x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Craig Bellamy stars in Liverpool win in wake of death of his 'mentor'

Striker battles grief over death of Gary Speed to play leading role in cup victory over Chelsea; woes continue for Blackburn Rovers; Wenger clings to the positives while Mancini defends Nasri

Craig Bellamy played with real maturity against Chelsea last night.
Craig Bellamy played with real maturity against Chelsea last night.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish praised Craig Bellamy after the Wales forward inspired his side to a 2-0 Carling Cup quarter-final victory over Chelsea.

Bellamy returned to action little more than 48 hours after being withdrawn from the squad for Sunday's clash with Manchester City on passionate grounds.

The 32-year-old was mourning the loss of friend Gary Speed and stood with his head bowed during the minute's applause held at Stamford Bridge tonight in remembrance of the Wales manager.

In the second half Bellamy came alive, setting up goals for Maxi Rodriguez and Martin Kelly as Chelsea were swept aside.

"Craig is a fantastic footballer who had a hugely disappointing day on Sunday. He regarded Gary Speed as a mentor," said Dalglish.

"It was great for the wee man, making the first goal. For the second he took the free-kick. He told Martin to leave it, it was going in!

"I don't know if we took Chelsea apart but we were delighted with the way we played. We've had a good day and we deserved to go through."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reserved special praise for young winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain despite his side losing 1-0 at home to Manchester City in the quarter-finals.

City reached the final four thanks to a late strike from substitute Sergio Aguero, but Wenger highlighted the performance of 18-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain.

He said: "Chamberlain the whole night looked like he could deliver something special and he has shown already he has moved forward. He has improved a lot."

There may now be pressure from the Arsenal supporters to see Oxlade-Chamberlain on a more frequent basis but Wenger believes he has adopted the correct policy with the 18-year-old former Southampton player.

"The experience shows that it is good sometimes to be positive and patient," Wenger said.

"I was very patient with him until now and it is important sometimes to hold them back a little bit and keep them on the training ground."

Oxlade-Chamberlain had long been linked with a move to Emirates Stadium and made the switch from Southampton for a reported £12million over the summer.

Samir Nasri made his first return to the Emirates Stadium following his summer move to City and the home fans let him know they did not approve of his move to the north-west. Mancini believes Nasri will start to show his best form for City.

"He can play better because he is a top player," Mancini said.

"I think that he can improve a lot but it was the same situation with who arrived last year like Edin (Dzeko) and David (Silva).

"It (the win) is not important for him, it is important for the team. For him it is better that he played tonight so when he comes back to play here in the league he knows what will happen."

Cardiff manager Malky Mackay dedicated his side's cup win over Blackburn Rovers to Gary Speed as they reached the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since 1966.

A Kenny Miller strike and a goal bundled in by a combination of Anthony Gerrard and Filip Kiss condemned the visitors to a 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium as the Bluebirds lifted the spirits of a nation rocked by the death of Wales manager Speed at the weekend.

Prior to the game tribute was paid to Speed when the stadium, which hosted his last game in charge of Wales, united in a round of applause in recognition of his career before a minute's silence.

Both managers and Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford also laid floral tributes on a Welsh flag, and during the game there were chants of "There's only one Gary Speed".

Mackay said the result was a fitting tribute.

"I am very proud of the group, and proud of everyone at the football club. It was an emotional evening for everyone at the club and everyone in Wales," he said.

"We knew that going out tonight we would have a big attendance and it was a very moving tribute to Gary.

"We wanted to get through just as that little tribute to him to get Wales into the semi-finals of the Carling Cup."