Gerrard ensures Liverpool recover after shock of Kaunas' early blow

FBK Kaunas 1 - Liverpool 3
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The Independent Football

Carragher has added plenty to his game since being converted to centre-half by his manager, Rafael Benitez, last summer, though a new-found prowess at the opposite end of the pitch to where he marauds so magnificently for Liverpool is not one of them.

Yet the man who inspired Liverpool to a fifth European Cup in Istanbul in May ended his six-year drought against FBK Kaunas last night, helping Benitez's team overcome an embarrassing start in the Baltics and taking them to the brink of the third and final qualifying round in the process.

Until last night Carragher had scored five goals for Liverpool - three of them in the wrong net. His sense of satisfaction was equal to the sense of relief among his team-mates by the conclusion of this ultimately latest stroll through the European backwaters.

Vladimir Romanov, the founder of Ukio Bankas, FBK Kaunas' main sponsor, still possesses the enterprising business sense that has allowed him to invest in clubs throughout Europe. Yet rarely can he have felt as satisfied as the six minutes when the champions of Lithuania enjoyed an astonishing lead over the champions of Europe.

Not since Hernan Crespo's exquisite chip on the stroke of half-time in Istanbul had Liverpool conceded a goal in the Champions' League but they were left dumbstruck when Giedrius Barevicius scrambled the ball beyond Jose Reina at his near post in the 21st minute. The goal was instigated by Arturas Rimkevicius as he left Sami Hyypia trailing on the touchline before crossing low for Barevicius, a lapse that suggests Benitez's search for a new centre-half is not born solely out of concern for his present pairing's fitness.

Carragher, of course, is untouchable at the heart of the Liverpool rearguard and he ultimately enjoyed a half to savour once the visitors had erased the embarrassment of their sluggish start. The advantage of employing a 6ft 7in striker became apparent in the 26th minute when the debutant Peter Crouch headed Boudewijn Zenden's left wing cross into the Kaunas area and Djibril Cissé held off his marker to despatch a clinical finish past Eduardas Kurskis.

Both Zenden and the lively Darren Potter maintained a regular supply line to Crouch, but when Liverpool edged in front three minutes later the headed finish arrived from the most unexpected marksman on the pitch, Carragher.

Not since a 7-1 rout of Southampton in January 1999 had the formidable defender scored for Liverpool. Yet his torment ended as he glanced home Steven Gerrard's corner to the delight of his team-mates.

A goalline clearance by Irmantas Zelmikas denied Cissé his second of the game moments before the break and he was inches from hooking Liverpool into a commanding lead at the start of the second half.

No matter what impact the £14m French international had last night, however, the attention was sure to be concentrated on Crouch. His nuisance value alone helped Liverpool assert their superiority over Kaunas in the area where it mattered most, although he will inevitably require longer than one game against limited opposition to suggest he can make the difference between a genuine Premiership improvement and another contest for fourth place.

Liverpool's rapid response to the shock of falling behind removed any uncertainty and edge from the tie, but Gerrard made a place in the third and final qualifying round even more assured in the 54th minute when a trademark run into the penalty area was brought to an abrupt and illegal end by Mindaugas Baguzis. Gerrard stepped up to score his sixth goal in three qualifying games.

FBK Kaunas (4-4-2): Kurskis; Kancelskis, Baguzis, Zelmikas, Manchkhava; Tamosauskas, Poderis, Pacevicius (Petrenko, 44), Barevicius (Papeckys, 71); Klimek, Rimkevicius. Substitutes not used: Kilijonas, Beniusis, Maciulis, Kunevicius, Kijanskas.

Liverpool (4-4-2); Reina; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Potter (Garcia, 62), Gerrard (Sissoko, 60), Alonso, Zenden; Cissé, Crouch (Morientes, 75). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Hamann, Warnock, Medjani.

Referee: K E Fisker (Denmark).