Home comforts as Garcia grabs glory

Liverpool 2 - Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Online

Change rarely goes smoothly and Liverpool are undergoing enough ups and downs to satisfy any roller-coaster operator. Profligate, thrilling, irritating, improving: they qualify for every description to such an extent it is difficult to work out their true nature.

Change rarely goes smoothly and Liverpool are undergoing enough ups and downs to satisfy any roller-coaster operator. Profligate, thrilling, irritating, improving: they qualify for every description to such an extent it is difficult to work out their true nature.

Yet in at least one respect they are consistent as Rafael Benitez begins his revolution from the dullness of Gérard Houllier's regime to a a faster, more expressive style. They may have enough characters for a lengthy novel but when it comes to their home form in the Premiership statistically they are rigidly the same and they maintained their 100 per cent record last night.

Strikers Milan Baros and Djibril Cissé may still go together like love and carriage and the team missed enough chances to have trebled their score, but they emerged comfortable winners thanks to goals from John Arne Riise and Luis Garcia. They are now fifth, have a game in hand, and if they can take their Anfield form on their travels there is reason for optimism.

Or at least the more admirable traits suggest so because until they scored they were wasteful. Liverpool flattered to deceive against Deportivo La Coruña on Tuesday, but they were the height of sincerity against the Spaniards compared to their opening 50 minutes last night.

"We had four, six, 10 chances," Benitez said, counting the opportunities in his head as he spoke. "We played very well, but we couldn't score. It was a concern because if you make a mistake you normally pay for it."

As early as the second minute Garcia headed wide from 12 yards out and Riise twice showed how little he trusts his right foot when he was put clear on the left and dithered. Add Baros's unreliable heading and it appeared that Anfield was on course for another frustrating evening.

The more so when Sami Hyypia's point-blank header was saved on the line by Danny Murphy and a fierce 12th-minute free-kick from Cissé struck the foot of the post and bounced clear.

Charlton, who have suffered four-goal hammerings at Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City and Arsenal, were dreadful. "We didn't do enough to get anything from this game," their manager Alan Curbishley said, but they rode their luck and somehow managed to reach the interval intact.

This changed abruptly within six minutes of the restart when Liverpool finally got something tangible for their possession. A cross from Cissé was met at the far post by Xabi Alonso and, although his header was blocked by Kevin Lisbie, the rebound fell to Riise, who had the luxury of using his favoured foot this time and his volley found the bottom corner of the net.

Relief took some of the anxiety out of Liverpool's play and they secured the points after 74 minutes. Charlton believed they should have had a free-kick when Francis Jeffers was up-ended but, as they stalled, Alonso reacted and found his Spanish compatriot Garcia 25 yards out. He turned and curled a delightful shot beyond Dean Kiely into the far corner.

Garcia, who also flashed a volley just wide from a narrow angle in the closing minutes, had reason to feel satisfied with last night's work, but so did the referee Andy D'Urso. The last time he had officiated in a Premiership match he had been censured by his superiors for failing to send off Blackburn Rovers' Barry Ferguson despite cautioning him twice. This time he booked only Jeffers and had a near impeccable game. Another person acquainted with ups and downs.

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