Merseyside's hero rallies troops by word and deed

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The Independent Football

Lecherous locals were more interested in the shortness of her shorts, but for the Liverpool lass heading to last night's game the most important part of her attire was the bright red shirt emblazoned "GERRARD'"

Lecherous locals were more interested in the shortness of her shorts, but for the Liverpool lass heading to last night's game the most important part of her attire was the bright red shirt emblazoned "GERRARD'"

A much admired smile hid any nagging concern about her hero's future, which can only have intensified as his value to the team was illustrated once more on this extraordinary night.

There are five days until Steven Gerrard's 25th birthday, the kind of milestone at which men tend to pause for reflection on which direction their life is taking. Should he stay or should he go? Stevie G was in a jam pondering that question a year ago, and is believed to have had his bags packed, metaphorically, before some deeply unpleasant mail prompted a very late change of heart.

"We were with his dad in Portugal last summer and he was that close to joining Chelsea," a self-styled family friend from Huyton insisted outside the stadium. "The letters had an effect, and they came from his own people, Huyton people. So this time the decision'll be kept dead quiet. Only him and his dad know."

The word on Merseyside was that victory might sway the Liverpool captain, convincing him that as European champions the club would have proved they could make the strides he demanded in previous talks with senior management, whether or not Uefa would permit the holders to defend their trophy next season.

Now that tortuous argument will be renewed, with Lennart Johansson and his cohorts surely having to give in to what will become ever increasing pressure.

If last night's final was, indeed, a finale, it will have to be seen as justifying the decision to move on. Suitors - including Milan - could only have admired the defiant determination shown by Gerrard and matched by those supporters chanting at half-time "we're gonna win four-three". It was hard not to feel sorry for him as he attempted to rally the troops by word and deed in a tactical system flawed from the outset that left him without the reassuringly solid protective barrier that Dietmar Hamann would have erected in front of the back four. Instead Gerrard and Xabi Alonso found themselves by-passed by the wonderfully deft inter-passing of Clarence Seedorf and Kaka.

But in the second half something closer to the line-up Rafael Benitez should have fielded from the start, with Hamann holding the fort, allowed Gerrard to be his proper rampaging self. From the first minute after the resumption, he was the one chasing loose balls and what seemed at that stage lost causes; waving his arms in encouragement at the supporters after heading in John Arne Riise's cross; leading the chase to acclaim Vladimir Smicer after the second goal and earning the equaliser with his run into the penalty area to draw a foul. Xabi Alonso promptly converted the penalty to give the Reds a scent of the trophy that had seemed all but lost. The rest, as they say is now history, with this final surely taking its place as one of the three greatest European finals ever.

A bitter wind was blowing as the Mersey faithful filed away from the Ataturk Stadium, a folly in an oasis populated mainly by goats, and surely the oddest venue for any of the 50 finals since Milan entered the original competition in 1955.

The lady in the shorts must have been feeling complete elation, all thoughts of her hero's future taking a back seat to the full night of celebrations ahead.

Five minutes that shook Milan: Liverpool's great comeback

54 MIN

Jon Arne Riise swings a cross in from the left where an unmarked Steven Gerrard rises to flick a looping header past Dida into the Milan goal.

56 MIN

Liverpool work the ball across the edge of the Milan area from left to right, Dietmar Hamann rolling it to Vladimir Smicer whose drive finds the bottom left corner.

59 MIN

Smicer flicks the ball into the area for a breaking Gerrard who is nudged by Gennaro Gattuso. Xabi Alonso's resulting penalty is saved by Dida, but the Spaniard follows up to lift the ball into the net.