Gerrard strike not enough for Liverpool

Liverpool 1 - Middlesbrough 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It is just as well Liverpool are surprising the Continent by bearing down on the Champions' League final, because the climax of their Premiership campaign is becoming as flat as last night's lager. Fourth place? More second rate as they failed once again to put pressure on Everton.

It is just as well Liverpool are surprising the Continent by bearing down on the Champions' League final, because the climax of their Premiership campaign is becoming as flat as last night's lager. Fourth place? More second rate as they failed once again to put pressure on Everton.

Rafael Benitez's team had a glorious chance to take advantage of their neighbours' slip at Fulham but, as so often in their League campaign, Liverpool failed to grasp it.

They had to rely on a venomous second-half strike from their captain, Steven Gerrard, to get even a draw yesterday because Middlesbrough had taken the lead through Szilard Nemeth after four minutes and the visitors defended well enough to deserve some reward. Liverpool, meanwhile, were so mediocre at times you would have thought they had their minds on other things.

Let us hope so for their sake, because if they perform like this against Chelsea in their Champions' League semi-final on Tuesday, their hopes of gilding a mixed season will come to nothing. Indeed, you would have thought Liverpool were trying to con Jose Mourinho with a deliberately sub-par performance, if they had not underperformed so often this season.

This was the 11th occasion they have failed to win immediately after a European match and the toll it has taken on their manager, Rafael Benitez, was clear. "I'm very unhappy," he said. "If I am being positive I can say that we have one more point and we have seen a fantastic goal from Steven Gerrard but we played well for only 20 minutes in the second half."

The alarm bells were ringing almost immediately because Middlesbrough took the lead with Anfield barely seated following the traditional "You'll Never Walk Alone". Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink chested the ball immaculately for Nemeth's run that might have come to an immediate halt if Mauricio Pellegrino had made a determined effort. Instead he made a powder-puff challenge and was brushed aside before Nemeth side-footed home.

That was such a shock to the system Liverpool could barely play an accurate pass for the next 10 minutes and afterwards it was more a one-man mission to locate an equaliser than a team effort. John Arne Riise beat the Boro goalkeeper, Brad Jones, to Steve Finnan's cross but could not keep his header down. He then fired a volley so fierce it nearly knocked Jones over before hitting another left-foot shot that curled by a post.

But Middlesbrough took over following that spell. After 36 minutes Bolo Zenden's corner was misread by everyone, bounced off the hapless Pellegrino and was heading for the Liverpool net when Jerzy Dudek dropped on to the ball on the line. Six minutes later Nemeth almost teed up Hasselbaink with a pass across the six-yard box, but Jamie Carragher charged back to boot the ball into the Kop.

It was going to take something dramatic to shock Liverpool into action and Gerrard duly applied it after 52 minutes. John Arne Riise, forced into playing at centre-back when Pellegrino was substituted at half-time, passed to his captain 25 yards out and Gerrard lashed a volley into the top corner.

It was a glorious goal that was out of kilter with much that Liverpool produced and instead of a cavalry charge they merely provided Gareth Southgate with an opportunity to excel. One moment he was timing a tackle to perfection on Fernando Morientes, the next he was reacting first to clear as Luis Garcia strained to make a cross.

Southgate did not deserve to be on the losing side. The worrying thing for Liverpool's players was that they did not deserve to be on a winning one either.

Comments