LIVERPOOL blew one of their best chances of winning a trophy this season after suffering an embarrassing penalty shoot-out Carling Cup defeat against League Two side Northampton at Anfield last night.
Having taken a ninth-minute lead through Milan Jovanovic, his first goal since joining the club from Standard Liege in the summer, the hosts should have wrapped up the third-round tie.
But Billy McKay and Michael Jacobs turned things around, and although David Ngog snatched a late equaliser the Cobblers went through on spot-kicks.
For the first time in five years Liverpool have not got past the third round, denying them a chance in a competition they were thinking about winning.
Those chances were increased by the exits of the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham but an under-strength team failed to deliver.
It would have not been so bad had the Cobblers come to Anfield and given a particularly stirring performance but they were only really energised by McKay’s goal, growing in confidence as their opponents’ gradually receded.
Northampton’s Steve Guinan and Liverpool’s Ngog missed the first spot-kicks but when 19-year-old substitute Nathan Eccleston hit the crossbar with Liverpool’s fourth effort Abdul Osman stepped up to send the Cobblers into the last 16.
Meanwhile, cup holders Manchester United did not let absent boss Alex Ferguson down as they came from behind to beat gallant Scunthorpe 5-2 in last night’s third-round tie at Glanford Park.
Ferguson reportedly chose to watch Champions League opponents Valencia instead, leaving Mike Phelan in charge, and there was plenty for the assistant manager to think about as Scunthorpe were rewarded for their terrific start by Josh Wright’s superb 19th-minute strike.
But it took only four minutes for Darron Gibson to level and they were ahead before half-time through Chris Smalling.
Two goals from Michael Owen and one from Park Ji-sung in the second half put the result beyond doubt but Scunthorpe got the second goal they deserved in injury time from the impressive Martyn Woolford.
Phelan made 11 changes to the side that beat Liverpool 3-2 on Sunday but it was by no means a weak team, with Rio Ferdinand, Owen, Anderson, Wes Brown, Park and Javier Hernandez all in the starting line-up.
Ferdinand said he was delighted to play just his second game of the season.
“It’s always going to be a tricky test coming to places like this,” Ferdinand said.
“There was great support tonight from both sets of fans but when we got our foot back in the game we settled and started playing and put the game to bed.
“Any game is good to be playing in, I’m just happy to be playing.”
Asked about his defensive partner Smalling, Ferdinand added: “Chris is willing to learn, he’s hungry, you can see the desire in him.
“He’s doing well and taking everything in training.”
Elsewhere, Wigan staged a dramatic late fightback to snatch a place in the fourth round at the expense of valiant Preston.
Jordi Gomez and Charles N’Zogbia both struck in the closing three minutes as the Premier League side narrowly avoided a shock at the DW Stadium.
Championship outfit Preston had led after Keith Treacy opened the scoring in the 23rd minute and they hit the woodwork twice through Paul Coutts.
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