Gerrard returns as Reds edge past brave Brighton
Published 22/09/2011 | 05:00
This was a night of ups amid the downs for Liverpool.
Despite a late scare when Ashley Barnes scored, Liverpool took many positives from this Carling Cup victory, including goals for Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt, the memory of some terrific first-half movement and a welcome return after six months for Steven Gerrard.
When Barnes pulled one back from the spot late on, such was the tension of the closing minutes that Kenny Dalglish briefly lost it with the linesman for failing to notice that Kazenga LuaLua had dragged the ball out. The heat soon dissolved as a superb tie ended.
All the players departed to a standing ovation in Brighton's splendid new home while the hosts' manager, Gus Poyet, rushed on to get a photo with his fellow Uruguayan Luis Suarez after first hugging Dalglish.
Dalglish had shown due respect to one of the form teams of the Championship, starting Bellamy and Luis Suarez, who combined beautifully within seven minutes. Suarez's pass was perfection, inviting Bellamy to run into one of the many gaps in Brighton's defence.
The Welshman's finish was low, hard and unstoppable.
Dalglish, a tracksuited figure patrolling his box relentlessly, punched the air in delight and saluted the visiting throng behind Pepe Reina's goal.
This was the dream start. Brighton broke out occasionally. Will Buckley, all long-legged excellence, embarked on a run down the right, keeping ahead of Jack Robinson but sending his shot just wide.
It was a rare excursion in the first half-hour. Brighton seemed too in awe of their vaunted visitors, beginning to believe only in the second period, when they seemed revitalised -- a different force inspired by Craig Noone.
Until then, Liverpool were a class apart, their movement too quick and clever for Poyet's side. Bellamy kept roaming, popping up in the hole one moment, out on the right the next, even dropping deep to collect and create.
Suarez flicked a header towards the far post which seemed a routine catch for Casper Ankergren. The 'keeper hesitated, failing to anticipate the presence of Dirk Kuyt.
The Dutchman looped a header over Ankergren, the ball dropping towards the line but cleared by Craig Mackail-Smith. "Did that go in?" Dalglish asked the Sky man by the tunnel. It hadn't.
Under Poyet, Albion have a wonderful commitment to attack, with the full-backs Romain Vincelot and Inigo Calderon galloping upfield at every opportunity. Such admirable adventure inevitably left Steve Cook and Gordon Greer exposed. The balance was better after the break.
For most of the first half, Liverpool raided through almost at will. After 26 minutes, Kuyt flicked the ball into the path of Suarez, whose shot skimmed just wide. Suarez was getting closer, rising well to meet a Bellamy free-kick, but his header hit the post.
Suarez came back again, slicing through the middle and furious when brought down by Alan Navarro, formerly a Liverpool youth player of the Gerrard generation. Bellamy almost raised echoes of Gazza '91 with a 30-yard free-kick that thudded against the bar.
Brighton screamed for a penalty when Buckley cut in from the left and was challenged by Martin Kelly. Poyet was off his seat, convinced it was a foul in the box but Michael Oliver, stationed close by, waved play on.
Back came Liverpool, Jay Spearing hitting a post before Brighton finished the half strongly. Again Noone was prominent. Again Mackail-Smith was looking for space behind Sebastian Coates and Jamie Carragher. But when Vincelot then fired a free-kick over, Poyet turned away in disgust and marched down the tunnel.
He must have had a strong word. Brighton were transformed. Noone exploited poor defending by Coates and hit the bar. Noone, who famously was a roofer on Gerrard's house, kept impressing.
Gerrard arrived after 74 minutes, soon taking a pass from Kuyt and trying to get Maxi Rodriguez away. Gerrard then broke forward himself, running into a cul-de-sac and giving Oliver a mouthful.
They settled the tie with seven minutes remaining, counter-attacking as Brighton were caught upfield. Maxi sped through the middle, slipping the ball right to Kuyt, whose precise shot went in off the far post.
Brighton kept going, and in the final minute Vicente was brought down by Carragher in the box; Oliver pointed instantly to the spot. Barnes' run-up was short, scarcely two steps, but his kick was sublime, driven emphatically past Reina. (© Daily Telegraph, London)