Football: Liverpool left in the dust

Liverpool 0 Celta Vigo 1: Celta win 4-1 on aggregate
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The Independent Online
GERARD HOULLIER'S optimistic hope his restoration of Liverpool could be undertaken against the glamorous backdrop of a Uefa Cup run ended last night when Celta Vigo clinically disposed of his side in the third round. He had wished for a display to recall other famous European nights at Anfield; instead the home team were outplayed and out-thought.

Only when Haim Revivo had put the tie beyond doubt with a delightful goal after 56 minutes did Liverpool truly threaten the Spanish goal, but even Michael Owen's thunderous shot from 25 yards was just a gesture. Celta, virtually unknown outside Spain before this season, were well worth their victory. Indeed, if they had taken all the chances the aggregate would have been embarrassing.

Houllier is known to want to strengthen his squad and he will now have to attract players to a club who are out of two cup competitions and are trailing badly in the Premiership. Only a run in the FA Cup will rescue what has been a salutary first four months in English football for the French manager.

Before the kick-off Houllier had described last night's task as a "mountain to climb" and the incline was always going to be prohibitive thanks to the suspensions of Paul Ince, Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Vegard Heggem. They were victims, in the main, of their own short fuses and stupidity but their one consolation is that even if they been available it is unlikely they could have turned events in the face of Spanish superiority.

"They were the better team over two legs," Houllier said, "Even with a full team it would have been difficult but with four players missing it was impossible."

Houllier had called for a rowdy response from the crowd to set the tone and he could not have been disappointed by the roar that greeted the teams, a suitable reminder that Anfield can be an electric place on a European night.

The noise was deafening but it almost hushed to a silence within 50 seconds. Liverpool's first attack was cleared high and, as it bounced awkwardly, Phil Babb made a hash of heading back to his goalkeeper.

Juan Sanchez pounced, left his opponent behind and then shot with emphatic care into David James' legs.

Escape No 1 having been negotiated, Liverpool probed the opposite end of the pitch and Richard Dutruel had to move sharply to save from Robbie Fowler after three minutes.

But even amid this home aggression it was clear Houllier's hope that Celta would sit back was a forlorn one. Alexander Mostovoi, a delightful combination of skill and vision, was all over, teasing the home defence and it was only the sharp intervention of Jamie Carragher that prevented Sanchez stealing in at the near post after Valery Karpin had whipped past Patrik Berger on the right.

"Attack, attack," the Kop urged, but it was the 37th minute before Dutruel was truly extended, leaping to his left to punch clear after Berger had contrived space for himself 25 yards out and shot.

Danny Murphy was introduced at half-time to pep an attack that, Berger's shot apart, had under-performed. The man to come off was Babb and the risk involved in the dash for glory became immediately apparent. After 50 minutes Liverpool were almost caught when Celta were three against two in their favour. Two minutes later Sanchez was fractions away from meeting Revivo's cross.

The momentum was with Celta and it swept over Liverpool after 56 minutes. Claude Makelele swept a glorious pass to the left wing where Revivo carved through the Liverpool rearguard with exquisite skill. Murphy was eluded with a cut inside, Steven Gerrard was lost with a feint and the unsighted James was beaten with a low shot. With that the tie was over.

"I cannot fault my players for effort," Houllier said. "If we had scored in the first half or early in the second we might have turned it round. It would have put them under pressure. Instead they scored."

Liverpool (4-1-3-2): James (Friedel, 63); McAteer, Carragher, Babb (Murphy, h-t), Matteo; Staunton; Gerrard, Thompson Riedle, 58), Berger; Owen, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Kvarme, Harkness, Bjornebye, Wright.

Celta Vigo (4-4-2): Dutruel; Salgado, Cceres, Djorovic, Berges; Karpin, Makelele, Mazinho (Caires, 85), Mostovoi; Revivo (Toms, 70), Sanchez (Gudelj, 75). Substitutes not used: Pinto (gk), Canzos, Eggen, Josema.

Referee: H Strampe (Ger).

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