LuaLua hijacks Gerrard's magic moment

Liverpool 1 Portsmouth 1
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The Independent Football

As Superman and Batman would no doubt reflect during their cigarette breaks, the really draining thing about being a hero was that you have to keep riding to the rescue. Last night not even Steven Gerrard's heroics could earn Liverpool another victory as a stoppage-time equaliser from Lomana LuaLua gave Portsmouth an equaliser that left Anfield stunned and bemused and further questions over the goalkeeping position.

As Superman and Batman would no doubt reflect during their cigarette breaks, the really draining thing about being a hero was that you have to keep riding to the rescue. Last night not even Steven Gerrard's heroics could earn Liverpool another victory as a stoppage-time equaliser from Lomana LuaLua gave Portsmouth an equaliser that left Anfield stunned and bemused and further questions over the goalkeeping position.

Jerzy Dudek palmed Matthew Taylor's cross into LuaLua's path when it should have been a routine take. The result left Liverpool six points behind Manchester United in fourth place and despite the bitterness sparked by Harry Redknapp's walk-out, Portsmouth have now not lost a match in the four matches since his resignation.

For Gerrard the disappointment would have been especially acute. After his fabulous salvage operation that guaranteed Liverpool would compete in the knock-out stages of the Champions' League, another venomous strike from the edge of the area ought to have helped to ensure that Liverpool are in a position to enter the competition next year. The free-kick which plunged into the net below the Kop from 25 yards was Liverpool's reward for a 25-minute burst of sustained pressure, but that was the only time they appeared remotely in charge of what had been their game in hand since the Champions' League qualifiers.

After the draining intensity of the victory over Olympiakos and the numbness of losing at Goodison Park for the first time in seven years, a strangely flat atmosphere hung over Anfield. It was quiet enough for the anti-Redknapp vitriol from the small group of Portsmouth supporters who had travelled up from the South Coast to be clearly heard. Just before half-time, they changed the tune to a chorus of "You're not very good". Unusually for a football taunt, it understated the truth. Liverpool were dreadful.

The highlights were of the fleeting, blink-and-you'll miss it kind. Jamie Ashdown made a couple of neat saves, there was a Dietmar Hamann header and a few lovely passes from Xabi Alonso - otherwise the principal emotion was frustration. Frustration that they began a dozen points behind Everton; frustration at the mediocrity of so much of Liverpool's play, especially around the area. Frustration that they should be so inept against Portsmouth, who had not won at Anfield since the reign of George VI.

Anfield is a forgiving arena - they did not, as many crowds would have done, boo their team off at the interval. However, when Antonio Nunez wrested the ball from Amdy Faye, slipped Harry Kewell through and saw the Australian pass to an advertising hoarding, the place seemed ready to explode.

At St James' Park on Saturday, Portsmouth had been subjected to a mauling from Newcastle and kept their heads well enough to recover their balance and force a draw. Last night they were attacked with the ferocity of a stuffed toy and slowly began to shift from defence to attack, spearheaded by LuaLua whose runs produced one soft shot on target that Dudek, keeping goal for the first time in two months, saved with great difficulty.

While all this was going on, Rafael Benitez had been prowling the technical area going quietly loopy. His urbane, modest exterior hides the fact that at Valencia he was thought of as a very hard man indeed. After his half-time talk, it may not have been coincidence that Liverpool showed more resolution in the first quarter of an hour than they had in the previous three-quarters, although it took a while for them to translate the weight of shot into goals.

Gerrard, naturally, led from the front, producing one exquisite turn and shot in the area, then a cushioned header put Nunez through as the Portsmouth defence melted in front of him, although his shot clattered against Ashdown's legs. Then Hamann was presented with the sort of close-range, unmissable header that Everton's Tim Cahill somehow managed to squander during the Merseyside derby. At least Hamann forced a save but that would have been scant consolation until Gerrard struck.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Nunez (Josemi, 89), Alonso, Hamann, Kewell; Gerrard; Baros Sinama-Pongolle, 82). Substitutes not used: Harrison (gk), Riise, Mellor.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Ashdown; Griffin, Primus, De Zeeuw, Stefanovic; Stone, Faye (Berkovic, 85), O'Neil, Berger; LuaLua, Fuller (Taylor, 62). Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Mezague, Cissé.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).

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