Gerrard to rescue as shaky Liverpool secure place in final

<preform>Watford 0 - Liverpool 1<BR> Liverpool win 2-0 on agg</preform>
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The Independent Online

History was in the air at Vicarage Road. Watford wanted to make it, Liverpool to avoid it. Not for two decades had the Premiership club lost four consecutive matches but, more than that, defeat here would have developed the doubts over Rafael Benitez's fledgling reign into a enveloping crisis.

History was in the air at Vicarage Road. Watford wanted to make it, Liverpool to avoid it. Not for two decades had the Premiership club lost four consecutive matches but, more than that, defeat here would have developed the doubts over Rafael Benitez's fledgling reign into a enveloping crisis.

In the end it was Liverpool's own history man, their captain Steven Gerrard, who steered them into the League Cup Final. He scored last night, just as he had in the first leg, and dragged his team, his club, by sheer force of personality towards their first trophy under their new manager. In doing so Liverpool won their fifth consecutive semi-final.

Alan Hansen may claim the club is in danger of becoming a "relic" but Gerrard, for one, deserves his place in any museum to honour their players when it eventually comes to hanging up those silver boots. How Liverpool need to hang on to him until that day, however.

Nevertheless the victory, however timely, did not mask the deficiencies of another unconvincing performance, this time against a side 17th in the Championship who will be frustrated by their own inability to capitalise. Liverpool were there for the taking.

Unsurprisingly Watford made no changes to their line-up from the first leg, which meant that once more Liverpool were faced with a five-man midfield, having coped so woefully when faced with that formation against Southampton at the weekend. Benitez reacted by matching up.

Out went Luis Garcia - one of the more dismal performers in that dismal display - with Igor Biscan, who has two winners' medals in this competition, an unexpected inclusion. Milan Baros was pushed to the right of midfield and Jamie Carragher shuffled back into the centre of defence. Significantly, the line-up meant that just two of Benitez's seven signings were included.

It was a reactive approach and betrayed the doubts at the heart of the visitors and, perhaps, the manager in particular. Despite being allowed early possession, Liverpool were lax, edgy, uninspired. Such was the occasion that Gerrard was included although patently not fully fit, and asked to break forward. Instead of being in the hole, he, at times, found himself in no man's land.

Watford had been able to rest eight players for their last league match and had taken a similar approach to the FA Cup. Their manager, Ray Lewington, maintained they would be patient and his players - organised, resilient - attempted to draw Liverpool in. But Watford, meanwhile, struggled to impact on their opponents' frailties.

Captain Gavin Mahon shot low, and wide, from 20 yards, minutes after over-hitting a return pass to Paul Devlin as the Scot burst into the area. Too often, however, crosses were over-eagerly miscued and, on 40 minutes, Neal Ardley was guilty in not exploiting Morientes' curious flick backwards into his path. Ardley's cross found the lone defender, rather than Heidar Helguson.

On half-time Hameur Bouazza went down under Steve Finnan's challenge. The penalty appeals were long and hard and, possibly, justified. But they were waved away by the referee Mike Riley. After the interval Morientes twice went to ground under mild challenges while also planting a header 10 yards wide. Morientes did better when deftly laying off to Gerrard who immediately set Baros away. As the Czech cut in towards goal, Neil Cox covered.

Watford drove back with a shot from Jermaine Darlington, who had also earlier tumbled inside the area, blocked by Mauricio Pellegrino. Encouraged, Lewington introduced Danny Webber, a second striker. They needed to score.

Instead, the opportunities fell to Liverpool. Morientes' shot was smothered while he then had a header which thudded against a defender. The tension grew and the contest became even more fragmented. But, just as the game unravelled, Gerrard struck as he had done in the first leg.

A mix-up by Watford was seized on by the England midfielder who ran forward and powerfully steered a right-foot shot beyond Jones. Tie over.

For Watford a close-range header by Helguson sailed over while Liverpool lost Florent Sinama-Pongolle, who pulled up, just three minutes after he came on. In the end it was the only damaged inflicted upon them.

Watford (4-5-1): Jones; Chambers, Cox, Demerit, Darlington; Devlin (McNamee, 80), Ardley, Mahon, Gunnarson (Dyer, 77), Bouazza (Webber, 56); Helguson. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Doyley.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Pellegrino, Traoré; Baros (Sinama-Pongolle, 85; Garcia, 88), Hamann, Gerrard (Potter, 90), Biscan, Riise; Morientes. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Warnock.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

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