Saturday 21 April 2018

Gerrard masterclass fires hopes of Europa glory and leaves Burnley relegated

Gerrard 52 59, Maxi 74, Babel 90

Jeremy Cross

LIVERPOOL’S desperatioin to secure Champions League qualification accounted for Burnley’s Premier League status at Turf Moor, where two goals from Steven Gerrard helped inspire Rafael Benitez’s side to a comfortable victory that finally put the hosts out of their misery.

Gerrard’s brace, coming in the space of seven second-half minutes, left Burnley dead and buried. Further goals from Maxi Rodriguez – his first for Liverpool – and Ryan Babel merely kicked sand in the faces of home players and supporters alike as their inevitable fate was confirmed.

The writing has been on the wall for far too long at the unfashionable club, even before Owen Coyle departed and Brian Laws succeeded him. They have won just two league games since Halloween but at least the recurring nightmare is now over and preparations can begin for a return to the Championship.

Laws said: “If we are not good enough, we are not good enough. We haven’t done well enough against those teams around us at the bottom end. That’s why we are where we are. That’s a mini-league and we haven’t done well enough in it.

“It’s a horrible feeling. But we should be proud of ourselves because we’ve had a taste of what it’s like and we will bounce back next season. The club have done the right think in making sure the financial structure is in place. This will hurt for a few weeks but we can move on. I’ll be here next season and I’m looking forward to the challenge of bouncing back.

“Now we must finish the season strongly and give the magnificent supporters something to cheer about if possible. I’m proud of them and I’m very proud of the players.

“We all have highs and lows. You can’t have highs all the time and I feel for the club and the fans. It’s been a magnificent journey and great dream, to have little Burnley in the Premier League. But the likes of West Brom have bounced back before and we’ve got to take a leaf out of their book.”

Having overcome this particular hurdle, Liverpool can now focus on Thursday’s Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid at Anfield. But Rafa Benitez might have to do without Dirk Kuyt, who limped out of this game in the second half with a calf strain and will undergo intensive treatment. With Fernando Torres already absent and David Ngog battling a back injury, Benitez can ill-afford to lose the Dutchman as well.

At least Gerrard is showing glimpses of something close to his best form again and Benitez said: “We will have to wait and see with him (Kuyt). They (medical staff) are working with him now. It’s a problem in his calf but we will have to wait and see what happens.

“It was a good performance. The team worked hard because Burnley made things tough for us in the first half. Burnley are fighting and were strong, but we had more time and space in the second half and it made a big difference.

“It’s always good for the team when Stevie scores. He has quality and power and his performance was good for him and the team. It’s important when you don’t have Torres and his goals that Stevie scores them. It’s good for us and hopefully it will be the same on Thursday.

“Scoring four goals away from home and keeping a clean sheet should give us more confidence. I still think we can get three points from each game and finish in the top four. It will be difficult but we will try. Hopefully we can finish the season with a trophy and then next year we can be even stronger.”

Burnley (4-1-4-1): Jensen; Mears, Cort, Duff, Fox; Alexander (Blake, 63); Paterson (Eagles, 71), Elliott, Cork, Nugent (Thompson, 77); Fletcher. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Bikey, Caldwell, Rodriguez.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger (Lucas, 77), Ayala; Mascherano, Aquilani; Maxi, Babel, Gerrard (Pacheco, 82); Kuyt (Benayoun, 48). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Kyrgiakos, Degen, El Zhar.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Burnley Cork, Duff; Liverpool Gerrard.

Man of the match: Gerrard.

Attendance: 21,553.

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