Reds saved by Gerrard as City fall once again

Liverpool captain hits Anfield hat-trick while Mancini suffers after slump in Poland
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The Independent Football

While Steven Gerrard struck a hat-trick inside 14 minutes against Napoli to see Liverpool to the brink of qualification for the knockout phase of the Europa League, Manchester City were pushed to the edge of crisis after a third successive defeat, going down 3-1 to Lech Poznan.

Gerrard, who had begun the game on the bench, made his dramatic intervention in a manner that has become familiar on Merseyside, although Liverpool's captain had been searching for his best form this season. That he rediscovered it in front of the club's new owner, John W Henry, making his first visit to Anfield, was impeccable timing.

"I thought he was outstanding," said his manager, Roy Hodgson, of the fourth hat-trick of Gerrard's career. "His entry on to the field was the catalyst for the crowd and the team and the way he slid in to score his first goal epitomised Liverpool and its spirit. He will point out that it was a team effort and he will be right. We owe him a debt of gratitude, though.

"It was a real leader's performance. The goal that got us the equaliser is not pretty but it turned the game and it turned the crowd. After that goal the Italian fans might as well have not been here because they were drowned out."

It was a victory that extended Liverpool's lead in their Europa League group to three points and they will effectively secure qualification with a point away to Steaua Bucharest next month.

This, Liverpool's third straight victory, and by a distance their most dramatic, means Sunday's fixture at home to Chelsea is unlikely to be the one-sided affair many at Anfield feared, although Hodgson may be without striker, David Ngog, who suffered a shin injury in the 3-1 victory. "We have to be careful now," said Hodgson. "Although if we could make it four straight victories, we would be turning cartwheels. But we have to maintain a consistency of performance."

The scoreline in Poznan was also 3-1, although the mood was very different as Manchester City flew home from Poland after a third successive defeat. It is one that may not affect their qualification for the business phase of the Europa League, although they have lost the leadership of the group, but it failed to stem the flood of doubt about Roberto Mancini's leadership qualities.

Before the game, the Manchester City manager had rounded on the "lies" he feels are being printed about the alleged disunity at Eastlands, although he seemed unaware that Lech Poznan, who only climbed out of the relegation zone in the Polish Ekstraklasa at the weekend, now lead the group.

"This is football," Mancini said. "Probably if we played this game another 100 times we would win 90 times, maybe. But we must accept this. We must continue to work because sometimes you lose games you don't deserve to lose. It's better that these things happen now."

Apparently confused about City's place in the Group A table in Europe (they are second on goals scored), he added: "We are still first in the group and fourth in the Premier League. We can change this only if we stay together.

"I'm disappointed because we don't deserve to lose this game," Mancini added, insisting that fate and not team selection or tactics had been his undoing. "At the moment everything is against us, we are very unlucky. We played a good game and we had a lot of chances to win but we must continue to work.

"We lost the last three games but that is football, sometimes you play well, you deserve to score but you don't."