It was not entirely convincing, but Liverpool indicated as they moved into the last 16 of the Carling Cup that, unlike some clubs, they are more interested in winning the competition than treating it as a finishing school. Kenny Dalglish sent out a strong side,as he did in the previous round at Exeter, and was rewarded both in the performance and the result. He was also able to give Steven Gerrard a 15-minute run-out, his first appearance since March.
"It's fantastic for everyone at the football club to see the talisman back," said Dalglish, "it gives everybody a lift, but we are more pleased for Stevie than anyone else. He has worked very hard. We'll now manage the situation as we have, we need to be careful." Gerrard said: "It's nice to come through the first test, now it is down to the manager"
For 45 minutes Gerrard would have been an appreciative spectator as Liverpool were outstanding with Craig Bellamy controlling the opening half. However, despite creating a string of chances they scored only through Bellamy's seventh-minute strike and Brighton were able to rally. Liverpool withstood the Championship team's pressure before breaking away to score again, through Dirk Kuyt.
There was still time for Vicente Rodriguez, who produced a glittering cameo of a debut, to win a penalty converted by Ashley Barnes, but not enough for an equaliser.
"I thought the first-half was fantastic from the players, the way they responded to the disappointment of Sunday [a 4-0 defeat at Tottenham] was exceptional," said Dalglish.
The Liverpool manager has four winners' medals from this competition and while it does not have the same stature as in his playing days he recognises the value of a trophy. Arsenal would now be in much better condition if they had beaten Birmingham in last season's final and Liverpool's joy in 2001, at their first honour in six seasons, was genuine.
With no European fixtures to worry about Dalglish chose a spine of Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Lucas Leiva and Luis Suarez. Uruguayan defender Sebastian Coates made his debut and Bellamy his first start since returning to the club. Brighton have been to hell and back, or at least to the brink of the Conference, to Gillingham, and to Withdean, since they knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup in successive seasons a quarter-century ago, and there was a celebratory air at kick off.
That dimmed as Bellamy scored his 10th goal for Liverpool, but first since 2007. Running onto a clever pass from Suarez he squeezed a shot past Casper Ankergren. There should have been more. Craig Mackail-Smith cleared Kuyt's header off the line; Suarez shot wide when Kuyt sent him clear; Suarez headed off-target from Bellamy's set-play; Bellamy lashed the bar with a stunning 40-yard free-kick; Ankergren turned Jay Spearing's shot onto a post.
Having had a half-time rollicking from manager Gus Poyet, Brighton took the game to Liverpool but Craig Noone hit the bar and Matt Sparrow shot weakly when well-placed. Then with nine minutes left Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez broke and Kuyt scored. It was all over, despite Barnes' penalty, given after Carragher brought down the quick-footed Vicente. "If we can get him fit for English football we will have the best player in the Championship," said Poyet of the Spaniard.
Poyet added: "I'm proud of the players. This time only I can go home happy even after losing." He was not alone; Noone, the former Anfield schoolboy who worked on Gerrard's roof while playing in non-League, took the Liverpool skipper's shirt home with him.
Brighton & Hove Albion (4-3-3): Ankergren; Calderon, Greer, Cook, Vincelot; Navarro (Barnes, 78), Sparrow (LuaLua, 78), Bridcutt, Noone; Buckley (Vicente, 60), Mackail-Smith. Substitutes not used Brezovan (gk), Dunk, Taricco, Kasim.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Kelly (Flanagan, 86), Carragher, Coates, Robinson; Kuyt, Spearing, Lucas, Maxi; Bellamy, Suarez (Gerrard, 75). Substitutes not used Doni (gk), Carroll, Downing, Wilson, Shelvey, Flanagan.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).Reuse content