Reds reach League Cup final

Paul Scholes fired Manchester United into the League Cup final and a showdown with big rival Liverpool with two goals in a 3-1 beating of defending champion Bla

updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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Paul Scholes fired Manchester United into the League Cup final and a showdown with big rival Liverpool with two goals in a 3-1 beating of defending champion Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday. Ruud Van Nistelrooy added a third from the penalty spot after he had been upended by United States' World Cup goalkeeper Brad Friedel and the Reds hit back after an early strike by former striker Andy Cole to advance 4-2 overall. Alex Ferguson's team, whose only League Cup win came in 1992, meets Liverpool in the March 2 final at Cardiff's 74,000 capacity Millennium Stadium for the first trophy of the season. Last season Ferguson's men won nothing. Gerard Houllier's team beat division one Sheffield United 2-0 on Tuesday to advance 3-2 having lost the first leg 2-1. When Houllier's team won the title two seasons ago it started a collection of five trophies in one calendar year. United, by contrast, hasn't reached a final for four years. "That is too long for us, and we are delighted," Ferguson said. "We have always looked at the League Cup as an extra to blood young players, but the format now has encouraged teams to have a go. We've played Liverpool once in Cardiff - in the Charity Shield – and lost so I hope this time it will be a different result," Ferguson said. "But Liverpool-Manchester United games are always fantastic. You can't dismiss the magnitude of games like that. It will be a great final". Rovers, who held United 1-1 at Old Trafford two weeks ago, went ahead after just 12 minutes at Ewood Park. Turkish midfielder Tugay Kerimoglu spotted the opening and fed Cole who got past Wes Brown and flicked the ball over the advancing Fabien Barthez into an empty net. Cole had another chance four minutes later when he weaved through on the left only to misjudge hit chip straight into the French 'keeper's arms. United levelled in the 30th after a long spell of pressure. David Beckham's cross from the right found Scholes at the near post and, although the England striker failed to make a proper contact with his first shot, he made no mistake with his second and the ball flew across Friedel into the far corner. The goal meant he had scored for the seventh game in a row. Friedel made a low, one-handed save diving to his left to keep out an angled shot from Van Nistelrooy nine minutes before halftime. But he was beaten again when the Reds put together an end-to-end move which started in their own penalty area. Mikael Silvestre broke up a Rovers move and the ball was quickly fed via Roy Keane and Beckham to Gary Neville on the right. The England rightback cut inside and, with Van Nistelrooy making the decoy run to the near post, the ball ran to Scholes who neatly sidefooted his second of the game from close to the penalty spot. Ferguson hailed Scholes' performance. "They just couldn't control Paul Scholes, particularly in the first half," the United manager said. "Paul has settled into the positions we know he is good at, he's always been given the license to be that extra player to get into the box and he's matured, he's been fantastic this season. Maturity brings a lot of things - understanding and a realization of what he is good at". Friedel made a double save early in the second half, blocking a close range flick from Giggs and then kicking the rebound clear from Van Nistelrooy. Then it was Barthez' turn to make a stunning reflex-action save, pushing a powerful, close range header from Cole over the bar Friedel dived to his right to keep out a 25-yard shot from Keane and then pushed out a left foot volley from Giggs. But he was beaten for the third time from the spot 14 minutes from the end when Van Nistelrooy was sent clear of the defense and the 'keeper sent the Dutch striker tumbling. Friedel escaped with just a yellow card but Van Nistelrooy added to the punishment by striking the spot kick inside the left hand post for his 22nd goal of the season. In Premier League action, Newcastle strengthened its position in third place by beating relegation-threatened Bolton 1-0 while last-place West Ham was beaten 4-2 at Charlton. At St. James Park, Jermaine Jenas netted from six yards in the 18th minute from cross by Craig Bellamy for the only goal of the game as the Magpies made it 11 wins in 12 home games. The result means that Bobby Robson's team has 45 points from 24 games, seven fewer than leader and defending champion Arsenal and two fewer than second place Manchester United. West Ham squandered a chance of climbing away from last place when it threw away an early lead and lost at Charlton. Edouard Cisse scored his first goal for the Hammers in the 19th minute after swapping passes with Michael Carrick. But Charlton netted twice in five minutes just before halftime, Danish midfielder Claus Jensen firing in from 30 yards and Scott Parker adding the second, and Parker adding a third seven minutes into the second half. England World Cup player Trevor Sinclair replied for the Hammers in the 65th minute but Bulgarian forward Radostin Kishishev added a fourth for Charlton with seconds remaining. Playing against one of his former clubs, Lee Bowyer - the Hammers recent signing from Leeds - was lucky to stay on the field. Having been shown the yellow card for a foul he was called for several more before halftime. The result means that Glenn Roeder's team remains last with 17 points, the same as West Bromwich Albion, which has a better goal difference and a game in hand. (AP)