| Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard (right) vies for the ball with Ipswich Town’s Jamie Clapham at Anfield Road, Liverpool, Wednesday. (AFP)
London: Nathan ‘Duke’ Ellington was Wigan’s hero as the second division leaders beat Fulham 2-1 to advance to the quarter finals of the League Cup football.
The highly-rated 21-year-old struck twice in the space of eight minutes midway the first half Wednesday to put Wigan, who had already disposed of West Brom and Manchester City, on track for a hattrick of wins over Premiership opposition.
Luis Boa Morte pulled a goal back for Fulham four minutes from the end but it was Wigan who advanced to a home tie against holders Blackburn, who eased through with a four-goal demolition of Rotherham at Ewood Park.
Ellington had claimed a hattrick in Wigan’s win over West Brom, but his form has dipped recently and he had gone nine games without a goal.
Fulham paid the price for manager Jean Tigana’s decision to make ten changes to his side. But that did not stop the Frenchman from describing his side’s defending as “horrific.”
“The priority for us is to stay as high up in the Premiership and stay in the Uefa Cup.
“But I’m disappointed because we played very badly and we lost the fight in the middle. It was a good time to rest a few players but I knew Wigan would play well and they are a very good side,” added the Fulham boss.
The signing of Turkey striker Hakan Sukur — who was introduced to the Rovers’ fans at half-time — appeared to have the desired effect on Blackburn’s current first choice strikers with Dwight Yorke grabbing a double and Andy Cole also on the scoresheet against Rotherham.
It was Yorke’s first brace since April 2000 and the first time he and Cole had scored in the same game for the club since their arrival from Manchester United.
Irish winger Damian Duff scored Blackburn’s fourth two minutes before the break and Rotherham had to work hard to prevent them adding to their tally.
England striker Darius Vassell doubled his goal count for the season and broke Preston’s resistance with goals either side of the break for Aston Villa in a 5-0 win.
Dion Dublin, Juan Pablo Angel and Thomas Hitzlsperger completed a good night’s work for graham Taylor’s side with a goal each in the last ten minutes.
Villa will now entertain Liverpool in the quarter finals after the Merseysiders squeezed through with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Ipswich.
Shell-shocked goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek bounced back from his traumatic blunder against Manchester United at the weekend to play a crucial role in keeping Liverpool in the tournament.
Dudek, unexpectedly named in the starting line-up after his nightmare performance helped gift united a crucial Premiership victory Saturday, got a tremendous reception before the kick-off.
But there was nothing he could do to prevent Ipswich going ahead in the 14th minute. German midfielder Markus Babbel fluffed a clearance from a Darren Bent cross and the ball fell sweetly for Tommy Miller, who was able to sidefoot home with ease.
Dudek kept Liverpool in the game with a top class save to deny Pablo Counago shortly before the break.
Senegal striker El Hadji Diouf got Liverpool back on level terms from the penalty spot nine minutes after the break and debutant Neil Mellor could have put them ahead moments later, his shot coming back off the post.
But for all their pressure Liverpool could not find a way through the Ipswich defence and the match inevitably ended in penalties.
Jamie Clapham blasted Ipswich’s third penalty over the top and Diouf completed a perfect set of five for Liverpool to send them through.
Despite Dudek’s impressively resilient performance, he faces an extended spell on the Liverpool bench following his recent errors.
Manager Gerard Houllier revealed earlier in the day that he intended to give England under-21 keeper Chris Kirkland a protracted run in the first team.
Chelsea’s Italian maestro Gianfranco Zola laid the foundations of a 4-1 win over Everton with two defence splitting passes to set up first Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and then Emmanuel Petit to give the London club a 2-0 half-time lead.
Mario Stanic then headed home a Hasselbaink corner before the Dutch striker claimed his second of the night.
Everton wonderkid Wayne Rooney summed up a miserable night for the visitors when he had a late penalty saved by Carlo Cudicini but Gary Nay Smith did manage to grab a consolation goal for the visitors from the resulting corner.
Chelsea travel to Manchester United in the pick of the quarter final ties.