Kuyt's double injects life into Anfield
Published 21/01/2010 | 05:00
A double from a Dutchman Dirk Kuyt brought Liverpool three precious Premier League points last night. This was far better from Rafa Benitez's players, moving with greater conviction and deserving of Kuyt's early strike and late penalty.
Spurs were poor, lacking drive through the middle and a cutting edge up front as the race for fourth place took another twist.
Any concerns about Liverpool's faltering form certainly could not be detected on the Kop as the game unfolded, the fans getting right behind the team from the first whistle, also making their enduring backing for Benitez abundantly clear. Feeding on the support flowing down from the stands, Liverpool responded hungrily, shaking off an early scare to take the lead through Kuyt, that epitome of relentless enterprise.
When Pepe Reina dived at the feet of Jermain Defoe and then Niko Kranjcar, ending a promising Spurs move after six minutes, the scene was set for a Liverpool break. Reina launched the ball long and high towards Kuyt, the Dutchman assuming the front-running responsibilities in the absence of the injured Fernando Torres.
Kuyt chested the ball to Alberto Aquilani, the Italian filling the Steven Gerrard role off the front man.
When Aquilani instantly laid the ball back to Kuyt, the speed of their link-up ripped Spurs backline to lily white pieces. Outpacing Michael Dawson, Kuyt placed the ball firmly past Gomes to coax an almighty cheer from the Liverpool faithful.
This was just the high-tempo start Anfield craved, banishing the doubts, showing they could find the way to goal without Torres and Gerrard. This was just what Benitez needed, having "guaranteed'' fourth spot in the league.
As Kuyt continued towards the Kop to celebrate, many eyes were still drawn to the writhing figure of Aquilani, a player struggling to come to terms with the combative nature of the English game. Aquilani, who had been knocked down by Ledley King, eventually rose to his feet, earning deserved congratulations from Kuyt for the quality of his return pass. This seemed to encapsulate Aquilani: delightful touches interspersed with spells recovering from the shock of physical contact.
As the scoreboard was updated, the records books remained closed. Gomes had needed to reach the 64th minute to break Pat Jennings' record of 690 minutes without conceding a goal, set in 1970. Another run looked like it was being extended: Spurs had been eager to end a shocking mark of 65 games without an away win against the so-called 'Big Four'' of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Chasing a first victory here since 1993, Spurs sought to find their way through the reds shirts but Liverpool held a stranglehold on midfield until Spurs showed more signs of life after Harry Redknapp's interval talk.
An element of spite stained first-half proceedings. Javier Mascherano, never afraid to leave a foot in, caught Gareth Bale nastily. Spurs retaliated, Jermaine Jenas and particularly Defoe targeting Philipp Degen.
Reflecting the mood, tempers began to fray on the bench. Benitez and Redknapp's assistant, Joe Jordan, exchanged words short on syllables but long on venom. Spurs then screamed for a penalty as Peter Crouch appeared to have his shirt pulled by Sotirios Kyrgiakos. In truth, the angular pair were simply entangled like two lovelorn deck chairs in a strong wind.
Liverpool hit back, Kuyt almost doubling his tally with a header that Bale blocked. Much to the Kop's annoyance, Martin Skrtel lifted the loose ball over. Back came Spurs, Jenas and Wilson Palacios combining to create an opportunity for Luka Modric, who was denied by Reina's quick thinking.
More chances came and went as the second half opened. Kyrgiakos made a real mess of a back-pass to Reina, putting the keeper under immense pressure as Defoe stormed in. Fortune smiled on Liverpool, the linesman flagging Defoe for a much earlier offside.
With Spurs gaining some momentum, Liverpool sought the comfort of a second goal. Jamie Carragher crossed from the right and Albert Riera smacked a header against the bar.
Never a classic, the game began to flow from end to end. Palacios and Defoe linked to set up Jenas, whose left-foot shot was parried away by Reina.
Spurs were urgently missing the speedy outlet that is Aaron Lennon.
Desperately trying to find a breakthrough, Redknapp juggled his resources, sending on Robbie Keane, who received warm applause from the Liverpool fans. Benitez, whose sparing use of Keane remains one of the game's modern mysteries, also began to rang the changes, introducing David Ngog and then Maxi Rodriguez, making his first appearance here.
The two players replaced still attracted the attention. Aquilani, deservedly treated to a standing ovation, headed straight down the tunnel with Liverpool's doctor while Reina attempted to shake Howard Webb's hand but the Yorkshire referee waved him away.
David Ngog's arrival was influential. Gomes saved well from Ngog. Still the chances fell Liverpool's way, Kyrgiakos firing straight at Gomes. Liverpool were so desperate for victory that they refused to give the ball back after Kuyt when down injured.
Liverpool's jangling nerves were soothed when Sebastian Bassong brought down Ngog and Kuyt converted the penalty at the second attempt, the first being ruled out for encroachment by Lucas. (© Daily Telegraph, London)