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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 08:59 GMT
Worthington Cup bounces back
Paul Scholes helped fire Man Utd into the final
Paul Scholes helped fire Man Utd into the final

The Worthington Cup has been a much-maligned competition, a poor cousin of the FA Cup and regarded by many managers as an unwelcome distraction to league football.

But this year the competition has exceeded expectations, producing more than its fair share of shocks and classic matches.

And with bitter rivals Manchester United and Liverpool set to slug it out in the final, there should be a lot more drama left to come.

United had few problems in dumping holders Blackburn out of the competition in the second leg of the semi-finals, while Liverpool needed extra time to edge out Sheffield United.

All matches between Manchester United and Liverpool are mouth-watering affairs and the 2 March final in Cardiff should be one to savour.

One of the earlier team's of tournament were Wigan, who knocked out three Premiership teams before succumbing to Blackburn in the quarter-finals.

Paul Jewell's side despatched West Bromwich Albion, Manchester City and Fulham in successive rounds.

And the confidence generated through their cup exploits have helped their league form with the Latics currently top of Division Two.

Neil Warnock's Sheffield United also claimed Premiership scalps on their way to the last four, with victories over Leeds and Sunderland as well as York, Wycombe and Crystal Palace.

As with Wigan, the Blades' cup run helped their league form.

Paul Peschisolido fired Sheffield United to victory over Crystal Palace
Peschisolido was Sheff Utd's super sub

The quarter-final win over the Eagles was particularly tense, with substitute Paul Peschisolido scoring twice in the last four minutes to settle the encounter.

But their win over the Eagles was nowhere as dramatic as Liverpool's win over Aston Villa.

Perhaps the most exciting match of the season so far, Villa seemed down and out when Steven Gerrard put Liverpool 3-1 up with 23 minutes left.

But Graham Taylor's team mounted a valiant comeback, equalising with just two minutes left only for Danny Murphy to snatch the tie for the Reds in injury time.

With Liverpool's Premiership season in freefall - the Worthington Cup has been a most welcome distraction for beleaguered boss Gerrard Houllier.

And with chances of silverware elsewhere increasingly slim, you can bet Houllier will have his team fully pumped up for the final.

Blackburn's victory over Spurs in last season's final brought the men from Ewood their first silverware since the Premiership win in 1995 - and a route into Europe.

Diego Forlan scores against Burnley
Forlan found form in the Worthington Cup
Manchester United manager Ferguson is usually at the front of the queue - alongside Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger - when it comes to deriding the Worthington Cup.

But all has not gone to plan at Old Trafford this season with injury problems and inconsistent form - and the Worthington Cup suddenly became most useful.

Diego Forlan scored in two of United's three victories, including the only goal in the quarter-final win over Chelsea, helping to build his fragile confidence.

And as Ferguson's men have progressed through the rounds he has selected increasingly strong teams.

On the evidence of this season's competition there is undoubtedly a place for the Worthington Cup in the football calendar.


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