Liverpool 2 Middlesbrough 1: Gerrard's gem sparks display of title hunger at Liverpool

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The Independent Online

The response from Liverpool players to Steven Gerrard's 93rd minute winner may have been somewhat excessive given that 36 games and 108 points remain in the Premier League season, but this is August and that means thoughts at Anfield are dominated by title talk.

To varying degrees, each of the past 18 summers since the last Liverpool championship in 1990, have followed a similar pattern and ended in annual disappointment, last season's title aspirations undermined by too many dropped points at Anfield.

Trailing to a magnificent 25-yard, 69th minute shot from Mido, therefore, Liverpool headed into the final five minutes of this contest apparently with far more than three points to lose.

"There is a lot of pressure when you play for Liverpool and I know what the headlines would have been if we had lost to Middlesbrough," said defender Jamie Carragher. "They would have said the title's over.

"I have been here long enough to know what it is like, so to reverse it and go top of the league shows what fine lines there are in football. I'm sure there would have been a lot of criticism of players and the manager had we lost but we are top of the league and that's the difference."

Carragher started the recovery when his driven, 85th minute cross-shot was deposited into the back of the Middlesbrough goal via a cruel deflection off Emanuel Pogatetz.

Three minutes into added time, a hopeful long ball from Xabi Alonso was only half cleared by David Wheater and Gerrard scored with a stunning finish from the edge of the area.

Cue pandemonium at Anfield with Jose Reina sprinting the entire length of the field to join in the mass celebrations and cue Gerrard talking breathlessly about the victory being proof of a serious Liverpool title challenge.

Carragher had the good grace to dismiss that particular notion, pointing out it will be weeks, possibly months, before Liverpool's true credentials become apparent and the defender also pointed out that his side have turned in three underwhelming performances in their three competitive games to date.

A similar showing in Wednesday's potentially awkward Champions League tie with Standard Liège – goalless after the first leg – and Anfield optimism could swiftly evaporate.

"We haven't clicked yet, there's no hiding from that," added Carragher. "If we perform as we have done over the last few weeks, it's going to be extremely difficult to beat Standard Liège, they're not a mickey mouse team.

In fact, a case could be made that, aside from the fairly significant matter of the result, Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate could draw more pleasure from the game than Rafa Benitez.

Questions and uncertainty still surround this Liverpool squad – do Torres and Keane look like a £50m strike partnership? Will Alonso's confidence ever recover from Benitez's desperate attempts to offload him for Gareth Barry this summer? For Middlesbrough, the season has started extremely promisingly.

"We've shown what we intend to do this season over the two weeks, home and away – that's how we will play," said Southgate. "Others will have to play to their strengths and with the pace in our side, we felt we could come here and play as we did.

"I couldn't ask for more from the lads. If we'd have come off with a point we would have been disappointed and I'm heartbroken for them. We have great belief in them and however disappointed they are now, they should take a lot out of it."

Goals: Mido (69) 0-1; Pogatetz og (85) 1-1; Gerrard (90) 2-1.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Arbeloa (El Zhar, 83), Carragher, Skrtel, Dossena (Aurelio, 74); Benayoun (Babel, 64), Alonso, Gerrard, Kuyt; Torres, Keane. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Agger, Ngog, Plessis.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Turnbull; Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, Taylor (Hoyte, 73); Aliadière, O'Neil, Shawky, Downing; Tuncay (Digard, 86), Alves (Mido, 60). Substitutes not used: Emnes, Johnson, Williams.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Liverpool Arbeloa, Keane; Middlesbrough Mido.

Man of the match: Carragher.

Attendance: 43,168.

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