Sunday, January 04, 2009

Match Report: Preston North End 0 - 2 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard rose to the occasion with a cool performance for Liverpool in their FA Cup third-round tie against Preston.

The Reds captain was charged with assault and affray earlier this week but was composure personified at Deepdale, producing an inspired display which ended with him creating the injury-time clincher for substitute Fernando Torres.

At the end Gerrard swapped shirts with Preston skipper Paul McKenna and pointedly marched towards the bank of Liverpool fans behind the goal, held his arms aloft and blew kisses to his followers.

Albert Riera had given Liverpool a first-half lead with his fourth goal of the season, but the Anfield men wasted a hatful of chances which gave Preston the belief that they could salvage something from the match.

That they did not had much to do with a class display from Gerrard.

Liverpool made four changes from the side which won so well at Newcastle last weekend.

With Steven Gerrard already confirmed in the side after his traumatic week, boss Rafael Benitez also recalled Robbie Keane, Albert Riera and Xabi Alonso to the starting line-up, with Diego Cavalieri taking over in goal.

Yossi Benayoun, Lucas, Dirk Kuyt and Jose Reina were all rested, while Preston brought in former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor, Jon Parkin and Chris Sedgwick from the side which drew at Barnsley last weekend.

Gerrard predictably found himself being booed by the home support whenever in possession, but Liverpool's 5,000 plus fans were treating him like a hero.

Preston's spirited start to the tie soon distracted their fans from what soon became mild barracking.

The home side's midfield of McKenna and Richard Chaplow were quick to harass Liverpool and force errors, and a 20-yard free-kick from Ross Wallace forced Cavalieri into a plunging save to his right.

Liverpool responded with as twisting run from Riera and a lay-off that Keane could not direct goalwards as he arrived in the six-yard box, the first of a succession of squandered opportunities for the Irishman.

Chaplow and Mellor both went close before Liverpool were ahead after 24 minutes.

Riera picked up a fortunate deflection on the right of the box, and although there was a clear opportunity to drill the ball into the danger area, the Spaniard opted to cut inside and crack the ball into the top corner with his left foot.

Gerrard, who was finding acres of space to operate in just behind Keane, had two long-range efforts which flew close.

Liverpool were slowly taking command, and Chaplow was booked for a late tackle on Alonso, who equally was constantly drifting into dangerous areas.

And Liverpool had a string of chances near the break to settle the issue. Keane should have made it two when he squirmed clear in the area, but Andy Lonergan saved bravely at his feet.

Then Keane produced an even worse effort, arriving in the box to meet a Gerrard cross, only to send his shot hopelessly wide.

Gerrard was in fine form by now and another glittering chance was created by the Liverpool skipper, but it was squandered by first Keane, who opted not to shoot. Instead he pushed the ball to Babel, who was equally wasteful.

Liverpool sent on Lucas for a limping Alonso at the break, and within minutes Daniel Agger had headed narrowly wide from a corner.

The sight of Torres warming up on the touchline had the Liverpool support bursting into song, a sight that would also have concentrated Keane's mind.

But without the cushion of a second goal, there was plenty of anxiety creeping into Liverpool's play and Preston were clearly encouraged.

Preston lost Callum Davidson with what looked to be an ankle injury after 56 minutes, Eddie Nolan coming on. Gerrard's free-kick gave Javier Mascherano the chance for a 25-yarder that flew just over.

Babel's touch gave Gerrard the opportunity for a dipping drive that Lonergan superbly turned over the crossbar at full stretch. Mellor, to a rousing ovation from both sets of fans, went off after 62 minutes to be replaced by Stephen Elliott.

Preston had an effort disallowed after 64 minutes when Sean St Ledger netted, only for Jon Parkin to be penalised for holding down Jamie Carragher.

Preston should have been out of the game by now, such had been Liverpool's string of missed chances but they were heartened by Liverpool's failures, so much so that Benitez appeared on the touchline.

