Liverpool survive after Tokic scare

<preform>Liverpool 0 - Graz AK 1<br>Liverpool win 2-1 on agg</preform>
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The Independent Football

Ominous cracks appeared in Liverpool's brave new world last night. Rafael Benitez's team will, as expected, feature in tomorrow's draw for the Champions' League proper, yet the Austrian double winners, Graz AK, made them look dreadfully ordinary in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie.

Ominous cracks appeared in Liverpool's brave new world last night. Rafael Benitez's team will, as expected, feature in tomorrow's draw for the Champions' League proper, yet the Austrian double winners, Graz AK, made them look dreadfully ordinary in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie.

Mario Tokic, a Croatian defender, rewarded his side's neat football with a fine goal early in the second half. Graz should have been down to 10 when Rene Aufhauser was cautioned for a second time without being dismissed, but the game finished amid a chorus of booing with Liverpool defending anxiously to avoid extra-time.

Benitez felt sufficiently confident of progress to give a first starting appearance to Darren Potter, a 19-year-old, local-born midfielder who actually started his career at Everton. However, reports that he would rest Milan Baros proved wide of the mark. The Czech striker continued his promising partnership with Djibril Cissé and was soon troubling Graz's defence as Liverpool sought to build on their 2-0 first-leg lead.

After only four minutes, Baros fell in the penalty area as he came under challenge from Tokic, but the Spanish referee was unmoved.

A casual air crept into Liverpool's play, as if they considered they had already done enough to take the tie. Cissé's sudden burst of speed, which carried him past Tokic in a blur of red from the halfway line to the edge of the 18-yard box, therefore served to rouse the crowd, if not his colleagues. As if to underline the folly of assuming victory, a free-kick taken by by Joachim Standfest from 25 yards out on the left sailed uncomfortably close to Jerzy Dudek's goal and into the Kop.

For all the new air of optimism surrounding Liverpool, the manner in which they struggled to break down obdurate but unremarkable opponents as the first half wore on was redolent of the Gérard Houllier era. Both wide midfielders, Potter and Kewell, tended to operate too deep to be dangerous.

Another set-piece delivery by Standfest, which drifted past the same upright from an identical angle, must have ensured that Benitez's half-time talk did not lack spice. Fortunately for Liverpool, Graz seldom looked capable of exploiting such good positions, and the home support laughed at their ineptitude when Roland Kollmann ran into Dudek's left-hand post post.

They were not laughing when Tokic brought the contest to life by scoring in the 55th minute. Kollmann, happily recovered from his unwitting challenge on the woodwork, delivered a corner which was cleared only as far as Tokic, who was stationed some 25 yards from goal. A powerful shot left Dudek clawing at air, the ball hitting the underside of the bar before crossing the line.

The aftermath of the goal was eventful, if unproductive for Liverpool. The ineffectual Kewell was ignominiously substituted by another product of the Anfield academy, Stephen Warnock; Salif Diao completely missed his kick when the ball seemed to have fallen obligingly for him 18 yards out; and Steven Gerrard was deemed to have dived when he and a defender crashed to the turf, earning a yellow card rather than a penalty.

¿ The businessman Steve Morgan says he has failed in his bid to complete a £70m takeover of Liverpool. Morgan, whose initial bid was rebuffed by the Liverpool board in May, said yesterday his second attempt for a share purchase had also fallen through.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Carragher, Hyypia, Henchoz, Riise; Potter, Gerrard, Diao, Kewell (Warnock, 59); Cissé (Sinama-Pongolle 74), Baros (Hamman, 89). Substitutes not used: Harrison (gk), Finnan, Biscan, Whitbread.

Booked: Potter, Gerrard.

Graz AK (4-4-2): Schranz; Standfest, Tokic, Pogatetz, Majstorovic (Dollinger, 77); Plassnegger (Muratovic, 69), Sick, Aufhauser, Amerhauser; Kollmann, Bazina. Substitutes not used: Almer (gk), Ramusch, Almer, Sencar, Hassler, Erkinger.

Booked: Pogatetz, Plassnegger, Aufhauser, Muratovic

Referee: L M Cantalejo (Spain).

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