Downing sends Reds through
Liverpool clinch Wembley return after seeing off Potters
Last Updated: March 18, 2012 6:44pm
Liverpool have clinched a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup courtesy of Stewart Downing's second-half winner against Stoke City at Anfield.
Peter Crouch cancelled out Luis Suarez's opener on Merseyside but the Potters were unable to respond to Downing's left-footed strike.
The breakthrough came in the 23rd minute when Suarez picked up possession outside Stoke's penalty area before sending a first-time effort beyond Thomas Sorensen into the bottom left-hand corner of his net.
But the Potters were level within three minutes when England international Crouch headed home against his former club, his first goal in ten meetings since leaving the Reds.
Stoke were proving a tough nut to crack but Liverpool forged ahead for the second time in the 58th minute when Downing collected Steven Gerrard's lay-off before blasting home a left-footed drive.
Liverpool's goal was rarely troubled for the remainder of the game and - although five minutes of injury-time was played - the home side's defence was not breached for a second time.
The first half was all about Liverpool trying to establish some control and Stoke working their hardest to deny them, and for 20-odd minutes the pair almost cancelled each other out.
Maxi Rodriguez rose above the Potters' towering defence to nod over Gerrard's early free-kick before Crouch, in a warning of what was to come, headed tamely at Jose Reina from Ryan Shotton's cross.
Martin Kelly and Glen Whelan were booked for late challenges on Matt Etherington and Jay Spearing, respectively, as the midfield battle warmed up.
Stoke's work-rate was causing problems to Liverpool's patient build-up play as the hosts were given no time to settle on the ball, but when the Reds ran at the Potters' defence it produced better results.
That was proved in the 23rd minute when Suarez picked up the ball in a deep position, advanced, bounced a pass off Rodriguez and whipped a low right-footed shot past Sorensen's left-hand just inside the post.
But within three minutes Stoke were level when Etherington's corner picked out former Reds striker Crouch to head home from five yards out, with Reina subsequently booked for claiming, correctly, it should not have been a corner in the first place and also that he was impeded by Shotton.
Andy Carroll volleyed over and Jon Walters failed to hit the target after running through the inside-right channel before he blasted the last chance of the half into the Kop from a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area.
Within a minute of the second half re-start, Gerrard had forced Sorensen into a low save while Suarez flashed a header across goal and wide of the far post from Downing's free-kick.
Downing played a more decisive part in the 57th minute when, after collecting the ball in the inside-right channel and fortuitously having it returned to him via Gerrard's backheel, he continued to the edge of the area before drilling a fierce left-footed shot past Sorensen.
The goal lifted Liverpool and Suarez's swerving low shot tested Sorensen down to his left again as the home side looked to force home their advantage.
Stoke began pushing harder for a second equaliser but they found Liverpool determined not to squander another lead.
In five minutes of added time, the Potters forced a couple of corners and Rory Delap long-throws, but this time there was no lapse of concentration at the back.Dalglish's side have now booked a return to Wembley and with it the prospect of a second piece of silverware this season following their Carling Cup triumph in February.
|Liverpool||Team Statistics||Stoke City|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|5||Shots on Target||2|
|10||Shots off Target||2|
|57.8||1st Half Poss.||42.2|
|60.8||2nd Half Poss.||39.2|