League Cup loss leaves Reds reeling

LONDON - Defeat at home by a fourth-tier team, Anfield half-empty, the players booed off the pitch and a manager apologising for his and their performance - welcome to Liverpool 2011-style.

Liverpool were by no means alone in playing a side full of reserves and youth-teamers in the League Cup but their line-up still contained five internationals and millions of pounds worth of "talent".

GEAR: Liverpool home, away and third kits available here. Go get 'em

All should be hanging their heads in shame on Thursday after their penalty shootout defeat by a Northampton side 17th in League Two.

Such a defeat in a competition they have won a record seven times would be bad enough if Northampton had survived a 120-minute siege to scrape through on a shoot-out.

But that was far from the case as the hosts needed David Ngog's 116th minute goal to make it 2-2 four minutes from the end of injury time.

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The Midlands side played neat football, virtually matched the hosts for possession and had more efforts at goal - not too much of an ask as Liverpool mustered only four in normal time.

Having missed out on the Champions League this season and already looking out of the running for the Premier League after a start that has garnered five points from five games, Liverpool are hardly in a position to pick and choose their trophies.

Roy Hodgson, who had a close-up view of the demands of the Europa League after taking Fulham through 19 games to the final last season, perhaps has targeted that competition as his new club's best hope of silverware.

That would explain his decision to change his entire lineup from those on duty in Sunday's 3-2 defeat by Manchester United.

The home fans must have known what was coming, with only 22,577 rattling round Anfield's 45,200 capacity ground and 4,000 of those coming from Northampton.

"I can only apologise to the fans who expected better and expected to see us win," Hodgson said.

"The fact is the players have to accept responsibility. I accept responsibility for making so many changes but I thought we should still have been good enough to win.

"It's a major setback for the club as a whole, but we will survive it and get better."

Hodgson will hope his first team, who have looked flat in an admittedly tough start to the Premier League season, get things back on track at home to Sunderland at the weekend.

Chelsea also suffered a surprise home defeat but their coach Carlo Ancelotti had the air of a proud father after their 4-3 loss to Newcastle United.

Both teams were unrecognisable from their Premier League personas and Ancelotti was delighted with the character shown by his youngsters.

Down to 10 men for the last half-hour through injury, they fought back from 3-1 down to level at 3-3, only for Shola Ameobi to head a last-minute winner for the visitors.

A man who has a Premier League and FA Cup double already in his pocket and knows, along with every Chelsea fan, that the Champions League is his number one goal, can afford to toss a lesser pot aside.

"This is a competition for the younger players, it is not our priority," said Ancelotti, whose many years in Italy would have bred a healthy disregard for second-rate domestic cups.

Not all managers feel the same.

Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, previously proud to use the competition as a finishing school for his youngsters, now says he is going to use all his resources to try to win it.

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