LONDON: Mario Balotelli enjoyed a rare moment of ecstasy in a Liverpool shirt and Chelsea needed a late own goal to edge past plucky fourth-tier opposition as the two Premier League giants squeezed into the League Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday.
On a night when Premier League side West Bromwich Albion were dumped out by second tier Bournemouth, both Liverpool and Chelsea flirted with danger before reaching the last eight.
Late goals settled four of the five last-16 matches on Tuesday — and two were scored at Anfield as Liverpool came from behind to beat Swansea City 2-1.
Liverpool fans have seen precious little in Balotelli’s performances this season since his 16 million pound ($26 million, 20 million euros) pre-season move from AC Milan to convince them he could ride to the rescue when the chips were down but he came off the bench to turn the clash with Swansea on its head.
Entering the fray on 79 minutes, the Italian took seven minutes to level the scores as he stole in front of his marker to prod home a cross from compatriot Fabio Borini after Marvin Emnes had put Swansea ahead midway through the second half with a superb volley.
A sustained roar erupted around Anfield as Balotelli’s effort found the net, as much in celebration of the goal as it was grounded in relief that the misfiring striker had finally found his range at a crucial time.
“Finally!” Balotelli said on Twitter after scoring his first goal in six weeks and only his second for Liverpool while Liverpool assistant manager Colin Pascoe said: “He is working hard in training and he got his just rewards coming on and getting the goal.”
It was the start of a dramatic finale that saw Swansea’s Federico Fernandez sent off for a late tackle and Dejan Lovren head home the winner after four minutes of stoppage time, to leave eight-time winners Liverpool well-placed to launch another assault on a trophy they last won in 2012.
Chelsea remained unbeaten in all competitions this season — and reached the last eight of the League Cup for the fourth straight season — but only after surviving a scare against the lowest-ranked team left in the competition.
A patched-up Chelsea line-up looked like being taken to extra time by Shrewsbury Town, a team 71 places below it in English football’s pyramid, only for Jermaine Grandison to head into his own net after 81 minutes to seal a 2-1 win for the Premier League leaders.
“I wasn’t expecting anything but a difficult match. I was ready for extra-time,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho told Sky Sports television.
Shrewsbury kept the game goalless for more than half the match until Didier Drogba finished from close range in the 48th minute for his third goal in as many matches and in three different competitions.
But Shrewsbury substitute Andy Mangan equalised just 84 seconds after coming on in the 75th minute when he swivelled to fire past keeper Petr Cech with 13 minutes to play.
“It was a difficult pitch and difficult weather,” said Drogba, one of four Chelsea starters who also began the 1-1 draw against United. “They were a fantastic team and opponent _ they showed why they deserve to be here tonight.”
There was late drama, too, at Bournemouth, where West Brom probably thought they had done enough to force extra-time when a Tommy Elphick own goal with five minutes to go levelled the scores at 1-1 after Eunan O’Kane had given the hosts a 49th-minute lead.
But it was Bournemouth who progressed to the quarter-finals for the first time thanks to substitute Callum Wilson’s late strike barely 60 seconds later.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the all-Championship game saw second-tier leaders Derby County come from two goals behind to beat Fulham 5-2 at Craven Cottage and Sheffield United downed Milton Keynes Dons 2-1 in an all-League One encounter.