Garcia strikes as Carragher finds friend in referee

Norwich City 1 - Liverpool 2
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The Independent Online

It did not take long for Jamie Carragher to find out that for every Premiership referee you make an enemy of, there is another who wants to be your friend. Just 48 hours after the Liverpool defender demolished the reputation of Mike Riley for his performance against Chelsea, he had Howard Webb to thank for his leniency.

It did not take long for Jamie Carragher to find out that for every Premiership referee you make an enemy of, there is another who wants to be your friend. Just 48 hours after the Liverpool defender demolished the reputation of Mike Riley for his performance against Chelsea, he had Howard Webb to thank for his leniency.

Nothing was going to hold back Carragher's fury when Riley turned away two penalty calls against Chelsea on Saturday that eventually consigned Liverpool to defeat. The Leeds official was pursued down the tunnel and towards the Anfield boot room by Carragher's curled lip and jabbing finger. "He's made two big mistakes in the two big games he's refereed this season," the defender said. "Referees should be accountable."

It was an outspoken attack from a man whose exemplary season so far at Liverpool has come in spite of his side's crushing injury problems. The Football Association will consider disciplinary action against Carragher after they see Riley's report today but in the meantime, Liverpool can whisper a quiet thanks to Webb who turned down two Norwich penalty appeals. The offender, on both occasions, was Carragher.

On 55 minutes a cross from Huckerby, cutting down the left, struck Carragher's hand and then, in the closing stages, the Liverpool defender appeared to wrestle with Gary Doherty as the ball came in. Nigel Worthington had not seen the handball but said he had been assured by his staff it was a penalty. On the second the Norwich manager was also unequivocal: it was a "stonewall penalty", he said.

Some good fortune at last, Liverpool would argue, after a respectable three wins from four Christmas matches that have come at the expense of Xabi Alonso's broken ankle. Benitez argued that Carragher's handball was excusable on the grounds that the ball had been struck at him from close-range. "There's a big difference between that and a long ball hitting a player's hand," he said.

It has been a long hard journey to fifth place in the Premiership for Liverpool and, for almost an hour yesterday, it looked to have come to an undignified end. That New Year's Day handshake with Jose Mourinho on the touchline at Anfield must have lingered in Gerrard's mind like a curse. He was stuck, once again, with a team devoid of ideas and, as usual, he was the only one capable of a rescue.

Apart from Carragher in defence, Gerrard barely has an ally upon whom he can rely. Injuries to Harry Kewell, Alonso, Vladimir Smicer, Milan Baros and Djibril Cissé have been threatening to expose Liverpool's weakest all season: yesterday he was there for all to see standing out on the right wing wearing the No 18 shirt. Antonio Nuñez came as part of the Michael Owen transfer to Real Madrid and that just seemed to accentuate the poverty of the Spaniard's performance.

Liverpool's first goal came on 58 minutes and began with Salif Diao's first decisive tackle of the match on the edge of his own area. John Arne Riise's long ball to the right enabled Luis Garcia to spring the offside trap and gently lob Robert Green. Five minutes later Craig Fleming cleared the ball against Florent Sinama-Pongolle and, when his shot was saved, Riise buried the rebound.

The fifth consecutive Premiership match without a win for Norwich has left them forlornly checking the availability of Crewe's Dean Ashton and Ipswich's Darren Bent this transfer window. "We've scouted players and made enquiries - Spurs got knocked back offering £2m for Ashton," Worthington said, "so, yes, they are out of our price range."

The Norwich manager joked that there were "two 12-year-olds" at the club's academy who might get a game against West Ham in the FA Cup but he was reminded on 87 minutes that there is still some good young talent at his club. The 18-year-old substitute Ryan Jarvis took a pass from Mattias Jonson and clipped a fine shot past Jerzy Dudek.

"Life can be cruel, but we're not going to start whingeing about referees," Worthington said. He wouldn't have to explain that twice to the Spanish coach in the next dugout. Benitez said, one again, that he hopes to sign Fernando Morientes this month and, you suspect that, without him, this will not be Liverpool's last struggle.

Norwich City (4-5-1): Green; Helveg, Fleming, Doherty, Charlton; Jonson, Mulryne (Brennan 67), Francis (Jarvis 77), Bentley, Huckerby; McKenzie (Crow 67). Substitutes not used: Gallacher (gk), Drury.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Warnock; Nuñez (Hamann 77), Diao, Gerrard, Riise (Traore 82); Mellor (Sinama-Pongolle 62), Garcia. Substitutes not used: Harrison (gk), Raven.

Referee: H Webb (Yorkshire).

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