Monday, January 05, 2009

Gerrard-Inspired Reds Survive PNE Scare

English FA Cup - 3rd Round

Preston North End 0

Liverpool 2
(Riera 25, Torres 90)

It wasn’t an entirely good week for Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, as he received massive attention for all the wrong reasons. But most of it will be forgotten as he led the Reds into a routine 2-0 win over Championship side, Preston North End, in the FA Cup 3rd round tie.

At a stage where every game is a potential banana skin, Liverpool held firm till the end though Preston did gave Liverpool some nervy moments during their second half fight back. It did result in the ball in Diego Cavalieri’s net but it was later ruled out because of a unecessary foul on Jamie Carragher.

The victory has set up a mouthwatering tie with Liverpool’s greatest rival, Everton. Fans from the blue and red portion of Liverpool city will surely be rubbing their hands with glee.

The Reds fielded an almost full-strength team, underlining their intent to not underestimate their so called ‘weaker’ opposition and on the hindsight, it proved to be a good move.

Preston North End, though inferior in quality, played their hearts out and their passing were at times, a joy to watch. Neil Mellor, the former Liverpool trainee, led the line for PNE while Robbie Keane was up front for the Reds after sitting out of the 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle.

Presented with countless of chances, Keane just couldn’t convert the chances. It was a massive disappointment for the Irish as it is only just recently that he got on a goal scoring run. It seems like consistency is not his strength.

Even more depressing for him could be the goal-scoring return of Spanish hotshot, Fernando Torres. Good news for Liverpool, bad for Keane.

It is unlikely now that Rafa Benitez would change the 4-2-3-1 formation with the one upfront as he is seeing the formation bringing stability and success to his team’s title bid this season.

With Torres back in the fray and Keane continuing to misfire, the 20 million GBP must be feeling some heat.

Torres’ goal is probably one of the easiest he’ll score in his career but it highlights the selflessness of Steven Gerrard, who ran the show at St. James’ Park and played a major role in the 2-0 victory.

Albert Riera fired Liverpool into the lead with a sweet left foot strike, finishing it with aplomb. The Spanish winger is in red hot form recently with 3 goals in the last 4 games. He is one of the most improved players I’ve seen in recent times. Struggling to make an impact in the pre-billionaire era Manchester City, he was slow and clumsy.

But now, he plays an integral part in Liverpool and has made the left wing spot his own.

His competition, Ryan Babel, started the game at Preston as well but was had a real bad day out. His touch was sloppy, poor in possession and generally delivered nothing. It must be a real heartache for the Liverpool fans, who have so much hope for the Dutch striker.

In the same way, Liverpool failed to deliver the fatal blow to Preston after given chance after chance. It beggars belief to see that they were only a goal up at half time despite many golden chances.

With the ‘Rocky’ tune played as PNE emerged from the tunnel after half time, it could be one of the reasons why they played a blinder during the second period. Liverpool were to find out that there really are no easy games in these domestic cups.

As if Burnley and Barnsley weren’t a big enough signage saying ‘Don’t underestimate your poorer cousins in the Championship’.

They put up a brave fight which puts Liverpool on the back foot for majority of the second half. After losing Xabi Alonso to injury, the visitors couldn’t control the tempo of the game as well and had to handle waves after waves of PNE attacks.

But quality in the end, showed through, and Liverpool were able to put the game to bed in injury time as Fernando Torres made his return from injury a glorious one with a simple tap-in.

Gerrard may be charged for assault and affray but once he donned his beloved red jersey, you know he’s always going to go out fighting for the cause and the only assault he’s going to be involved in will be Liverpool’s first title in 20 years and of course the FA Cup and Champions League.

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