And Torres soon appeared, after 73 minutes, to replace Keane.

Liverpool conceded a string of free-kicks, and there were a couple of loud shouts for penalties as the pressure from the home side heightened.

Gerrard saw a fierce shot on the turn blocked by St Ledger, before Preston sent on Barry Nicholson for Chaplow after 81 minutes.

Liverpool then pushed Gerrard back into central midfield, took off Mascherano and sent on Fabio Aurelio on the left, with Babel moved forward.

But in injury time Gerrard broke away to set up Torres for a simple tap-in to clinch the game.

Liverpool and Tottenham Target Lafita

Angel Lafita could be on the move soon, with two Premier League clubs joining a long list of clubs interested in him.

Deportivo winger Angel Lafita is a wanted man, with Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool being the latest sides to chase his signature.

According to The People, the two clubs are at the front of the queue to sign the winger, who has scored five goals so far in his second season at Deportivo.

Lafita has made no secret in recent times of his desire to move to a bigger club.

The player's contract is not due for expiry until the summer of 2012 but it is believed that Depor are willing to sell for a fee of around €3 million.

Liverpool: 58% Want Pennant Gone!

In the result of our poll, a comprehensive 58% of voters didn't think Jermaine Pennant would be leaving for Real Madrid, but did want to see him leave.

While I think the lad hasn't had all the credit he deserves during his time at Anfield (he was many people's man of the match in the 2007 CL final), I do agree.

With our current situation in terms of finance and squad, sentimentality must take a back-seat while we challenge on three fronts (or possibly two if things don't go well this evening).

As for the full result of the poll, 14% thought it was all pie in the sky. 12% of you sat on the fence and thought it was a possibility, nothing more. And 16% of you took pity on the lad and thought he should be in the team more.

Palsson Set For Anfield Arrival

Liverpool appear set to complete their first piece of New Year business by landing Icelandic starlet Victor Palsson.

The teenage sensation is currently on the books of Danish outfit Aarhus, where he has been attracting interest for some time.

He is yet to be handed a senior debut in the Superliga but is widely regarded as an exciting prospect for the future.

At just 18-years-old he is already viewed as being one of the brightest talents to emerge from Iceland in recent years.

Standing on the verge of a glamorous switch to Anfield, Palsson will be hoping to make the same impact on Europe's biggest stage as his countryman Eidur Gudjohnsson - a man who has represented Chelsea and Barcelona during his distinguished career.

"I expect it will all be settled and ready to be completed next week," said Palsson, in regards to his imminent arrival in England.

Reds Waiting On Alonso News

Liverpool are waiting to discover the extent of Xabi Alonso's injury after the Spaniard limped out of the Reds' 2-0 FA Cup success at Preston.

Alonso failed to reappear for the second half after colliding with a Preston defender in the closing seconds of the opening period, and assistant boss Sammy Lee revealed the club won't know the extent of any damage for at least 24 hours.

"Unfortunately Xabi has had seven stitches in his instep," he said after the game.

"We do not know the full extent of the injury, apart from the fact he will be very sore tonight.

"Hopefully there will be no damage but we won't know for the next 24 or 48 hours."

Meanwhile, Lee paid tribute to Steven Gerrard who put his recent troubles behind him to turn in a wonderful midfield display - capped by an injury time assist for substitute Fernando Torres.

"Steven is a top professional," he said. "He has the full support of this football club. You have seen what he is today, a footballer. He produced a terrific performance, he is a modern professional and we're all behind him. He's a great servant to this club, a terrific ambassador and we'll continue to support him throughout."

Torres' late goal finally killed off the challenge of Preston, who had fallen behind to a first half Albert Riera strike as Liverpool ensured they wouldn't be the victims of any Cup shock.

"Preston made it hard for us. We knew it was going to be a battle but we withstood the battle and withstood the challenge," added Lee.

