Carroll lights up Reds' bleak night
There was always a risk that Kenny Dalglish's attempts to garland his return with silverware would be undermined by the weaknesses he was brought in to disguise.
After a chastening defeat in Braga's wondrous stadium, hewn into the walls of a granite quarry, Liverpool's manager can only hope that his cast of extras and afterthoughts can forge victory from another Anfield cliffhanger next week.
Dalglish will still not be able to call upon Luis Suarez, ineligible for this competition, or Steven Gerrard, anxiously awaiting a decision on whether he requires surgery for the groin injury which has blighted his last month, when Braga travel to Merseyside on Thursday.
Instead, he must hope that his supporting cast can discover a source of inspiration which eluded them here. He must demand of his reservists that they transcend the abject mediocrity which afflicted them in this most spectacular of settings.
He must spend his next six days plotting a way to help his team dig themselves out of a hole he freely admits is entirely of their own making.
"We created most of our own problems," said the Scot. "When you play as badly as we did, you have to consider yourselves lucky only to lose by one goal. If we play like we did, especially in the first half, at Anfield, we will not go through.
"It was a very poor first-half performance from ourselves and I have no complaints about the penalty. We picked it up in the second half."
It is not in Dalglish's nature to panic, of course, and he will have seen in the second half the route to his and his side's salvation. The 400 or so hardy souls who travelled to northern Portugal to keep the red flag flying will remember little of this game in years to come; all that will survive is the impression created by Andy Carroll in the first 10 minutes of his European debut.
"We looked more threatening when Andy came on," said his manager. "We have to give him as many minutes as we can to make sure we are making a contribution to his fitness. He worried them."
That may be an understatement. The club's record signing, returning to continental combat for the first time in four years, created more chances, wreaked more havoc and raised more pulses in the first flush of his introduction than his team-mates managed in the 57 minutes which preceded it.
Carroll causes problems for defenders simply by existing. His presence spreads fear, frays nerves. He created two chances for Dirk Kuyt -- one smothered by Artur Moraes, a second tipped over -- simply by standing, menacingly, in the penalty area.
He is dangerous with the ball, too; still clearly not at peak fitness after two months on the sidelines, Carroll had one shot deflected over and probably should have scored with a header from the subsequent corner.
And he forces opponents to resort to the darker arts to negate his threat. Liverpool's challenge had long since sputtered out when Kaka, the Brazilian defender, caught Carroll with a flailing elbow. To Serge Gumienny, the Belgian referee, the incident did not even warrant a caution.
Carroll shook the blow off; Dalglish requires the rest of his players to take the same approach to defeat. Deserved defeat, too, secured thanks to a coolly executed penalty from another of Braga's Brazilians, the improbably named Alan.
Indeed, Liverpool can seek solace that they are not further behind; 13 minutes after Sotirios Kyrgiakos had tripped Marcio Mossoro to grant Alan the chance to put Braga ahead, the left-back Silvio struck Pepe Reina's crossbar with a picture-perfect 30-yard volley.
Had his shot been but an inch lower, Liverpool might have been down and out. Their ambitions remain in the balance, regardless. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
- Second-choice goalkeeper Neil Alexander shut out PSV Eindhoven in Holland last night to hand Rangers a fighting chance of progressing to the last eight of the Europa League after a 0-0 draw.