Musampa lets Pearce savour victory's taste

Manchester City 1 - Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez had contemplated watching Everton on television this afternoon complete with a cold glass of cola to go with his relaxed attitude. Now he will be calling for something stronger to calm his agitated nerves.

Rafael Benitez had contemplated watching Everton on television this afternoon complete with a cold glass of cola to go with his relaxed attitude. Now he will be calling for something stronger to calm his agitated nerves.

If things had gone to plan, the Liverpool manager would have been doing his viewing with a two-point advantage over the Merseyside rivals. Instead, his team were beaten by Manchester City yesterday and Everton will still have their noses in front in the race for the Premiership's fourth place and qualification for the Champions' League, no matter how they perform against Crystal Palace today.

It was a thoroughly disappointing performance by Liverpool, who may consider themselves unlucky that City's winner from Kiki Musampa came in the last minute, but who underperformed miserably. They have a Champions' League quarter-final tie against Juventus in midweek, but sides of their alleged pedigree are supposed to be able to concentrate on more than one objective.

"I am very disappointed," Benitez said. "I have told the players they have to learn that if you can't win, then a draw is a good result. It was the last minute, it was our own throw-in, but we lost possession and conceded a goal. I don't know if they were thinking about Juventus but I told them they needed to win this game to put pressure on Everton."

Benitez could barely hide his dark mood, but Stuart Pearce, in his first home match as caretaker manager, was sampling victory for the first time. "It was poetic justice," he said referring to the last-minute goal that denied City a win at Charlton Athletic. "It was a dagger in the heart last week although I didn't admit it. As I told the players, things even themselves out."

"Psycho" was so excited by the win he shot off the pitch at the final whistle, and had to be reminded by his goalkeeping coach to perform the normal pleasantries. "I was caught up the in the moment," Pearce said and I was halfway down the tunnel before Tim Flowers grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and told me to shake Mr Benitez's hand. I'm glad I did, and I apologise if I appeared cocky."

Pearce had reasons to be bullish given that City had done what Juventus had failed to do at Anfield on Tuesday, although the result will linger longer in the memory than the match.

Liverpool began sluggishly. Scott Carson made the first of several good saves when he dived to his right to block Sylvain Distin's header after just nine minutes. Although they improved, David James made only one stop of significance when he blocked Igor Biscan's curled shot from 25 yards and then reacted to kick away the rebound.

It was a pretty barren first half and the second did not exactly have the crowd hugging themselves in enjoyment either. For warmth, maybe, because the weather was more December than April, but only a masochist could have appreciated the collection of inaccurate passes that was compiled immediately after the break.

Steven Gerrard tried a spectacular volley from a narrow angle with a predictable result and Musampa got a save from Carson when his low shot went through Steve Finnan's legs but the standard of play was so poor that not just Pearce was gesticulating on the touchline, Benitez was giving his windmill impression too.

Musampa hit the post with a volley after 66 minutes and Gerrard had a chance to swing the match Liverpool's way in the 82nd minute when Vladimir Smicer gave him the freedom of the right wing with a clever pass. The Liverpool captain bore in on the City area with intent, but then his shot lacked accuracy and thumped into the side netting.

A draw seemed inevitable but with the game drawing to its close City struck. Lee Croft chased down the right and, if he is honest, he would admit his cross went behind his intended targets. Not that he will care, because Musampa arrived on the edge of the area and volleyed the ball low past Carson.

"I know I have to take the back seat a touch more," Pearce said referring to his managerial style, "and I think I've toned it down a bit today, probably to a roar. I'm learning, I took a step back and allowed myself the chance to see the game a bit clearer. I was better at it today.

"I plan to put a run of results together to persuade the board to give me the job. If they think there's a better man out there, fine, I'll shake hands with the chairman and thank him for the opportunity."

A win over Manchester United might have been appreciated a bit more, but, second to that, Liverpool will do nicely. It will look good on the CV.