Gerrard grasps second chance to punish QPR
Liverpool 2-1 QPR
The final reel of Steven Gerrard's Liverpool career will not have the show-stopping conclusion many anticipated, but his unrelenting capacity to stir the masses will be appreciated when he gets to Hollywood.
Gerrard departed to a standing ovation with two minutes left of his side's win over QPR having just headed the winning goal. Moments earlier he feared he'd be culpable for two more dropped points when he was guilty of a rare penalty miss.
It's as if that Rudyard Kipling line about confronting the twin impostors of triumph and disaster was penned as a biography of Gerrard's career. Here it was encapsulated in the space of eight minutes. Whatever other qualities will be recalled when Gerrard has moved on it will be his sense of personal responsibility for the fortunes of his club that may override all else.
Liverpool have had plenty of world-class players over the decades, but few who have been expected to embody the aspirations over such a prolonged period. There must have been occasions Gerrard grew tired of being a symbol of both the greatest victories and most depressing losses. He has scored 184 goals, the fifth-highest in the club's history, but so many have been era-defining as much as match-winning.
His goal here, a header from Philippe Coutinho's corner, had more relevance at the bottom of the Premier League than for Liverpool, who are now engaged in a forlorn chase for the Champions League. Nevertheless, Gerrard celebrated at the corner flag where The Kop meets the Centenary Stand like a man cherishing the last leg of his long farewell.
"He was very determined to score, especially after the penalty," said Brendan Rodgers. "A lot of players, when they miss a big penalty, their game goes and their confidence goes. He is the total opposite, one of a unique group of players that responds when they need to.
"There is a very, very small group of players in that bracket who score the big goals and make the big contributions as he has done throughout his career. The career was all flashing before his eyes now so it was brilliant to get that goal at the Kop end as well. It was a real special moment for him.
"There were people behind me shouting to get him off, take him off. It will probably only be when he is gone that people will recognise what a sheer talent he is."
Although insignificant in terms of top-four ambitions, Rodgers still needed this win. A stunt before the game saw a plane fly overhead with a banner calling for Rodgers to be dismissed and former manager Rafa Benitez to be installed.
"I think it was Rafa's agent," said Rodgers. "A few have short memories because we nearly won the league last year."
He needn't have concerned himself. The stunt was roundly condemned by Liverpool supporters who suspect those not affiliated to the club to be responsible.
For Chris Ramsey there could be only frustration as his side self-destructed at a point in the game they looked like they might win. The Championship is inevitable.
Liverpool deservedly led thanks to Coutinho's first-half strike and wasted several easy chances to secure the points earlier, especially early in the second half. Instead, the introduction of Bobby Zamora offered the visitors a forward thrust that had been lacking.
Having forced a succession of corners, Joey Barton's delivery on 73 minutes found Leroy Fer, who volleyed ferociously past Simon Mignolet.
The game turned back Liverpool's way when Nedum Onuoha picked up two yellow cards, the first in the build-up to Gerrard's penalty miss and the second an appalling tackle on Jordon Ibe.
Rodgers must balance looking ahead to next season - he will still be the manager here so the amateur pilots would be wiser not to waste valuable air time - with ensuring they at least finish top of the also-ran charts.
For Gerrard, the farewell tour must take in a torturous journey to Stamford Bridge next weekend to applaud the champions in waiting. The pleasure of his latest winner will be followed by the excruciating pain of being present when Chelsea celebrate the title. There they are shadowing him again - triumph and torment.