Gonzalez underwrites Reds but they lose Mo Claims Bonus

Posted by a partridge in seat_5c on August 22, 2006, 11:43:16 PM

Liverpool progressed to the Champions League proper tonight after a 1-1 draw in Kiev, the late Mark Gonzalez goal at Anfield proving as critical as seemed likely two weeks ago. The result was overshadowed by two more injuries as first Warnock then Sissoko succumbed, hampering Benitez’s ability to change things on the field for the second competitive match running. Sissoko was stretchered off and it is to be hoped that he makes a speedy recovery from a reported twisted knee.

A dastardly plot to kick off before the agreed time succeeded, meaning I missed the first 8 minutes of the game, but that was the only administrative shenanigans of the evening as the match officials bossed the game well. A linesman spotted the clear offside as the only major talking point of the first half saw Haifa’s “goal” ruled out amid the comical scene of Xabi Alonso blasting a clearance straight at Pepe Reina on the goalline.

Alonso, who I feel tends to start seasons slowly for a month or so, again seemed to be slightly late arriving into several tackles, one of which rightly earned him a booking. Sissoko too seemed well below par which is odd to see after such a demonic performance against Chelsea just 9 days earlier. Like a couple of theatrical stagehands, Pennant and Gonzalez waited in the wings for their chance to move the set around, in vain. Rafa has bought his laterals, now he needs to teach the team how to involve them, or them how to get involved. At the moment I can’t decide which of the two it is; possibly both.

Whether the wobbly first steps of an inchoate midfield influenced the defence to go long is a moot question but many a ball was played up to Crouch who, with Luis Garcia attempting to operate off him, acquitted himself very well during the opening hour of the game; easily the Reds best player during this time. Several flicks to Garcia resulted in Louey having attempts on goal but the Israeli goalkeeper was having an inspired night and may well have caught someone’s eye.

Crouch got his just deserts with 55 minutes gone as badboy Jermaine Pennant lost his marker for the first time with a typical piece of Machiavellian mischief, skipping to the touchline to find Crouch making ground at the nearpost to stoop a header in by the near post. Another game, another headed goal for the preternatural number 15, who seems to be quickly grasping that a well-conceived run into the right area can more than make up for a widely-perceived lack of natural ability in the air.

The Israelis had probably shown a little too much respect to Liverpool until this point, but now had no choice but to press and within 10 minutes they were level with a goal worked worryingly similarly to the one at Anfield. A midfield runner got one on one with Alonso in ‘the Hamann zone’, drew Xabi and went past. Agger had been doing his best Paolo Maldini impression up until that point, but between him and Hyypia the impressive striker Colautti was lost and he drove home.

Minutes later, Sissoko went into a tackle and came off worse, meaning the substitute skipper Gerrard would now get 25 minutes to attempt to steer his side through. Garcia had drifted out of the game in the second half and was starting to flick those passes straight to the opposition while providing little in the way of a goal threat, but suddenly Gerrard was popping up on the edge of the box and taking potshots. Still Liverpool couldn’t manage to control the game as their prowling manager would have liked, Finnan making passing error after passing error on a very poor night for him, begging the question whether he too is fit enough to be playing at the moment. He was lost for a split second as a smartly worked move played Colautti in and Reina did superbly to stretch to turn the striker’s drive round the post. The Argentinian’s agent’s mobile phone must have been under a certain amount of duress at this point, as were the watching Reds during the seconds after the referee blew as a Haifa player threw himself to the ground in our box as they pressed for a second, earning him a yellow card for his trouble.

With 5 minutes to go Bellamy was introduced onto the field, or rather the vicinity of the corner flag. The Israeli defenders perhaps wisely kept their distance rather than risk incurring his wrath, and as the clock ticked to the end of its 93rd minute the Gonzalez insurance policy from the home leg paid out. The hope now is that losing our Mo Claims Bonus doesn’t cost us many penalty points in the league.

Momo of the Match: Peter Crouch

© a partridge in seat_5c 2006

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