Press Association report

Middlesbrough have the chance to avenge last season's FA Cup Final defeat by Chelsea after winning their Coca-Cola Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool at a jubilant Riverside Stadium.

Bryan Robson's men booked a third Cup final appearance in a year after hitting Liverpool with two goals in the opening four minutes.

Paul Merson and debutant Marco Branca put Robson's First Division outfit on the road to Wembley - almost their second home in the last 12 months!

If Merson's penalty, coolly fired home in less than two minutes, brought the passionate home support to their feet then new signing Branca's second, in three minutes 17 seconds, brought the house down.

What a way to repay his new manager and the Riverside crowd who had made his welcome more akin to the San Siro.

The ?1million striker, who only completed his signing 24 hours earlier, was the shock selection for Boro.

However, if the two international forwards deserve the headlines then Danish international Mikkel Beck also deserved praise.

It was the 24-year-old striker whose second minute break brought about the 83-second penalty when he was upended from behind by midfielder Jamie Carragher.

The move began on the left with Beck exchanging passes with Craig Hignett and when Merson beat David James to the keeper's right the home side were on their way to Wembley.

Within a further 90 seconds former Inter Milan striker Branca was the talk of the town.

He took a great ball from Merson, the first leg hero, then showed his experience and class to take that extra half second before slotting it through the legs of James from 10 yards.

Branca's pace and control, at the tender age of 33, caused the Liverpool defence terrific problems and in the eighth minute he was unlucky after turning three defenders one way and then the other.

During the opening 10 minutes it was all Boro and only some panicky defending by Dominic Matteo and hard graft from skipper Paul Ince kept them in the semi-final tie.

Michael Owen finally showed a rare moment of class with a fine turn and break which needed a great challenge from Steve Vickers on the edge of the home box.

A disjointed Anfield outfit could easily have gone three down in the 19th minute when Branca's goalbound effort struck Ince and was deflected away from danger.

The Liverpool attack were almost non-existent as Owen, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman were starved of quality service.

But three minutes before the break they seemed to have a clear penalty turned down by Paul Durkin. Ince broke smoothly into the Boro box and seemed to be pulled back by Slovakian defender Vladimir Kinder. However, furious complaints by Ince and Co went unheeded.

The half-time whistle brought a crescendo of noise tumbling down from three sides of the Riverside Stadium - the other packed with 5,000 visiting fans from Merseyside were silent.

Roy Evans' men started the second slowly with Boro managing to keep possession without too much trouble - until they began to tire and allow the visitors to play more in the home half.

However, they only had a Patrik Berger drive to show for this until Owen gradually came more into it.

He should have reduced the arrears in the 63rd minute but after being putclear Fowler had made his move a split-second too soon to be flagged for offside - Owen finished in style but to no avail.

It just wasn't Fowler's night and in the 72nd minute he missed a sitter after the home defence were caught square and he found the ball at his feet eight yards out.

The tension spilled over minutes later with Ince remonstrating with Gianluca Festa after the Italian intervened after a squabble between Mustoe and McManaman.

Liverpool's final throw of the dice came when Bjornebye's left wing corner was met by substitute Karlheinz Riedle's head but, from eight yards, his header flew inches wide of the far upright.


Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Kinder, Festa, Vickers, Pearson, Mustoe, Hignett (Baker 74), Branca, Beck, Merson, Townsend.

Subs Not Used: Fleming, Ormerod.

Booked: Branca, Townsend.

Goals: Merson 2 pen, Branca 4.

Liverpool: James, Jones, McManaman, Fowler, Harkness, Berger (Riedle 65), Ince, Owen, Bjornebye, Matteo (Leonhardsen 46), Carragher.

Subs Not Used: Friedel.

Booked: Ince, McManaman, Riedle.

Agg (3-2)

Att: 29,828

Ref: P A Durkin (Portland).

Copyright - Press Association

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