LIVERPOOL 2, MAN CITY 2.
(Liverpool win 3-2 on aggregate)
The supreme irony is that goal which ultimately denied Manchester City another Wembley appearance came from a player they not long ago discarded.
Craig Bellamy came back to haunt his former club as he struck the telling blow with 16 minutes left of a pulsating match at Anfield.
City had looked to be set to take the tie to extra time having established a 2-1 advantage through goals from Nigel de Jong and Edin Dzeko.
That was until Bellamy, who had tormented them throughout, came up with the telling blow.
City manager Roberto Mancini was disappointed not to reach the final and again rued penalty decisions which went against his team.
Mancini was convinced City ought to have been awarded a spot kick in the first half for a foul on Dzeko while he was convinced his side ought not to have conceded the one for a harsh handball against Micah Richards.
“It was a foul on Dzeko while it was not a penalty against us,” he lamented.
Mancini would not be drawn on Bellamy scoring the decisive goal.
“I am happy for him and am not envious. I am happy with my players,” he continued.
Mancini sprang a surprise relegating top scorer Sergio Aguero to the bench along with James Milner and Gael Clichy as he adopted a 3-5-2 formation with Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksander Kolarov recalled as wing backs along with Nigel de Jong restored to the midfield.
It was one-way traffic for the opening half hour as Liverpool carved out a series of chances.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart made a great save with his outstretched right leg after Joleon Lescott sliced a cross back across the face of goal to Stewart Downing.
Hart also had to make diving saves to deny Glen Johnson and Charlie Adam and then beat out a fierce shot from Craig Bellamy who also had a goal ruled out for a clear offside.
City took the lead in the 31st minute with their first chance of the game against the run of play.
David Silva carved out the opening for de Jong who curled in a delightful shot high to the left of Pepe Reina from 30 yards. Replays showed just what a great strike it was as the Dutchman bent the ball in from well outside the left upright.
Amazingly it was only de Jong’s second goal in 118 appearances for City as he cancelled out the 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
Liverpool drew level five minutes before the break when they conceded a harsh penalty after Daniel Agger’s shot was blocked by Micah Richards but the ball ricocheted off his leg onto his flaying hands and Phil Dowd pointed to the spot.
Steven Gerrard shot low and hard to the right of Hart in exactly the same place as the penalty he converted to win the first leg at the Eithad Stadium.
City brought on Aguero for the jittery Stefan Savic for the restart as they reverted to a flat back four.
Only a brilliant reflex save from Hart prevented Liverpool from taking the lead as he somehow managed to tip over a Martin Skrtel shot which was destined for the top corner.
And moments later Hart excelled again with another important save, this time with his legs to keep out a volley from Downing.
City regained the lead midway through the half when Kolarov fired over a low cross from the left and Dzeko was free at the far post five yards out to fire home his 15th goal of the season.
Liverpool were back on level terms seven minutes later and ahead over the two legs as Bellamy found the net against his former club.
Kuyt cut in from the right and Bellamy then played a delightful return pass with Johnson before shooting low to the right of Hart.
City brought on Adam Johnson and the young winger cut in from the right forcing Reina into a decent save.
Late on City applied considerable pressure, but Liverpool defended resolutely and were never in serious trouble as the visitors saw their hopes of a season’s first piece of silverware disappear.