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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 22:04 GMT
Blades cut down Liverpool
Michael Tonge scores his second in six minutes
Michael Tonge fires United's winner
Sheffield United 2-1 Liverpool

Sheffield United staged a stunning late rally at Bramall Lane to sink Liverpool and take a giant stride towards the Worthington Cup Final.

Gerard Houllier's side looked to be strolling to a semi-final first leg victory after youngster Neil Mellor's goal gave them a deserved lead.

But Neil Warnock's battling Blades refused to accept defeat and a late double from Michael Tonge gave the First Division underdogs an unlikely victory.

Tonge equalised after 76 minutes and repeated the punishment six minutes later to leave the Blades tantalisingly close to the final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Gerrard muslces his way past Ndlovu
Gerrard muslces his way past Ndlovu

It was a painful blow for Liverpool boss Houllier, who has been consistently linked with a big-money move for Tonge.

Liverpool kept England strike pair Michael Owen and Emile Heskey on the bench, with youngster Mellor and El-Hadji Diouf getting the nod in attack.

We expected a physical challenge - but sometimes it was more than that

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier

And Mellor should have given his side the lead after 12 minutes as Liverpool dominated the opening exchanges.

Vladimir Smicer slipped in Diouf, but his near post cross was prodded wide by Mellor when it seemed easier to score.

But Liverpool's latest find made no mistake when they deservedly took the lead 11 minutes before the interval.

Danny Murphy's free-kick was headed on by Sami Hyypia and Mellor made a timely arrival to head home from eight yards.

Blades boss Warnock wasted no time in making a change after half-time, substituting Carl Asaba, who had been a doubt with a calf injury, with Nick Montgomery.

Diouf and Mellor celebrate for Liverpool
Diouf and Mellor celebrate for Liverpool

And the underdogs flourished briefly, veteran Stuart McCall sending a shot narrowly wide of the post with Liverpool goalkeeper Chris Kirkland beaten.

Liverpool almost doubled their advantage after 65 minutes, when Murphy's corner found Salif Diao and his header was brilliantly saved by Paddy Kenny.

There was an increasing desperation about Sheffield United's efforts, and Michael Brown was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after a dreadful late challenge left Kirkland in agony.

Liverpool were a bit over-physical at times - I thought they were fortunate not to get more yellow cards

Sheff Utd manager Neil Warnock

It was the signal for the telling late surge, with Peter Ndlovu seeing a close range shot blocked by Kirkland and Wayne Allison lobbing on to the roof of the net.

Liverpool were under pressure for the first time, and cracked as the Blades were level after 76 minutes.

Stephane Henchoz and Jamie Carragher combined to present McCall with possession and he created the opening for Tonge to beat Kirkland.

And Tonge was on the mark again six minutes later as Liverpool sank to defeat.

Liverpool failed to clear a corner, leaving Tonge to create space cleverly before beating Kirkland with a right foot drive from the edge of the area.


Sheffield United: Kenny, Jagielka, Quinn, Murphy, Page, Brown, McCall, Ndlovu, Tonge, Allison, Asaba. Subs: Kozluk, Peschisolido, Montgomery, McGovern, de Vogt.

Liverpool: Kirkland, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Traore, Gerrard, Diao, Murphy, Smicer, Diouf, Mellor. Subs: Heskey, Owen, Riise, Cheyrou, Dudek.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral)

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
 BBC Five Live's Jonathan Pearce
"A first half high on effort, low on quality"
 Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock
"These lads don't know when they're beaten"
 Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier
"I was not happy about a lot of things out there"

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09 Jan 03 | Football
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