Liverpool 1 Manchester City 0: Gerrard's rhythm from heart of midfield revives Liverpool

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The Independent Online

No wonder Manchester City supporters sing about Blue Moons. Their team win on their travels about as often as an appearance by the astronomical phenomenon and yesterday they duly lived down to expectations. Expect the Sky Blue faithful to pen a ditty about hell freezing over in the near future.

They did not touch the depths at Anfield yesterday - Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne were outstanding, just to pick out the best of several good defenders - and there was a cohesion about them that has not always been present this season. But the outcome was the same and they have accrued only four Premiership points away from home in the whole of 2006. The New Year cannot come soon enough.

Even the identity of the scorer had a touch of misfortune for the visitors, because Steven Gerrard has been trying shots from all angles since April and, in the League at least, they have been hitting the post, defenders or going wide. True to City's quixotic nature, he broke his duck in the Premiership, profiting from an error by the player who regards the Liverpool captain as a role model: Joey Barton.

Contrary to a performance that ought to have impressed the watching England coach, Steve McClaren, Barton sold Distin short with a pass in the 67th minute. Dirk Kuyt slid in from the blind side to pinch possession and Gerrard thundered in with an unstoppable purpose. From the edge of the area, there was only one place the ball was going to go.

"It was a costly mistake," Stuart Pearce, the City manager lamented. "You can't afford to give the ball to a quality player like Gerrard 25 yards out. Do that and all your planning goes down the pan."

Gerrard's goal came on top of another against PSV Eindhoven in midweek which will add further fuel to the debate about whether he ought to occupy a permanent place in central midfield. "It was important for him to get goals, because it gives him confidence," the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, said. "He knows I think he can become one of the best players in the world."

Pearce had called for a hard-nosed attitude from his players before the game and he employed a five-man midfield that included England's new full-back Micah Richards. For more than an hour it proved successful.

Peter Crouch looped over after six minutes, Gerrard shot wide and Luis Garcia found the side-netting when he should have made more of Nedum Onuoha's disorientation in the 33rd minute, but these were poor pickings given the amount of possession Liverpool enjoyed.

City's line-up ensured they needed to attack on the break and the tactic almost paid off twice. Barton curled a delightful pass down the right to Richards in the first half and he turned his pass inside, only for Bernardo Corradi to pull his shot tamely wide. The Italian almost profited, too, in the 60th minute when Ben Thatcher's long pass caused such confusion in the home defence that Darius Vassell and Richards won headers but Corradi was just awry with a shot from the edge of the area.

That proved to be the prelude to Gerrard's goal and, after that, the result was close to a foregone conclusion. City went into attack mode, pressed forward and gave the impression they could have played until Christmas and still not scored. It is becoming a familiar story.

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