Tony Barrett: Emlyn’s Eye For An Anfield Starlet

The official Liverpool Supporters Club held their annual awards dinner at Anfield during Christmas week and as usual it was a fantastic event.

Not surprisingly, Fernando Torres picked up the player of the year award with Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina named in second and third places.

Promising right back Stephen Darby won the Ian Frodsham young player of the year award in recognition of both the progress he has made on the pitch during the last 12 months and the excellent way he conducts himself off it.

A pair of Anfield legends spoke of their pride at adding to their trophy collections with Jimmy Case being named this year's Tom Saunders award winner and Alan Hansen collecting the Billy Liddell award.

Along with Torres, the most popular winner of the night was Gerrard who was presented with the Emlyn Hughes award by his widow Barbara and daughter Emma.

Barbara made a moving speech in which she recalled watching a Liverpool game on TV with Emlyn featuring a teenage Gerrard and he told her: "This kid can be whatever he wants to be."

Taking in a later game together Emlyn again sang Gerrard's praises to his wife, insisting to her that "only him and Kenny (Dalglish) could have played in any of the great Liverpool teams".

After hearing such praise a humble Gerrard told guests that "to be mentioned in the same breath as Emlyn is really flattering.

"If I can win half of what he won in his career then I will be more than happy."

John Aldridge: Benayoun And Lucas Deserve Bags Of Praise

Liverpool were absolutely magnificent in their two victories over Christmas.

I haven’t seen a Liverpool side pass the ball as well as that since the team I played in back in the late 80s.

We were great against Bolton and the performance at Newcastle was the best I’ve seen for years.

Forget how poor Newcastle were, we were excellent and the thing that really impressed me was how creative we were.

We carved out so many opportunities and Newcastle just couldn’t handle us.

I’ve given Yossi Benayoun and Lucas a bit of stick this season but they deserve praise for the way they performed.

Benayoun looked very comfortable on the right and for the first time I saw why Rafa Benitez decided to pay £6million to bring Lucas to Anfield.

Lucas got a lot of space against Newcastle and that helped him but it was by far the Brazilian’s best game in a Liverpool shirt and he looked a real player.

I just hope he uses that as a springboard and consistently produces performances like that.

I saw a poll this week voted Jamie Carragher the best defender in the Premier League, Steven Gerrard the best midfielder and Fernando Torres the best striker.

That speaks volumes for how strong the spine of this Liverpool team is.

It was a great end to 2008 and there’s good reason to be optimistic about 2009.

Team selection will be very interesting and Rafa has some difficult decisions to make.

Obviously the Premier League and the Champions League are more important, but if we were to go out of Europe and lose our way in the league, we need to have the FA Cup on the back-burner.

Last season we were trophy-less and we don’t want that to happen again.

You would like to think the squad is strong enough to enable Rafa to make four or five changes but still ensure we get through.

It’s vital he gets the right balance between giving players a rest but avoiding an upset as we don’t want a repeat of what happened against Burnley or Barnsley.

Those players who get the nod have to be prepared for a scrap.

Lee Hails Tterrific' Gerrard As Torres Returns In Style

In front of the club president, Sir Tom Finney, proud Preston lived up to their tradition and reputation last night, though they did not quite have the quality or luck to prevent Liverpool reaching the fourth round of the FA Cup. The Premier League leaders, victims of a giant-killing twice in the past four seasons, were dominant for an hour but fell away to cause their supporters an anxious last period until the outstanding Steven Gerrard broke away to set up substitute Fernando Torres for a second goal to add to Albert Riera's.

In between Preston should have had a penalty when Jamie Carragher held down the local hero Jon Parkin. The ball finished in Liverpool's net but Parkin had fouled Carragher in return, so Sean St Ledger's header was disallowed.

