The stuttering Liverpool forward who must use heroics as springboard in absence of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane

Takumi Minamino scored a last-minute equaliser to help the Reds move into the Carabao Cup semi-finals after defeating Leicester on penalties.

The competition has been given some derogatory monikers over the years.

The Mickey Mouse Cup has been the main belittling nickname. There have been others just as disparaging.

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The Carabao Cup is, in all honesty, last on every Premier League side's priority list.

Like a European night

Given a choice of silverware fans could select their team to win at the start of the season, it'd trail behind the Premier League and FA Cup domestically.

But try asking the 50,000-plus fans leaving Anfield if they don't want Liverpool to go all the way. They'll emphatically tell you otherwise now the Reds are just 180 minutes away from Wembley.

You'd have thought the quarter-final clash with Leicester was another famous European night given the palpable atmosphere created in the second half. The stadium was rocking and matched the high-octane game on the pitch.

With the Reds 3-1 down at half-time, they clawed their way back after the interval.

Minamino’s heroics

Takumi Minamino nets Liverpool’s last-minute equaliser against Leicester. Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

The celebrations in the terraces were akin to plenty of memorable goals scored down the years. The Japan international's strike will now be one in its own right.

How Minamino will have craved a moment like that since arriving on Merseyside. After joining Liverpool from Red Bull Salzburg almost two years ago, his career has stuttered.

A dearth of opportunities because of the quality ahead of him in the pecking order is one reason.

A disappointing period

But when he has had chances, Minamino's frustrated.

He's not displayed the quality he did when playing against the Reds for Salzburg in the Champions League which convinced Jurgen Klopp to make a swoop only months

Last season, Minamino was shipped out on loan to Southampton where he played only 10 times, scoring twice.

This campaign, the 26-year-old has made 13 appearances for Liverpool but failed to make a league start.

Approaching two years at the club, it's difficult to make any excuses for Minamino anymore. The transition period is well over and he's still to win over swathes of supporters.

Coming to the fore

Still, it's the Carabao Cup he thrives in. Having netted a double at Norwich and broke the deadlock against Preston in the previous two rounds, he continued his rich form in the final third.

In truth, Minamino had a first half to forget against Leicester. Like plenty of others, he was well off the pace. His opening 45 minutes was typified when he blazed over the bar after being teed-up by Roberto Firmino.

Yet Minamino benefitted from Klopp's triple substitution at the interval and picked up. His clever, perfectly-weighted pass around the corner slipped in Diogo Jota to crash home and reduce the arrears.

Diogo Jota of Liverpool celebrates after scoring the second goal during the Carabao Cup Quarter Final match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield on December 22, 2021 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Then in stoppage-time, Minamino held his nerve impeccably. He took down James Milner's long ball, kept his cool and drove beyond Kasper Schmeichel. It sent Anfield into raptures.

Minamino again had the opportunity to be the hero when he stepped up to take the fifth penalty of the shootout and send Liverpool through into the semi-finals. He beat Schmeichel again but saw his effort clip the bar and go over.

Luckily, a second Caoimhin Kelleher and Jota's successful spot-kick meant Minamino's miss didn't matter.

Without a doubt, the ex-Cerezo Osaka's man goal was the best personal moment of his time at the Reds.

Not only that but he also created three goalscoring chances, had five shots and completed 89% of passes.

With Mo Salah and Sadio Mane heading off to the African Cup of Nations next month, Klopp will be desperately short in attack.

Minamino is one of the options the Reds boss can turn to in their absence.

He simply has to use his Leicester strike as a springboard to finally kickstart his spluttering Liverpool career.