Gerrard turning the Red tide

Birmingham City 0 Liverpool 3
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The Independent Online

This stunning show was like the Liverpool of old. Timing their run perfectly, the Mersey club have imposed what looks like a stranglehold on the Premiership's fourth place which offers the guarantee of Champions' League football.

This stunning show was like the Liverpool of old. Timing their run perfectly, the Mersey club have imposed what looks like a stranglehold on the Premiership's fourth place which offers the guarantee of Champions' League football.

This demolition of a Birmingham team reduced to 10 men for much of the second half was Liverpool's third successive victory, only the second time they have managed to put together such a run this season. With the captain, Steven Gerrard, at the heart of everything they did and the oft-maligned Emile Heskey laying on one goal, scoring another, and tormenting the home defence throughout, it was, said the manager Gérard Houllier, "one of our best performances''.

Liverpool are now six points in front of Newcastle, who have two games in hand but will probably have to go to Anfield next weekend needing a win. As Houllier pointed out: "We showed strength, discipline and a lot of desire."

Not to mention glorious, sweeping football which could have been rewarded with half a dozen goals as Birmingham buckled and then fell apart in the face of the rampaging Gerrard and his crew. The Birmingham manager Steve Bruce who said his team were "running on empty" after a hard season, found lavish praise for the Liverpool captain.

"We just couldn't cope with Gerrard," he said. "I hope he continues that form in the European Championships. He was absolutely awesome today. We simply couldn't handle him."

At least there is no doubt about where Gerrard will be lining up after the summer. In the case of Heskey, a move is very much on the cards, or was until the last two impressive games.

"Emile's commitment has been fantastic," said Houllier. "Knowing the speculation around him and the uncertainty about his future, he has still managed to put that aside and focus on his game. Everybody would like to keep him but this is no time to talk about players' futures.'' Heskey himself said he would "keep playing for Liverpool until told otherwise".

Birmingham actually had the best of the opening 10 minutes, without troubling Jerzy Dudek in Liverpool's net. Then Heskey got to work, moving wide to receive the ball and laying it off for the eager Michael Owen to dart at Birmingham's increasingly troubled rearguard. One knock-down header left Owen unmarked close in but he over-ran the ball, scuffed his shot and saw Ian Bennett claim possession at the second attempt.

The miss did not matter. Just short of the half hour, Heskey, perhaps keen to impress a club who are reportedly anxious to sign him this summer, swooped on Danny Murphy's pass from the centre circle and bisected the defence, allowing Owen to hold off Kenny Cunningham and slip his shot past Bennett. It was the England man's 18th goal of the season.

Mikael Forssell, back after a knee injury, twice raised home hopes before the interval with forays into Liverpool's area but the first time he was crowded out and on the second, Dudek made a simple save.

Liverpool wrapped it up early in the second half with a beautifully worked goal. Owen sent Gerrard racing into the left side of the penalty area for a cross to the near post which Heskey put away so efficiently that the ball had hit the net and bounced out again before Bennett reacted.

Bruce sent on three substitutes with an hour gone but there was no reversing this pendulum, especially when Cunningham was sent off. Gerrard had burst past him and was clear on goal when the Birmingham captain pulled him back and then tripped him. Referee Steve Dunn's production of the red card was inevitable.

There was a glaring miss from Owen and another from Heskey before Gerrard accepted a crossfield ball from Murphy, closed in from the left, and side-footed a glorious goal with four minutes left.

Having achieved their highest finish since getting into the Premiership, despite not wining any of their last seven games, Birmingham opted for a lap of honour, but Bruce was frank about what had happened last night: "We hold our hands up, we were beaten by a far, far better team. I think Gerrard is the complete player at the moment. He was fantastic.''

Birmingham City 0 Liverpool 3
Owen 29, Heskey 51, Gerrard 86

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 29,553

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