Crystal Palace 0
(Liverpool win 2-0 on agg)
Robbie Fowler, who spent his formative years despairing at constant Liverpool successes, last night scored the goal that could presage another period of Anfield trophy-gathering. Fowler, an Evertonian by upbringing, followed up his injury-time goal in the first leg of this Coca-Cola Cup semi-final with the decisive strike in last night's second match.
His goal left Palace requiring three of their own to get to Wembley. Such a mountainous task would probably have been beyond them, even with the banned Chris Armstrong. Without him they never even reached the foothills.
Liverpool now meet Bolton, FA Cup victors at Anfield two years ago, at Wembley on April 2. It will be their first final since they beat Sunderland in the 1992 FA Cup. Victory would bring them their first trophy since then and, more significantly, the first in what already threatens to beome known as the Roy Evans' era.
Liverpool have won this competition four times in the last 14 years, but had gone out of it on this ground for the last two . However, Selhurst Park was also the ground where they won 6-1 against Palace on the opening day of the season and, apart from the first 10 minutes, in terms of assurance, it was that performance which was echoed last night.
Not that Palace were taken apart, they were just comfortably contained and that was enough. Despite a muddy, cloying, pitch Liverpool were able to impose their short-passing game on their keen, but limited opponents and Nigel Martyn was much the busier goalkeeper.
Palace did start brightly, despite their striking problems. With Armstrong suspended after his positive drugs test, and Iain Dowie cup-tied, Palace fielded the defender Chris Coleman as an emergency centre-forward.
With a full house giving passionate support Palace attacked from the start, lining six men on the half-way line for a rugby-style kick-off. The bold approach rattled Liverpool and nearly paid off in the 10th minute when David James dropped a deep cross by John Salako. It fell to Coleman, but John Scales blocked his shot and Neil Ruddock, on the line, did the same as Andy Preece followed up.
A minute later James atoned with an impressive one-handed save from Preece after he had lobbed Darren Pitcher's flick-on.
Liverpool, reprieved and relieved, began to settle and Nigel Martyn tipped Steve McManaman's shot around the post then Scales headed narrowly wide.
Palace failed to heed the warning and, on 27 minutes, Liverpool struck. Coleman appeared to be fouled and, as Palace waited for the whistle, McManaman sprung the offside trap with a raking pass to Fowler. The 19- year-old ran on to beat Martyn with ease for his 27th goal of the season.
Within a minute Salako responded with a shot that flashed just wide but Palace's sting was drawn and the only impact they made was on Liverpool's legs - Richard Shaw, Eric Young and Dean Gordon were all booked.
Crystal Palace (4-2-4): Martyn; Patterson, Young, Shaw, Gordon; Southgate, Pitcher; Salako, Coleman, Preece, Ndah (Dyer, h/t). Substitutes not used: Newman, Wilmot (gk).
Liverpool (5-3-2): James; Jones, Scales, Ruddock, Babb, Bjornebye; McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes; Fowler, Rush. Substitutes not used: Thomas, Walters, Warner (gk).
Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).
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