Gerrard can't lift reds

Talisman looks less than fully fit as Pool struggle to draw against Wolves

Peter Lansley

IF Liverpool feel that they failed to capitalise on an opportunity to move to within a point of fourth place in the Premier League last night, Wolverhampton Wanderers should be kicking themselves for failing to gather a deserved victory.

Mick McCarthy's team do retain the fourth place they covet, however -- fourth from bottom. If they can manage to play this well, albeit with greater penetration, and lift themselves for the less glamorous occasions approaching, such as the trip to Hull City on Saturday, salvation can be theirs.

While Liverpool were glad to have Steven Gerrard, their leader, back after a fortnight out with a hamstring injury, their traditional talisman was not on this occasion able to muster a match-winning performance and still looked a little short of full fitness.

Wolves fans were not so pleased to see Pepe Reina. At Anfield on St Stephen's Day, the goalkeeper had run fully 70 yards to ensure Stephen Ward received the second yellow card that brought his departure and helped to turn the game Liverpool's way when Wolves had appeared good for a point.

Gerrard's return gave Liverpool a boost. They offered Maxi Rodriguez a full debut after his free transfer from Atletico Madrid, but this was as cagey a start as could be imagined between the Premier League's lowest scorers and a faltering giant with a tentative goal record on the road.

Wolves started with only 17 league goals under their belts, and none in the three previous games; Liverpool have mustered only that number, in all competitions, away from Anfield.


Wolves actually named six defenders outfield, with the idea that Matt Jarvis, attacking Jamie Carragher down the left wing, and Nenad Milijas, the Serbia playmaker, would get up to assist Kevin Doyle when possible.

This seldom happened, initially at least.

Gradually, Wolves recognised this Liverpool team are far from infallible. Even though, if Fulham could have done them a favour at White Hart Lane, Rafael Benitez's side had an opportunity to go fourth, this is the Liverpool that can be held by Reading and, offered a reprieve, lose the replay.

Jarvis finally had the chance to go at Carragher, one on one, down the flank and once the Wolves man had accelerated past his marker and sent over an enticing low centre to the near post, Doyle squirted his shot just wide. Then just before half-time, Jarvis crossed to the far post, where Kevin Foley arrived, unmarked, only for Reina to save his header.

Liverpool mustered their first shot on target in the 48th minute. The ball looped up awkwardly for Alberto Riera, but the winger managed to hook in a volley from the edge of the penalty area.

Marcus Hahnemann, back-pedal-ling, had to reach high and carefully to take the ball from underneath his crossbar at the second attempt.

Then Dirk Kuyt fed the ball in for Gerrard but the captain was out of stride. But Wolves' confidence was on the up and, after Karl Henry took time out from tackling anything that moved to chest down and have a shot deflected by Emiliano Insua, Doyle led the home team's assault.


First the £6.5m striker sent a 25-yard shot sizzling over the crossbar, then headed into Reina's arms; when he flicked on, Foley appeared to be through on goal but overran the ball and Reina, saving at his feet, had to check everything he holds dearest was still intact. The Wolves crowd enjoyed that moment.

Soon after Doyle dummied and ran round the other side of Martin Skrtel, but, on cruising into the penalty area, had no option but to shoot from a tight angle and the ball flew into the side-netting.

Liverpool reacted by withdrawing Kuyt into his more accustomed attacking midfield role, with David Ngog invited to play the Fernando Torres role. How neutered Liverpool look without Torres; how agricultural some of their approach play appeared last night, long balls humped forward, without Xabi Alonso to play through.

Yet even a gratifying draw that was greeted joyously by the home supporters could have been so much more for Wolves. After 400 minutes without scoring, the answer to their problems is obvious.