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Monday, April 16, 2012

Carroll header sends Reds to F.A. Cup final


WEMBLEY, England — Written off as Liverpool's most expensive flop, record signing Andy Carroll is finally starting to deliver and his team has an F.A. Cup appearance to show for it.

For the first time since arriving 15 months ago for £35 million (then $56 million), the former Newcastle striker has scored in consecutive games.

An 87th-minute header completed a comeback against Everton and clinched a 2-1 victory that kept the League Cup winners on course for a cup double.

"It's the best feeling ever," Carroll said. "I've had some criticism but I've just kept on going. I get the winner here and it's a great feeling. I believe in myself every day."

But the Wembley winner was only Carroll's tenth goal in 51 Liverpool appearances, dismal form that has been a key factor in his side's Premier League struggles.

"Andy's always in the spotlight because of how much we paid for him," Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said. "He has taken the criticism on the chin and he has responded very well and is the hero getting us the winner. That's what we bought him for, to score big goals, and he's delivered."

Saturday was also fruitful for another divisive striker. Carlos Tevez scored a hat trick in the Premier League as Manchester City thrashed Norwich 6-1 to keep the heat on Manchester United in the title race.

But with the leaders not in action until Sunday, the spotlight on Saturday was on the F.A. Cup and whether Liverpool would be affected by the sudden firing of director of football Damien Comolli two days before the semifinal.

Comolli paid the price for a wretched league campaign despite presiding over the spending of more than $180 million on players in a little more than a year.

The most expensive player was Carroll, who also netted the league winner at Blackburn on Tuesday night.

But against Everton, the England international hesitated with the goal in his sight after just three minutes, instead teeing up Jay Spearing, who swept the ball over.

With both Liverpool goalkeepers Alexander Doni and Pepe Reina suspended, Brad Jones had to make his first start of the season. While the Australian was picking the ball out of his goal after 23 minutes, his dithering defenders were at fault.

Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger both hesitated as the ball landed between them, and Carragher's eventual attempted clearance rebounded off Tim Cahill. The ball fell at the feet of Nikica Jelavic, who shot under Jones.

Carroll squandered a golden opening at the start of the second half. An inviting cross from the right presented Carroll with a free header but he flicked it wide before pulling his shirt over his head in frustration.

But Liverpool was gifted an equalizer. Sylvain Distin's attempt to pass the ball back to goalkeeper Tim Howard was far too weak and Luis Suarez nipped in to seize possession and score.

And in the 87th minute, Carroll rose above Marouane Fellaini to meet Craig Bellamy's free kick and send the ball into the net with the back of his head.

The relegation zone remained unchanged in league play on Saturday.

Wolverhampton Wanderers stopped a run of seven straight defeats with a 0-0 draw against Sunderland but remained bottom.

Blackburn, which is five points ahead of Wolves, was condemned to a fifth straight loss by Swansea.

Gylfi Sigurdsson curled in his seventh goal in 14 league games since joining the Welsh club on loan from Hoffenheim in January in a 3-0 win.

Queens Park Rangers missed a chance to move further than two points clear of Bolton in 18th after Graham Dorrans gave West Bromwich Albion a 1-0 win.

Ronaldo, Messi set mark


MADRID — Barcelona forward Lionel Messi scored a penalty against Levante on Saturday to match Cristiano Ronaldo's Spanish League-record 41 goals in a season, set less than two hours earlier.

Messi converted the 72nd-minute spot kick to give Barcelona a 2-1 victory and equal rival Ronaldo, who set the record with a 74th-minute header in Real Madrid's 3-1 victory over Sporting Gijon.

Messi had trailed Ronaldo by two goals going into the match and curled home a 64th-minute equalizer to close the gap to one.

Soccer's biggest rivals gave the Spanish League its first-ever pair of players with 40-plus goals in a season, and it was the first time the feat had been achieved since 1930-31 when Aston Villa's Pongo Waring and Sheffield United's Jimmy Dunne passed the 40-goal mark.

Ronaldo matched his overall goal tally from last year after reaching 53 goals, while Messi's 63 goals in all competitions is the most in European play since Bayern Munich's Gerd Mueller scored 67 during the 1972-73 season.

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