There is a set of shackles gathering dust at Anfield, the ones Gérard Houllier finally took off his players this season. The question this morning, in the wake of yesterday's damaging defeat at The Valley, is whether the Liverpool manager will be tempted to put them back on.
In the immediate aftermath of this match, which dropped Liverpool to eighth in the table, Houllier insisted he would "not, at the moment, reconsider" the team's adventurous new approach. He should not. Had it not been for some sloppy defending, brought on by complacency, and the misfortune of meeting Kevin Lisbie in the form of his life, Liverpool would have won.
"I can't believe we lost," Houllier said. "Maybe if we had been more cautious we would have got a point today but I would expect to win most games if we play like that."
Liverpool had looked set for their fourth Premiership win in succession when Vladimir Smicer broke on to Harry Kewell's beautifully weighted pass to put them ahead after 14 minutes. It looked, though, as if they believed this themselves for they eased up and paid for it when Lisbie began his remarkable one-man performance after 30 minutes.
He was helped by some uncharacteristically poor defending by Sami Hyypia. The Finn, who struggled against Lisbie's pace all match, mis-hit a clearance only to see Scott Parker instantly thread a return pass behind him for Lisbie to sprint clear. The 24-year-old, buoyed by two goals in his past two matches, produced an immaculate one-touch finish.
Twelve minutes later, Jerzy Dudek unnecessarily conceded a corner. Mark Fish, Shaun Bartlett and Emile Heskey all headed it before Bartlett shot, Dudek parried, and Lisbie stabbed in the rebound.
Houllier admitted he delivered a half-time roasting and his team responded, Heskey winning a penalty within five minutes as Chris Perry pulled him back. Michael Owen converted for his seventh goal in five matches.
From then on, Liverpool dominated. Dean Kiely made excellent saves from Kewell, Heskey and Danny Murphy, Hyypia and Murphy headed wide. Then, with 10 minutes remaining, Kiely gathered a Kewell cross and threw the ball out to Lisbie, 10 yards inside his own half. He surged over the halfway line, dropped his shoulder to swerve past Steve Finnan and headed goalwards. With Igor Biscan distracted by Claus Jensen's cross-field run, Murphy having lazily let the Dane run past him, Lisbie ran without further challenge before, from 20 yards, he curled a shot round Dudek.
It was a wonderful moment for a player who was booed off the pitch when substituted on the opening day of the season. He then thought his future lay elsewhere when Alan Curbishley signed Paolo di Canio and Carlton Cole. "It's been difficult," he said, "but this is the best way to respond."
Curbishley said: "I've been a bit disappointed with the fans' reaction to Kevin, they are usually fantastic, but they can keep having a go at him if he responds like he did this week."
The Charlton manager, who refused to comment on the speculation linking him to the manager's job at Tottenham, added: "Kevin's stats are not good enough for a forward and he knows it, but I had no hesitation playing him." In a nice touch Curbishley withdrew him in injury-time, enabling the player to leave to a standing ovation.
There was still time, though, for Liverpool almost to rescue a point. Kewell, showing delightful skill, chipped past a series of players before volleying goalwards. His shot beat Kiely but hit the post. Seconds later, the final whistle went.
Goals: Smicer (14) 0-1; Lisbie (30) 1-1; Lisbie (42) 2-1; Owen pen (51) 2-2; Lisbie (82) 3-2.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 8; Young 4, Perry 4, Fish 5 (Fortune 6, 74), Powell 6; Stuart 5 (Kishishev 4, 71), Parker 7, Holland 5, Jensen 6; Lisbie 9 (Johansson, 90), Bartlett 6. Substitutes not used: Royce (gk), Di Canio.
Liverpool (4-1-2-1-2): Dudek 3; Finnan 3, Biscan 4, Hyypia 3, Riise 4; Gerrard 4; Diouf 5 (Tallec, 83), Kewell 7; Smicer 6 (Murphy 6, 67); Heskey 6, Owen 5. Substitutes not used: Luzi (gk), Traore, Diao.
Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville) 6.
Booked: Charlton: Young, Kishishev. Liverpool: Diouf.
Man of the match: Lisbie.
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