Gerrard produces classic cameo as Liverpool end TNS adventure

TNS 0 - Liverpool 3 (Liverpool win 6-0 on agg)
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Taking their role as the European away side literally Liverpool flew back into the country for 24 hours, completed the arduous transfer of Peter Crouch in a deal worth potentially £7m, and returned to their Swiss training camp with a place in the second qualifying round of the Champions' League comfortably, if flatteringly, assured.

Two goals in the final five minutes from substitute Steven Gerrard denied TNS Llansantffraid the degree of pride their outstanding goalkeeper Gerard Doherty deserved at Wrexham's Racecourse ground. His prize was the shirt of Spanish goalkeeper Jose Reina, Liverpool's is a trip to Lithuania next Tuesday where they face FBK Kaunas in the on-going defence of their title.

Although there was no disguising the gulf in quality between the defending champions and the Welsh Premier League side, only the first hat-trick of Gerrard's career had spared Liverpool from an embarrassing first-leg scoreline.

Without their influential captain, on the bench along with Fernando Morientes and Luis Garcia, Liverpool toiled needlessly again with Doherty reprising his first leg role as the game's most effective performer until Djibril Cissé finally beat him on 26 minutes.

Prior to the breakthrough it had been an evening of pre-season strolling for the Premiership side, yet one of torment for the club's £14m record signing whose considerable speed took him clear of the "home" defence on two occasions only for suspect finishing to allow Doherty to save each time.

Cissé was eventually spared by a horrendous mistake by left-back Chris King, who missed a left wing cross from Boudewijn Zenden and granted the French international the freedom of the penalty area with which to beat a stranded Doherty from 12 yards.

That was a rare blemish by the TNS defence, and right-back Philip Baker protected the half-time scoreline they deserved by clearing Anthony Le Tallec's low shot off his own goal-line.

Their finest work continued to come from Doherty, who was at fault when TNS succumbed to Manchester City in the Uefa Cup two season's ago yet inspired in both legs here. Jamie Carragher had more reason than most to curse the Llansantffraid keeper when he surpassed an already fine night's work with a point-blank save from the stand-in captain on 50 minutes.

Carragher should have at least had an assist last night, as Darren Potter pounced on Doherty's save only to be clipped inside the area by Jamie Wood. Inevitably, as Dietmar Hamann stroked the resulting penalty towards the left-hand corner, the TNS keeper triumphed again, before developing his one-man show to foil Luis Garcia and John Arne Riise.

With the contest developing into the feisty affair, the former Everton trainee Steven Beck had his moment of glory when an incisive passing move released him clear of the visiting defence. His clean strike beat Reina, only to cannon off the far post and John Toner sent the rebound over.

Benitez was livid at his side's weakness and had further cause for complaint when the substitute Marc Lloyd-Williams latched onto a through ball to beat Reina with a low finish only for a narrow offside decision to spare Liverpool's embarrassment of level score.

Gerrard struck in the 85th and 86th minutes to give Liverpool a repeat of the first leg scoreline, but one they had rarely suggested until his arrival.

Ultimately, the only tall order for Liverpool yesterday was undergoing his medical at a Merseyside hospital.

TNS (4-5-1): Doherty; Baker, Evans, Holmes, King; Naylor, Beck (Ward, 69), Hogan, Ruscoe, Wood (Lloyd-Williams, 58); Toner. Substitutes not used: Acton, Wilde, Lawless, Leah, Jackson.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher (Whitbread, 54), Hyypia, Riise; Potter, Hamann, Alonso (Gerrard, 68), Zenden; Le Tallec (Garcia, 58), Cissé. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Josemi, Morientes, Warnock.

Referee: C Bertolini (Switzerland).