Liverpool continue to navigate their way around Europe with the accuracy that eludes them at home. Last night, depleted and disjointed, they seized control of their Champions' League fate and raised a toast in Bordeaux to Peter Crouch in the process.
Victory in France was not achieved with a performance to savour, but a result that put them in sight of the knock-out phase tasted distinctly palatable to Rafael Benitez none the less. Without Steven Gerrard and, for 69 minutes, Mohamed Sissoko, a lightweight Liverpool struggled to impose their game on Raymundo Gomes' toothless team and withstood more pressure than they would have imagined possible even after their captain joined an extensive injury list.
But in the 58th minute Crouch rose high above the Bordeaux defence to meet a Craig Bellamy corner and, by the time he landed, the 2005 winners were on course for a classically efficient European away win.
As anticipated, the established players came to the fore in Liverpool's first away win of the season. Criticised for not reaching their own standards by their manager following the latest lame performance in the Premiership, at home to Blackburn on Saturday, Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher responded superbly, forming a two-man resistance to the wave of black shirts from Bordeaux and providing the foundation on which victory was built.
"I'm pleased with how the whole team responded," said Benitez, never one to shower praise on individuals when the collective will do. "[Jose] Reina, [Steve] Finnan, [John Arne] Riise, [Xabi] Alonso; all the players deserve credit for how hard they worked tonight."
Commitment came from the front, where Crouch and Bellamy formed a tireless partnership and were rewarded when the England international erased the significance of a horrendous first-half miss to end Liverpool's 454-minute wait for an away goal.
"Peter has the attitude you want from a striker," Benitez said. "He must continue working hard."
This was never going to one of Liverpool's toughest European assignments but it was a sign of the unfamiliarity and frailty in their makeshift midfield that the bottom team in Group C dominated possession for sustained periods of the game. The fact they were incapable of producing much with it was almost as great a comfort to Benitez as Crouch's aerial strength.
In Rio Antonio Mavuba, Bordeaux had the game's outstanding midfielder, and as his influence grew so the Liverpool defence were forced into a retreat that would have been punished but for the atrocious final balls that regularly flew off a home boot.
Bordeaux on the break were a strange sight. For every polished touch from Johan Micoud there followed an absolute embarrassment from Jean-Claude Darcheville or Lilian Laslandes, two strikers who hardly covered themselves in glory in the Premiership with Southampton and Sunderland respectively and who departed amid jeers from the home crowd last night.
Yet it was the experienced Micoud who squandered their finest chance when he failed to place his forehead on the inviting free-kick from Wendel that curled in front of Reina's goal in the 25th minute.
His embarrassment was shared by Crouch when the England forward somehow volleyed a Bellamy cross wide with the goal at his mercy nine minutes before the interval. Looking to the linesman for the flag that offered his only hope of salvation, Crouch was horrified to discover it did not exist, but responded by seeking redemption on his own terms.
Luis Garcia forced a rare save out of Ulrich Rame during a spell of Bordeaux dominance and, from the resulting corner, Crouch towered above the defence to deliver that header that keeps Liverpool top of the group and now only one win from effectively sealing their passage. They also head for Old Trafford on Sunday with renewed heart.
Bordeaux (4-3-1-2): Rame; Jurietti, Henrique, Jemmali, Wendel; Alonso (Faubert, 63), Mavuba, Menegazzo; Micoud; Laslandes (Chamakh, 63), Darcheville (Perea, 71). Substitutes not used: Valverde (gk), Ducasse, Enakarhire, Marange.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Garcia, Alonso, Zenden, Gonzalez (Sissoko, 68); Crouch (Kuyt, 65), Bellamy (Warnock, 87). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Pennant, Paletta, Peltier.
Referee: T Henning (Norway).Reuse content