Houllier finds vindication in Cheyrou's precision

Liverpool 2 Newcastle United 1
Click to follow

Sir Bobby Robson's passion to recreate, along with Alan Shearer, Newcastle's FA Cup glory of the Fifties will have to wait yet another year. But while the old English lion is away from the action, a French player categorised as a mouse has displayed a potential to roar.

Also delayed, and for how long nobody can be sure, is the heaviest speculation on the ending of Gérard Houllier's reign at Anfield. Football justice can so often be cruelly arbitrary, but on this occasion no one could say the scales were out of sync with reality. For Houllier not only dodged a bullet, he fired back a silver one of his own.

It was the match-winning performance of Bruno Cheyrou, one of the Liverpool manager's most criticised signings and undoubtedly a contributory factor to the huge, reproachful banner aimed at Houllier that club stewards were obliged to remove from the Centenary Stand shortly before kick-off.

Not only did Cheyrou produce two perfectly taken goals, he supplied a combination of sang-froid and perspective which might yet rescue - at least to some degree - Liverpool's season of trial. Said the Frenchman who was once unwisely compared to Zinedine Zidane by Houllier: "It was great to be able to repay some of my manager's faith, but you know I wasn't the worst player in the world a month ago, and I'm not the best now. But I do feel part of things after my injuries, and all I want now is to keep on playing - and scoring."

Cheyrou's precision finishing was not the only difference between the teams in this excellent Cup tie, one which shamed those lesser clubs who have recently been treating the most romantic knock-out competition in all of football as some marginal and expendable extra in the business plan.

Though Newcastle played the more imaginative football most of the time, the weight of performance was in the end heavily with Liverpool. Steven Gerrard emerged powerfully, and decisively, in the second half, the back line was immeasurably strengthened by Stéphane Henchoz's return to the centre alongside Sami Hyypia, and the cost of the unsung Jamie Carragher's recent absence through injury was strongly underlined.

Indeed, if Cheyrou and Gerrard were inevitably the headliners, the role of Carragher was utterly central to Liverpool's success. When Newcastle were at their most promising, for half an hour after the subsequently irrelevant Laurent Robert had smashed a 35-yard, 78mph equalising free-kick past the startled Jerzy Dudek, he coped brilliantly with Newcastle's most potent work along the right.

At times Nolberto Solano, Jermaine Jenas, Kieron Dyer and Shearer worked together with a thrilling fluency, but Carragher was never rattled. His primary instinct is to defend, something which makes him a rarity among modern full-backs, and its value could not have been more eloquently stated.

"Liverpool made it as hard as I expected it would be now that Gérard has his best players available," the pained but philosophical Robson said. "I thought we were in control at half-time, that we weren't going to lose even if we weren't going to win. But Liverpool were the stronger team in the second half."

It was Carragher who, after a winning tackle, supplied the ball to Gerrard for the creation of the winning goal in the 61st minute. The England midfielder did this with suddenly stupendous authority, roaring down the left, turning in a wide arc beyond his marker and delivering a cross which Cheyrou converted with a ghostly run and a header that left the Newcastle goalkeeper, Shay Given, rooted in defeat.

Cheyrou, recoiling from Houllier's hyperbole, has always modestly insisted that he is no Zidane, but on this occasion, and also when he coolly slotted home Liverpool's first goal in the second minute, after Emile Heskey's shot had come back off the blocking full-back Olivier Bernard, he could be congratulated on a passable impersonation.

Liverpool at times also got away with the impression that they are a team of coherence and future possibilities, an idea strengthened by the thought that Michael Owen is feeling his way back after an absence that was inevitably punishing to both the strength and the morale of his team-mates.

With the defence looking top-notch again, Liverpool were able to stifle the menace of Dyer almost entirely, something they were on the point of being able to claim in the always thorny matter of Alan Shearer until, with the referee glancing at his watch, the former England captain turned marvellously on the ball and produced a shot which demanded the save of the match from Dudek.

When it was suggested to Robson, who led Ipswich to the Cup at Wembley in 1978 and was, as a Fulham player, a spectator when Newcastle last won it in 1955, that he would just have to win it next year for Shearer and the army of the Tyne, he said: "Well, I'm certainly not going to win it this year - and I'm gutted. That's how much I think of the FA Cup."

Defeat on Saturday meant that during 50 years of trying, Robson, as a player with Fulham and West Bromwich and as the manager of Fulham, Ipswich and Newcastle, was, extraordinarily, still without a win at Anfield. This, no doubt, was one reason why he said he was so keen for Newcastle to return to the graveyard of his hopes for the last game of the season without the need to win, or draw, to guarantee entry into the Champions' League. It was a practical thought, and no doubt a little sobering for the exultant Houllier.

The Cup, as we saw again, can be a wonderful stage, but it is not a place where a Liverpool manager is ever again likely to ensure his salvation. The League, everyone agrees, is the business. So this was, of course, more a reprieve than a pardon.

Goals: Cheyrou (2) 1-0; Robert (4) 1-1; Cheyrou (61) 2-1.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher; Heskey (Le Tallec, h-t), Hamann, Gerrard, Kewell; Cheyrou; Owen. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Murphy, Riise, Biscan.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Hughes, O'Brien, Woodgate, Bernard; Solano (Ameobi, 68), Jenas, Speed, Robert; Dyer, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Ambrose, Bramble, Viana.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booking: Liverpool: Henchoz.

Man of the match: Cheyrou.

Attendance: 41,365.