Fri, Jan 28, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Chelsea beats Manchester United to League Cup final

AFP , MANCHESTER, ENGLAND

Chelsea's Damien Duff celebrates after scoring to make it 2-1 against Manchester United during their Carling Cup semifinal second leg match at Old Trafford in Manchester on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard was forced to relive the worst moment of his career as Chelsea booked a League Cup final date with Liverpool with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Damien Duff's 85th minute winner represented the perfect 42nd birthday gift for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, whose side ended Sir Alex Ferguson's proud record of never having lost a semifinal in nearly two decades in charge of United.

But for Howard, whose late error allowed Porto to knock United out of the Champions League on Mourinho's last visit to the Theater of Dreams, it was another night to forget.

After Ryan Giggs had cancelled out Frank Lampard's first-half goal for Chelsea, United were looking the more likely winners as the tie -- goalless after the first leg -- headed towards extra time.

But the home side were left shell-shocked when a Duff free-kick from close to the right touchline was allowed to curl into the far corner of the net with Howard rooted to his spot in the center of the goal.

The American international's error against Porto cost him his first-team place. On this occasion however he was absolved by Ferguson, who instead pointed the finger at his central defenders.

"I thought the defenders have every chance to attack it and they have let it bounce into the corner of the net," he said, admitting that he thought United were on course for victory.

The nature of Chelsea's victory was particularly cruel for Howard as it was his reflex save with his right boot that had kept United in the match just before Giggs's stunning equalizer.

Any doubts about the significance of the encounter were dispelled by a glance at the team sheets.

For United, Roy Keane was making his first appearance in the League Cup since the 2003 final while Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville were all turning out for the first time in the tournament this season.

Chelsea underlined their determination to earn a shot at the first trophy of the Roman Abramovich era by recalling first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech and deciding not to give striker Didier Drogba a rest.

It was United who started the brighter of the two sides but the slick build-up work of Sir Alex Ferguson's men had failed to yield a single clear chance by the time Lampard put Chelsea ahead.

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