finish. Mamadou Sakho had not enjoyed the best of games but his penalty was expert, low to Blackman’s left. Ryan Fredericks made it 7-7 with another brilliant finish.
It was turning into a day-nighter, into a rugby score. What time did the Merseyside Derby kick-off? This might finish in time for Saturday lunch-time. And on it went. Javier Manquillo put the hosts clear. Kenneth Omeruo brought Boro back into it with his nerveless spot-kick.
It was proving one of this most compelling shoot-outs with Jose Enrique giving the lead back to Liverpool. No matter. Yanic Wildschut almost broke the Kop net. It then became slightly surreal with Mignolet netting his kick past Blackman, who then did the same in return.
And so it went round again. Up came Balotelli again. Again he showed amazing technique, slowing down and then sweeping the ball in to make it 11-10. The pressure was really on young Bamford, but how well he responded, scoring. It was stunning. Lucas knocked his penalty low and hard and in.
Now it was Clayton’s turn again. He scored again. So did Lallana. Reach juggled the ball to the spot, and then curled the ball in to make it 13-13.
Now the heat was on Suso. No sweat. He thundered his kick in. Finally, it ended. Poor Adomah, driving his kick into the Kop.
He was consoled by his team-mates. It felt wretched luck on Middlesbrough, who had never given up, even when twice falling behind. Their 2,800 fans never stopped singing. Their midfielders like Leadbitter, Reach and Clayton were immense.
Middlesbrough fell behind when Jordan Rossiter marked his debut with a goal after only 10 minutes. They particularly love a local player at Liverpool. “Jordan could walk to Anfield from where he grew up,’’ said Brendan Rodgers. “He showed wonderful composure.’’
Rossiter’s performance against Middlesbrough will not have surprised many within the club. His promise has long been noted. As he came off the bench in an Under-19s match against Inter Milan in 2013, Robbie Fowler tweeted of the 15-year-old: “A young lad just about to come on for a few mins for Liverpool in nextgen... Jordan Rossiter, big shout but potentially a young Stevie g..”
Comparisons with Gerrard can wait. Rossiter has plenty to learn, but the Merseysider is developing well, justifying Rodgers’ faith. He showed calmness and vision to give Liverpool the lead after only 10 minutes. When Blackman, rushed out to deny Rickie Lambert the ball bounced loose to Rossiter. From fully 30 yards, the midfielder coolly stroked the ball back through Blackman’s legs and into the net. Liverpool’s No 46 had beaten Middlesbrough’s No 46.
Rossiter’s emergence onto the Liverpool stage was certainly one for him to remember. It had begun in the rain but Rossiter enjoyed the rising damp, quickly setting to work disrupting Middlesbrough’s midfield.
Yet Boro refused to go quietly. When Sakho handled after 63 minutes, Leadbitter curled in the free-kick, Reach nipped in ahead of Enrique to flick the ball home. Clayton hit an upright, extra time began and Suso pounced from 15 yards in the second period, following good approach work from Enrique and Lallana. But Touré then fouled Bamford, who converted, setting up even more dead-ball drama.