Late penalty is reward for seizing the moment

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The Independent Online

It's unusual for a footballer to present another with a bunch of flowers as they stand on the pitch prior to kick-off. But then it's unusual for a player to feature, in the white-hot glare of a European Cup semi-final, just six days after the death of his mother, and two days before her funeral takes place.

Steven Gerrard's gesture towards Frank Lampard was a moment of genuine compassion from one combatant to another but also from one young man, and young father, to another. Lampard's decision to play last night was understandable and, because he wanted to, the right thing to do. He hasn't spoken much to his team-mates since returning to training, firstly on his own, three days ago. But then that was no surprise given the circumstances.

His inclusion was down to him. As well as Chelsea played against Manchester United last Saturday, in his absence, and with the powerful, confident combination of Michael Ballack and Michael Essien, Lampard had to feature if he felt it was right and manager Avram Grant knew that.

Lampard would only know himself once the game got underway whether that decision was for the best. Choruses of his name rang out, and that will have helped, but it was only when he snapped into that first tackle or hit his first incisive pass that he would have been able to have the right feel for the occasion. And whether he belonged there.

There may have been guilt. Guilt as to whether this really was the right thing to do, whether by doing what he loved, playing football, was somehow indulgent at this time which, of course, it wasn't. There may also have been relief. Relief to have just been out there and grabbing a little piece of normality in the past few days of anguish.

But there was also the knowledge that his career and his achievements had meant so much to his mother, Pat. The prize of a Champions League final was one that would have given focus to him. And knowing that she would have been desperate for him to get there added to that.

All these kind of thoughts would have swirled around inside him and, maybe, for the first quarter of an hour he was more of a spectator than a participant. He held his position and covered his ground but the game was passing by around Lampard.

Then, on 19 minutes, he struck an instant reverse pass into the path of Didier Drogba and the striker was away. He should have scored and Lampard had created that chance. With it a button seemed to have been pressed. Another first-time ball, eight minutes later, released Drogba again. This time Jamie Carragher was alert and covered. But, a few minutes later, Lampard smartly skimmed a pass across the sodden turf and inside Alvaro Arbeloa to pick out Salomon Kalou. His shot was parried but Drogba scored. As the ball slammed beyond Jose Reina, the goal was Lampard's creation.

Lampard's work-rate, in the sapping conditions and given what he has been through, was phenomenal. He was also a model of discipline. After Liverpool drew level he remained the Chelsea player most in control, holding his position and his nerve and trying to drive them forward. It was a performance to be proud of.

And then came the penalty. Maybe many in the crowd thought it should have been taken by Ballack. After all, what if Lampard missed? It would have been so cruel. His strike was unerring and as he ran to celebrate, a run of liberation, he sought out his father, Frank snr, in the crowd.

"What a character Lamps is," said captain John Terry in admiration while Grant added: "He's a brave man. He was very close to his mother, what happened to him and happened to him in the last few days has not been easy."

It's been a difficult time for Grant also. At the end he sank to his knees. It appeared his way of celebrating but, instead, he was paying tribute. For last night and today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and there had been pressure on Grant, who will travel to Auschwitz today to pay his tribute, not to work last night. "It's not an easy day," he said. "But now it's a happy day."

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