Gerrard's slice of luck denies vibrant Royals
Reading 1 Liverpool 1
Published 03/01/2010 | 05:00
It has become a familiar script over the years, but Liverpool supporters will never tire of the sight of Steven Gerrard rescuing their team.
Behind to Simon Church's early effort and playing like a side who had lost rather than won their previous two matches, Liverpool earned a reprieve and a replay at Anfield on Wednesday week after Gerrard equalised with a goal that owed more to luck than judgment.
Thereafter, the anticipated Liverpool onslaught did not arrive on a night when Reading looked more like a team going for promotion than one struggling against relegation.
Some 33 places separate the two sides on the league ladder, but there was no evidence of that chasm as Reading, inspired by the outstanding Jobi McAnuff, played with confidence and belief. Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, will be grateful to emerge with a draw.
The last time these two clubs met, in the Premier League a little more than two years ago, Reading had triumphed 3-1, and Liverpool must have feared another uncomfortable evening when Church bundled the home side in front.
The goal was no more than Reading deserved after a bright opening period during which Brian McDermott's side took the game to Liverpool, with a high-tempo approach that was reminiscent of happier times under the watching Steve Coppell.
That McAnuff played a part in the build-up was no surprise. The winger had already troubled Emiliano Insua with his footwork when the full-back tripped him on the edge of the Liverpool area. Ryan Bertrand flung a flighted cross deep towards the back post where Grzegorz Rasiak, stationed desperately close to the byline, did wonderfully well to cut the ball back for Church to turn it over the goalline.
Liverpool were rattled and unable to find any fluency, but when Fernando Torres sent a free header wide in the 32nd minute it should have served as a warning Moments later, Gerrard grabbed the equaliser when his cross from the left crept into the far corner after Adam Federici, the Reading goalkeeper, was caught out when Dirk Kuyt ran across his line of vision but failed to get a touch. At first glance Kuyt looked offside, but television replays showed Matt Mills played him on.
The complexion of the game began to change as Reading conceded possession and Liverpool grew in confidence. Gerrard was becoming a more influential figure, the captain's slide-rule pass releasing Torres just before the interval only for Federici to dash from his line to save. Next it was Fabio Aurelio's turn, the ersatz winger -- one of four changes to what remained a strong Liverpool side -- escaping on the left before dragging across the face of goal.
Reading, however, started the second half like they did the first, moving the ball with purpose and taking the game to Liverpool. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was unfortunate not to win a penalty before the interval when Martin Skrtel tugged at his shirt, struck a swerving shot from 30 yards that Pepe Reina was forced to parry.
But back came Reading again, Church delivering a low centre from the right behind the Liverpool defence that required only a touch.
Benitez responded by replacing the ineffective David Ngog with Alberto Aquilani, allowing Gerrard to take up a more attacking role. The Italian thought he had scored his first Liverpool goal when he scrambled the ball home following Gerrard's corner, but Martin Atkinson, the referee, signalled that Ben Hamer, who had taken over in goal following an injury to Federici, had been fouled.
Reading continued to threaten the Liverpool goal in the closing stages, but Torres wasted a wonderful chance to win the game for the visitors in stoppage-time when he headed Yossi Benayoun's delicate cross from the left over with the goal at his mercy.
And after the game Reading's midfielder McAnuff said he was relishing the prospect of a well-dserved replay at Anfield after frustrating Benitez's charges yesterday afternoon.
"Before the game we would have probably taken the draw and the chance to go there and get a result," McAnuff said.
"It's a great place to play football, we'll really enjoy it and hopefully get another chance to go and express ourselves and get a result again."