Seventh in the Championship under the former Evertonian Alan Irvine and with 10 wins in their 13 home games, North End had gone into the tie on the back of a good run, but were unable to build on a smooth start. In attack, they relied on the strength of beefy Parkin and Neil Mellor rather than the pace necessary to trouble Sami Hyypia . There was little scope for either of them and Mellor was withdrawn just after the hour. For the remaining period, however, Liverpool lost the authority that Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso had provided as a formidable midfield triangle, abetted by Riera on the left. Alonso had to be replaced at half-time, requiring seven stitches to his instep, and the home side were able to press forward albeit without finding the final touch.

"We didn't make it hard for ourselves, Preston did," said Sammy Lee, who was again doing the media round instead of Rafa Benitez. The manager, who sat in the second row of the dug-out, must have been equally impressed by Gerrard, whose night in the cells appeared to have had no adverse effect; just the opposite in fact. Lee said: "He's a top professional. Things have been written about him this week, but he's gone out there and produced a terrific performance."

Four years ago Benitez underestimated both the importance of the FA Cup and the quality of Football League opposition, sending out a reserve team to lose at Burnley. In last season's home defeat by Barnsley he took fewer chances but still did not send Gerrard on until the final 15 minutes, so it was no surprise that his captain started here in his attacking midfield role, from where he immediately imposed himself on the game.

The one negative for Liverpool, apart from Alonso's injury, was the performance of Robbie Keane. Dropped last week after scoring three times in two games, he was restored in place of Dirk Kuyt but wasted three chances in the first half alone, the worst of them from four yards following Gerrard's perfect cross. Fortunately,Riera's aim was true midway through the half when Preston were unable to deal with a left-wing corner. Gerrard thought briefly about a spectacular volley, then settled for nudging the ball on for Riera, who came inside on to his favoured left foot and shot high into the net.

By half-time the home crowd were grateful not to be further behind, though after Mascherano, Gerrard and Riera had all gone close, there was an uncomfortable moment to emphasise the fragile nature of the lead.

Parkin, rightly convinced that he had been held by Carragher, unwisely grabbed the defender's leg just as St Ledger headed in. St Ledger later failed to make sufficient contact at close range, and his team were hopelessly outnumbered as Gerrard unselfishly squared for Keane's replacement Torres to tap in. "We've come out with our pride intact," Irvine said. Pride matters to Preston.

Jamie Carragher: We Made Life Difficult For Ourselves

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher admitted the Reds made life difficult for themselves before sealing a 2-0 FA Cup third-round triumph at Preston.

Albert Riera gave the visitors the lead in the first half with a superb strike but the Coca-Cola Championship side came back into it in the second half and it was not until the last minute that Liverpool sealed victory through Fernando Torres.

Carragher told ITV1: “It was a tough game. We always seem to have problems against lower league opposition but thankfully we’ve come through. There were a couple of scares near the end and great credit to Preston.”

Carragher was at the centre of the most controversial moment of the game when Sean St Ledger’s header, which would have made it 1-1, was disallowed for a foul by Jon Parkin on Carragher. Preston were furious the defender had not been penalised for an initial foul on Parkin in the area.

“I wasn’t aware of the flag (to disallow the header) until the lad headed it in,” said Carragher.

“But he was trying to stop me getting up and I realised I was playing everyone onside.”

John Aldridge: Emiliano Insua Could Save Liverpool A Fortune

Emiliano Insua could save Liverpool a lot of money.

The young lad has done excellently since he came into the side and looks like he could be the solution to the left-back problem.

The only question mark over him is, can he defend against the top players in the really big games? Only time will tell but he hasn’t put a foot wrong so far.

I doubt Rafa Benitez will be looking to do much business in the transfer window but what the squad lacks is someone capable of coming off the bench to change a game.

Last season, teams would dread Peter Crouch coming on, especially in Europe.

However, this season there have been times, especially at Anfield, where we’ve struggled to make inroads but haven’t had anyone to bring on who offers a different kind of threat.

Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane are both great players but I really feel to push on during the second half of the season we need another option up front.