Liverpool 4-3 Reading

Robbie Fowler was named Liverpool skipper and then kick-started a thrilling 4-3 victory at Anfield over Reading in the Carling Cup.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez had talked about handing responsibility to the veteran before the third-round clash and the Kop favourite responded by chipping in the first goal.

John Arne Riise added another with a fierce strike in first-half injury time and Gabriel Paletta headed in a third.

Andre Bikey and Leroy Lita pulled goals back for the visitors but their strikes were sandwiched by a cool Peter Crouch finish.

Shane Long then headed another in for Reading, but they could not find the leveller and Liverpool made it through to the last 16 of the competition.

As expected, Rafael Benitez made radical changes to his line-up, although the 2003 winners of the competition were still strong, with Fowler and Crouch offering a threat in attack.

Several of Benitez’s fringe players were effective – with Jermaine Pennant impressing with a busy display – and could give the boss a selection headache as they look to get their Premiership title bid on track.

Reading boss Steve Coppell did the same, saving some of his first-choice players for Premiership deeds in their first season in the top flight.

However, familiarity between the two sides led to a disappointing start, despite Pennant and Riise both looking to be positive from the flanks.

The first opportunity fell to Mohamed Sissoko in the 12th minute when Pennant found the midfielder, but his shot from 12 yards had to be parried away by Graham Stack in the Royals goal.

Reading won three corners in quick succession but saw Stephen Hunt’s deliveries cleared by Pennant, Fowler and then Sissoko.

However the visitors were settling into the match and Ulises De la Cruz had a 30-yard shot saved by Jose Reina, who shortly afterwards intercepted a Stephen Hunt cross.

Crouch and Fowler both went close from corners midway through the first half but there was little to choose between the teams until Fowler’s classic finish after 44 minutes.

Pennant played the veteran striker through and he chipped over the advancing Stack for his second goal of the season and his first since the opening day of the campaign.

Riise doubled the lead in injury-time of the first half, Stack failing to hold his fierce drive before crashing in the rebound from the edge of the area.

Neither side made changes at the break, with Pennant the first to go close when he drilled a shot at Stack two minutes after the re-start.

Liverpool looked to have settled the tie five minutes into the second period when Pennant’s corner from the left found Paletta, who glanced a header into the far corner.

Encouraged by their glut of goals either side of the break, Liverpool seemed likely to add to their lead and Fowler volleyed just wide when he was afforded room from a throw.

Boudewijn Zenden had an effort deflected just wide of Fowler, who was prowling in the area looking for his second, and the striker fizzed a shot just wide after an hour.

Sissoko was then taken off for Danny Guthrie, and Bikey gave Reading hope with a header from a free-kick after Paletta had fouled Hunt and earned a yellow card.

Crouch then played a one-two with Fowler with 13 minutes left and walked the ball into the net, and Liverpool held on for victory despite Lita and Long scoring late on.

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