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Liverpool win 4-2 on aggregate

Despite a lacklustre start, Liverpool eased through to the third round of this competition, though they will no doubt hope their next opponents are as accommodating as this Slovan Liberec side. It was the Reds who started the more comfortable - Robbie Fowler's outrageous lob nearly catching out Hauzr with only two minutes on the clock.

However, the home side signalled their intentions after only six minutes, with the Argentinean Lazarro - so often a danger at Anfield - shooting just wide of the post.

Two minutes later, they were in front. A great left-footed cross from Janu was met perfectly by Stajner, whose header left Sander Westerveld an onlooker, as the ball fell into the Liverpool net via the inside of the post. Needless to say, it was not the start Gerard Houllier had wished for. More worryingly perhaps - given Saturday's defensive frailties - was Christian Ziege's questionable positioning for the goal. Hardly convincing.

To their credit, Liverpool picked themselves up - building patiently from the back. With his back to goal, the tireless Emile Heskey fired his long -range effort past the post on 19 minutes. Shortly afterwards, Steven Gerrard shot just over the bar as the Reds grew ever closer to the equaliser. It duly arrived on 31 minutes, as Christian Ziege's precise free-kick was met by the head of Nick Barmby, whose glancing header found the net to bring the Reds level.

Indeed, Ziege's deadliness at set piece situations has never been doubted, though serious questions have been asked lately of his defensive abilities. To make matters worse, he was booked two minutes later for a clumsy tackle on Lazarro. Liverpool finished the half the stronger team, though Gerrard Houllier would no doubt have prepared a rather rousing half-time teamtalk.

The second period began much as the first - with Liverpool attacking from the  off - an Emile Heskey shot forcing a save and winning a corner in the 46th minute. Vladimir Smicer - performing in front of an admiring Czech audience - was booked on 50 minutes for a two-footed challenge on Lazarro, though there was no malicious intent.

Gerrard Houllier then made two substitutions in eight minutes - with Danny Murphy replacing Jamie Carragher and Gary McAllister replacing Robbie Fowler, as Steven Gerrard switched to right back and Sami Hyppia took the captain's armband from Robbie Fowler.

The Reds pressed - still looking to win the game on the night - with Smicer and Murphy both going close. The second goal came with fifteen minutes to go, as a cross from the outside of Vladimir Smicer's boot was met first time by Emile Heskey, whose flicked shot was almost saved by Hauzr, but the ball bounced into the corner of the net to give Liverpool the lead. That was that then. Or so we thought.

Enter Michael Owen who came on as substitute for Dietmar Hamann on 81 minutes. With his first touch, he swivelled and placed his shot past the keeper, with the help of a slight deflection. It was a hugely important impact and so typical of the youngster who has been sorely missed - especially at Elland Road last weekend. Ironically, Liberec did score a second through substitute Breda - also scoring with his first touch. His neat finish past Westerveld gave the scoreline some credibility from a Czech point of view - with Slovan giving an admirable account of themselves.

However, it was the Reds who went through to the third round where they are likely to face much stronger opposition. Should they meet the likes of Barcelona, it could be a totally different experience, but then again, that is another game altogether.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo


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