HALLOWE'EN horror shows don’t come much more gruesome than this. Liverpool lost their grip on the League Cup as Brendan Rodgers had to endure the painful sight of the team he built returning to haunt him at Anfield.
The manager’s show of faith in his squad players wasn’t repaid as Swansea City deservedly booked their place in the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Few tears will be shed over Liverpool’s exit. After all this competition was bottom of Rodgers’ list of priorities, but a glorious chance to move a step closer to another showpiece Wembley occasion was carelessly spurned.
Having been second best in the opening 45 minutes and fallen behind to Chico Flores’ header, Rodgers turned to his big guns to come off the bench and perform a rescue act.
But in the second half Nathan Dyer made it 2-0 and although Luis Suarez pulled one back, Jonathan De Guzman put the tie beyond doubt.
Rodgers had made nine changes to the side which drew 2-2 at Goodison last Sunday.
Keeper Brad Jones made his fourth successive appearance in goal, while Joe Allen retained his place in midfield to line up against his boyhood club.
Joe Cole was handed his first start since Rodgers’ first game in charge away to Gomel in the Europa League qualifier three months ago.
There was also a home bow for German youth international striker Samed Yesil, who had impressed on his debut in the previous round at West Brom.
Having already experimented with Stewart Downing in the back four, Rodgers decided to do likewise with Jordan Henderson as he began at right-back.
There was no hint of animosity towards Allen from the travelling fans. They chanted the name of the Reds’ £15million summer signing, who had been with the Swans since the age of nine.
Allen has firmly established himself as a vital cog in Rodgers’ wheel. His work rate and reading of the game is outstanding.
Closing his former team-mates down and snapping into tackles to win back possession, Allen helped the Reds impose themselves on the contest early on. Cole saw a shot deflected behind before Downing fired wide from long range.
However, Yesil found life tough up front. Too often the teenager was muscled out of it, although his cause wasn’t helped by some poor service.
The 18-year-old was gifted the ball by Ashley Williams’ on the edge of the box but slipped and the chance went begging.
The longer the game wore on, the more of a threat the Swans began to pose.
A slick one-two between Pablo Hernandez and Michu carved the Reds apart but Jamie Carragher came to the hosts’ rescue with a crucial block.
Downing had offered Anfield a rare glimpse of his talent with his match-winning strike against Anzhi a week earlier and once again he was lively down the right flank.
Just before the half-hour mark the £20million man cut inside and unleashed a powerful 25-yarder which Gerhard Tremmel unconvincingly shovelled behind.
But with Oussama Assaidi offering nothing on the left and Cole anonymous behind Yesil, the Reds were desperately lacking creativity.
In contrast Swansea were bursting with pace and ideas. They grew in confidence and should have scored when Michu robbed Allen and sent Dyer racing down the left.
His pass picked out De Guzman but with just Jones to beat he clipped his shot over the bar.
Jones then parried away Ki-Sung Yeung’s strike but from the resulting corner the breakthrough arrived in the 34th minute.
Chico soared above Sebastian Coates to meet De Guzman’s corner and powered a header past Jones.
Liverpool should have restored parity within seconds. Assaidi’s cross found Cole unmarked six yards out but he nodded weakly at Tremmel.
‘Brendan, what’s the score?’ taunted the jubilant Swansea fans and the Reds boss had clearly seen enough as he took action at the interval.
It was no surprise that Cole and Yesil didn’t reappear for the second half as Rodgers turned to Suarez and Steven Gerrard to transform the game.
The impact of the changes was instant as the injection of quality provided a welcome boost in both tempo and intensity.
Within two minutes Allen had teed up Jonjo Shelvey who had been given a licence to get further forward. Shelvey expertly worked his way into space but fired narrowly over.
Shelvey then turned provider with an inviting cross but Suarez couldn’t control his header.
Just past the hour mark Gerrard went agonisingly close to levelling proceedings.
The skipper latched on to Suarez’s pass and unleashed a blistering piledriver which Tremmel tipped on to the post. The rebound came quickly to Downing but he could only hack it wide.
The ineffective Assaidi made way for Raheem Sterling as Rodgers looked to crank up the pressure further.
However, the Reds continued to look vulnerable at the back and they were indebted to Jones for keeping the tie alive.
The Aussie made a fine double stop to thwart Hernandez and Dyer before Carragher’s brave block somehow managed to keep the ball out.
But Jones was help hopelessly exposed when Swansea doubled their account in the 72nd minute.
After an attack broke down, the visitors countered with Michu and Hernandez combining to hand Dyer a tap-in. It was all embarrassingly easy.
Five minutes later the deficit was halved. Gerrard whipped in a free-kick from wide on the left and Suarez sent a glancing header past Tremmel.
In a frenetic finale Suarez had two opportunities to force extra-time but he couldn’t take them.
Liverpool’s misery was complete in stoppage time when Michu crossed for De Guzman to convert.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Jones, Henderson, Carragher, Coates, Robinson, Allen, Shelvey, Cole (Gerrard 46), Downing, Yesil (Suarez 46), Assaidi (Sterling 65). Not used: Ward, Suso, Skrtel, Wisdom.
SWANSEA (4-4-1-1): Tremmel, Chico (Monk 59), Richards, Williams, Tiendalli, Hernandez (Routledge 76), Britton, Ki, Dyer, de Guzman, Michu. Not used: Cornell, Graham, Shechter, Agustien, Davies.
REFEREE: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
ATTENDANCE: 37, 521
GOALS: Flores 34, Dyer 72, Suarez 77, De Guzman 90+4.
BOOKINGS: Carragher, Williams.