Liverpool 2 Middlesbrough 1: Gerrard leaves it late to turn out lights on Boro

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The Independent Football

No one can accuse Liverpool of peaking too early. Last week they got a goal in the closing minutes to beat Sunderland, but that was positively premature compared to yesterday when they scored twice in the last five minutes. As they say around Anfield, at least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask.

From a Middlesbrough point of view it was a travesty, but Liverpool's players could giggle all the way to the dressing room after a performance that rarely rose above the mediocre and occasionally scratched the downright poor. But a win is a win, as managers like to say, and after the first eight days of the new campaign they have six points which champions Manchester United, to mention but one team, would love to have secured. Imagine what Liverpool will do when they start performing.

How they escaped with a victory was a wonder because Middlesbrough spent most of the afternoon dealing so comfortably with Liverpool's expensive attack that stand-in goalkeeper Ross Turnbull had barely a shot to deal with. Mido put the visitors ahead in the 70th minute and it was a measure of how desperate Liverpool had become that their equaliser came from a shot from Jamie Carragher.

The Liverpool centre-back – four goals in 526 appearances – did not actually score, of course, but his shot was heading for goal when Emanuel Pogatetz got his body in the way to deflect it past his own goalkeeper.

"A freak goal," was the Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate's reaction, and even his Liverpool counterpart Rafael Benitez described it as "amazing" but worse was to follow for the visitors. With the match in stoppage time, Steven Gerrard seized on a rebound on the edge of the area and thumped a trademark volley past the unfortunate Turnbull.

"When they went ahead I thought it would be very difficult," Benitez said. "Our fans were thinking about last season, maybe, so it's a very, very positive message. To win these kind of games will give the players confidence to believe they can win every match this season."

Middlesbrough might have had an inkling that it was not to be their afternoon even before the kick-off when their goalkeeper Brad Jones dislocated a finger in the warm-up, but Liverpool were so supine for 85 minutes, Turnbull had little to do.

Within two minutes he was leaping to his right to deny a sharp drive from Dirk Kuyt and six minutes later Fernando Torres headed wide from close range but rather than herald a stellar performance, Liverpool got stuck in a rigid template called "find Fernando". Rather than pass to the obvious, they sought their Spanish striker to a fault. Liverpool were more predictable than a British gold in the Olympic cycling.

It led to a largely frustrating first 70 minutes in which Boro looked increasingly comfortable and it was hardly a bolt from the unknown when Middlesbrough took the lead with a magnificent goal. Typically, the move began with a Liverpool mistake, Xabi Alonso squandering possession with an ill-directed pass, yet there seemed little danger when Gary O'Neil passed to Jérémie Aliadière and he found Mido 30 yards out. The Egyptian looked up, noted the tardiness of Liverpool players rushing out to block, and crashed a low shot to the left of Jose Reina.

It was a goal worthy of winning any match, but merely led to the profoundest of disappointments. "I'm heartbroken for the players," Southgate said. "They gave everything and deserved more than they got."