Listless Gerrard doing little to boost Liverpool's battle against bad luck

Newcastle United 1 - Liverpool 0
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The Independent Online

Reports that Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, has given Steven Gerrard a private peek at his summer shopping list in a last desperate attempt to keep him at the club fit neatly into the mythology of celebrity football. First you make your reputation, then you live off it, preen off it.

Reports that Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, has given Steven Gerrard a private peek at his summer shopping list in a last desperate attempt to keep him at the club fit neatly into the mythology of celebrity football. First you make your reputation, then you live off it, preen off it.

Of course, you have to have a fair degree of talent in the first place and no one could say that Gerrard doesn't have oodles. But how often has he applied it in this season of Liverpool trial; how many times has he taken hold of games in the fashion of the man who prowled the touchline so passionately on behalf of Newcastle, the former Anfield giant Graeme Souness?

Even now, watching Souness must be nearly as draining as being him. He wears his commitment like the flower decorating his designer suit, and that might be a little absurd only if you happen to forget the player he was and the demands he made on himself.

At the moment it seems that any requirements of Gerrard are directed not in his own direction but Liverpool's. Yes, he exploded memorably to preserve the team's life in the Champions' League against Olympiakos, but that was months ago and a lot of adversity has happened to his team since then. And the response: a series of sulky ultimatums and a bleak verdict on European prospects before the 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen, by far the best result of the Premiership quartet, which finally triggered some response from the admirably dignified Benitez. He said that Gerrard had a certain obligation to deliver performance.

After first losing the services of Jerzy Dudek, Didi Hamann (most significantly), Fernando Morientes and Harry Kewell, and then seeing an obdurate defensive display, inspired yet again by Jamie Carragher, perish under the cannonball weight of a Laurent Robert free-kick, Benitez was back in pragmatic mode.

He said: "At the moment, after his performance in the Carling Cup final, he [Gerrard] knows how important he is for us. He is working hard. It is very difficult for him to attack properly without a lot of our other players. The injuries we have suffered is making it more difficult for him."

Difficult for everybody, but some responded with notable effort - Carragher, inevitably, and not least Luis Garcia. In the sleet and the wind, Garcia looked odds-on for oblivion, but if this clever player is sometimes too easily marginalised, his lively and strong-hearted contribution could not be faulted on this occasion.

His only reward on the field was a tongue-lashing from Gerrard when he shot, admittedly with more optimism than sense, as the England player took up a promising position. However, Gerrard, who wasted Liverpool's one legitimate chance in stoppage time, was not exactly in position to deliver a moral broadside. He was mostly anonymous. Liverpool required much more against a Newcastle team which, after an incoherent start, began to show why Souness might finally be winning over a previously disaffected Toon Army.

Robert's goal coincided with signs of genuine life on the field and in the terraces and Souness was particularly pleased with the sharply improved performance of Titus Bramble, a clear beneficiary, the manager felt, of the reassuring arrival of Jean-Alain Boumsong. Maybe, though he would not say, showing the anarchic Craig Bellamy the door might just have concentrated several minds. Best of all, though, was the indomitable Alan Shearer, who won the decisive free-kick and generally looked as if he had just vigorously turned back his personal clock, at times by as much as four or five years.

The strongest sense of Liverpool and their proven coach is that they are currently living from day to day and that if something turns up, on or off the field, with the renewed ambitions of their money-laden suitor Steve Morgan, it has to be seen as a prize won from the most unfavourable of circumstances. This also applies to the dwindling chances of catching Everton in fourth place. "With three points for a game, you can go up very quickly," the manager said.

Benitez shrugs his shoulders in the classic Spanish response to the question "que tal" - how goes it. "Media a media", they say, philosophically: half and half, good and bad, sun and shade, isn't it the nature of life? However, he does have one still - just - workable fantasy. It is that Liverpool's most significant player of the season - the beautifully gifted playmaker Xabi Alonso - will be fit for the last month of action, and a possible place in the Champions' League final.

The ghost of a smile came from Benitez when that possibility was presented. He said: "We cannot have as bad luck next summer as we have had this year. It is not possible. We have been very unlucky, even to the own goal in the latter stages of the Carling Cup. Alonso was very important to us. It [losing him] was a crushing blow. We have missed a lot of key players, but maybe he will come back for the last month."

With Dudek and Hamann likely to be available in Leverkusen, Benitez is hopeful that the defensive organisation penetrated only by the Robert mortar shell will hold up. "If it does," said Benitez, "maybe we can go through. An away goal would also be nice."

A cue for Gerrard? On current form, perhaps more likely another shrug of the Spanish shoulders. Whatever the inducements, Gerrard looks as if he is going. Indeed, on Saturday you might have said he had already gone.

Goal: Robert (70) 1-0.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Bramble, Boumsong, Hughes; Dyer (Butt, 88), Bowyer (Jenas, 78), Faye, Robert; Shearer, Ameobi (Kluivert, 66). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Taylor.

Liverpool (5-4-1): Carson; Finnan, Carragher, Pellegrino (Le Tallec, 82), Hyypia, Riise; Smicer (Nunez, 74), Gerrard, Biscan, Garcia; Baros (Warnock, 88). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Welsh.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire)

Booked: Newcastle Faye, Robert. Liverpool Smicer, Gerrard.

Man of the match: Shearer.

Attendance: 52,323.

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