Keane off mark for Liverpool

Liverpool 3 PSV Eindhoven 1
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The Independent Online

Liverpool supporters have learned from experience it is wise not to rush to judgement. After all, Stan Collymore scored on his debut, a very good goal too, and look what happened after that. They have therefore waited patiently for Robbie Keane to open his account in red. Last night, 24 hours after Keane's erstwhile Tottenham strike-partner, Dimitar Berbatov, had scored his first for Manchester United, they were finally rewarded. The strains of "Keano", for so long a chant synonymous with one of Liverpool's most detested opponents, rolled down from The Kop.

The Irishman's first goal, in his 11th appearance for Liverpool, effectively secured three Champions League points even though it came only 34 minutes into this Group D tie. Liverpool already led through a fifth-minute strike by Dirk Kuyt and PSV had given no indication that they could recover from such a deficit.

So it proved and with successive wins under their belt Liverpool have a foot in the knock-out stages already. With Atletico Madrid defeating Marseille in the Spanish capital in the other group match Liverpool and their next opponents have opened up a six-point cushion. Liverpool could also celebrate Steven Gerrard's 100th goal – 72 of them scored under Rafa Benitez.

That settled the tie despite a late consolation for PSV from Danny Koevermans. Benitez had sprung a surprise by omitting his European specialist Javier Mascherano, preferring Gerrard and Xabi Alonso in central midfield. This suggested, whatever he had said beforehand, that he did not expect much from the Dutch champions. Alonso is a fine passer, Gerrard an inspirational force, but neither is a defensive holding player, a play-breaking disrupter of opposition moves like the Argentine.

Fielding Gerrard in midfield enabled Benitez to keep faith with Keane despite 10 games without a goal since his £20m move. Since Liverpool had won seven and drawn three of these fixtures Keane was obviously doing most things right.

PSV arrived with a back five, who immediately betrayed their normal adherence to a four by getting in one another's way. Within five minutes over-manning in the wrong areas enabled Fernando Torres to force a corner. Gerrard took it and though Andreas Isaksson blocked the unmarked Torres' near-post shot, the goalkeeper was unable to prevent Kuyt driving in the rebound.

Another rout beckoned, but if it happened it would not be because PSV had gone chasing the game. Their game-plan did not change, there being a marked reluctance to commit men forward. Presumably the plan was to continue to keep it tight and hope to nick an equaliser late on.

If so a policy change should have been forced on PSV after 19 minutes when Carlos Salcido tripped Keane in the box. The German referee, making his debut in this competition, waved play on. Not that his error was any worse than Keane's poor first touch when receiving the ball from Albert Riera. His lack of confidence in front of goal was obvious as he miscontrolled the ball. Keane was soon to put his travails behind him. After Torres, this time marked, had headed wide from a corner, and Alonso, trying his party piece, failed to chip Isaksson from inside his own half, the dam finally burst for the Irishman. Torres, on the right wing, whipped over a cross. Keane, having lost his man by shaping to go to the far post, ran across his marker and turned the ball, first time, inside the far post.

There was an explosion of sound from The Kop as Keane turned a joyous handstand, followed by a forward roll and his gunslinging act before jumping into the arms of Torres. His relief was luminous and it would have taken a hard heart, or an Evertonian one, not to share it.

It looked game over. PSV, a poor successor to the teams fielded under their name by Guus Hiddink, had offered little. There had been some sharp movement from Nordin Amrabat, but Pepe Reina had not had a save to make. Liverpool's main danger was complacency, as they sought to ease to victory without over-extending themselves ahead of Sunday's Premier League match at Manchester City. That was underlined shortly before the hour as Amrabat finally got close enough to worry Reina, if not actually exercise him, as his powerful shot whistled wide.

It seemed the tie would be put to bed when Jan Kromkamp, playing a better through-ball than he ever managed when playing for Liverpool, played a backpass which Torres read. He drew Isaksson but, to general astonishment, slipped the ball wide.

Torres remained a menace and Dirk Marcellis was booked for bringing down the Spaniard. Further punishment awaited as Fabio Aurelio tapped the free-kick to Gerrard who drove in from 30 yards. That should have been that but within a minute Koevermans got ahead of Martin Skrtel to clip in a cross from fellow substitute Balazs Dzsudzsak. A nervousness pervaded Anfield but Benitez was evidently untroubled for he withdrew Gerrard. As usual in European combat the goateed one was right.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio; Alonso, Gerrard (Babel, 81); Kuyt, Keane (Lucas, 75), Riera (Benayoun, 68); Torres. Substitutes not used: Dossena, Mascherano, Agger, Cavalieri (gk).

PSV Eindhoven (5-3-2): Isaksson; Kromkamp, Marcellis, Simons, Salcido, Bréchet (Pieters, h-t); Méndez (Dzsudzsak, 76), Culina, Wuytens (Koevermans, 60); Amrabat, Bakkal. Substitutes not used: Ramos (gk), Rodriguez, Zonnefveld, Nijland.

Referee: F Brych (Germany).

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