Liverpool 4 Reading 3: A Cup Classic
Well, not really. But the Rick Wakeman look-a-likey in front of me was left eating his words, after saying ‘I hope this goes to extra time, just so I get me money’s worth’ after 40 minutes.
Robbie Fowler, who had struggled to get into the game, after always seeming to be 10 yards away from any Peter Crouch flick, scored a goal that was reminiscent of the one he scored against Fulham last season. In terms of significance, that is. Although a lack of consistency in front of goal can hardly be described as a barren run, it was still a welcome relief.
If Rick Wakeman – your typical mini-Rafa – in front wasn’t enough, beside me was a child more fidgety than Benitez himself and, from my seat in the Paddock, I can confirm the first sighting of the Spaniard came after a whopping 10 minutes. Surely that is some sort of record?
Without Gerrard on the field, there was a lack of drive from midfield and Jermaine Pennant was being marked out of the game by De La Cruz – described as ‘the bomb’ by Villa fans, on account of the fact ‘he could go off any minute'. But his thuggish, tough-tackling nature seemed to work a treat in the early stages as Pennant avoided the right-wing like the plague.
A quiet opening twenty minutes, in which Reading probably narrowed, in terms of looking the more dangerous, the lack of impetus from the centre of the park, which we were crying out for finally came courtesy of Sissoko who fired a shot into the mid-drift of the ‘keeper. Better.
Bolo Zenden was extremely frustrating in the middle of the park, but in fairness, was one of the few that actually had a go and with his two efforts from outside the box, kept the Reading ‘keeper awake.
As half-time approached, Jermaine Pennant took some initiative finally and made a diagonal run towards the box, slipping in Robbie Fowler. Unfortunately, at the time, that was all I saw, as a stampede of lads made their way out for a bite to eat, succeeding in standing on my in-growing toe-nail (don’t laugh) and making me miss a goal. Having just seen the highlights, I can commend Fowler’s intuition, like the people around me did at the time. Ho hum. Incidentally, we can’t take anything away from Daniel Agger who, in the build up, laid a beautiful pass into Lee Peltier’s feet.
Two minutes later and Jermaine Pennant again made a darting run across field. Robbie Fowler took over and laid the ball into Riise. The Norwegian unleashed a stinging shot into the palms of their ‘keeper, Graeme Stack who, after changing his gloves ten minutes earlier, will have hoped to have done better. The rebound fell to the ginger winger who made no mistakes the second time.
I don’t know if I am alone on this, but somebody with Riise’s shooting ability shouldn’t be wasted at full-back and if we can find him in situations where he can use his wonderful left-peg more often, then we should try to.
Half-time, 2-0 Liverpool: a lead we probably didn’t warrant, but the clinical finishing in the few opportunities we did have was great. Also, my tongue-in-cheek prediction of 6-0 to my brother was still very much on.
Pennant went from having a very quiet game to producing crucial service that led to both our goals. Daniel Agger was probably our best performer, despite not being under very much pressure. Gabby Paletta wasn’t in the game much, but looked assured in possession. Lee Peltier looks to have come from the Jamie Carragher school of defending, which is brilliant and he was brave enough to soldier on after drawing blood from a whack in the face. Warnock had a few shaky moments, which meant Riise had to cover him more often than he’d have liked. Sissoko was his usual self, Zenden was quite frustrating and the front two worked well individually but not together.
Second half came and no changes, perhaps rather surprisingly from Coppell, whose side weren’t creating much and the trend continued in the first twenty minutes of the second half, as Liverpool set up camp in Reading’s half.
Corner after corner were whipped in – and with so many, the inevitable fannying around occurred, as Pennant and Riise both looked to find better angles. Nothing much came of them, until Paletta got away from his marker and headed a wonderfully flighted ball from Pennant into the back of the net on his debut, in front of The Kop. A very reassuring performance from Paletta capped off with a deft header. Both he and Agger looked eager to get on the end of set-pieces and their runs caused havoc for Reading’s defence.
Another goal from a corner – my eyes were surely deceiving me, although it is no surprise that all three we have scored in the past 10 days have been delivered by new boys: Aurelio, Bellamy and Pennant.
All in all, it seemed to be the comfortable display everyone was hoping for. A ‘confidence performance’ that was definitely required and Benitez was confident enough to throw another youngster, Danny Guthrie on in place of Mohamed Sissoko, who had a solid performance, as ever.
I am admittedly not a follower of Liverpool’s second string (is that politically correct?!), so I couldn’t distinguish which was Danny Guthrie and which was James Smith from those warming up. For future reference, Danny Guthrie is the one who looks the spit of Steve Finnan! Perhaps I should have gone to Specsavers, but good God, he even runs like the Irishman.
With 15 minutes remaining Peltier went off. It was a very good performance from the full-back: solid, hard-working and supported Pennant well. On in his place came another Academy-graduate Smith, and with all due respect, Stephen Hunt, Reading’s left-winger suddenly got into the match. Hunt – who looks like he’s just walked in from the 1970s – was hacked down by Paletta, covering for his full-back. And whilst this is an area the Argentinean needs to cut out of his game, I must admit, I did grin like a Cheshire cat at his no-nonsense approach. The smile was soon wiped of my face though as the resulting free-kick led to a goal from the visitors. Andre Bikey headed in, coming in behind Riise, who shouldn’t really have been marking the back-post area, surely?
The Reading fans were buoyed by the goal, but the sound of ‘You’re not singing anymore!’ soon rang around Anfield as Fowler and Crouch combined, which they had done more frequently in the second forty-five, to great effect. Fowler slipped the ball in between the channel to Crouch, who one-on-one with the ‘keeper, could have knocked the ball back into the feet of Fowler, who had made the run, but instead took it around Graham Stack, who was completely useless throughout if truth be known, and passed the ball into the empty net. 4-1 Liverpool and it looked like game over.
Dirk Kuyt soon came on into the fray and people’s predictions of Fowler or Crouch were shot down, to the sight of number 6 appear on the electronic board. Kuyt ran over to play on the left of midfield in place of the departing Riise, but covered as much ground as anybody else throughout the entire match, in the 10 minutes or so he was on.
Reading, and you have to give them credit, never gave up and a couple of minutes later, Shane Long’s shot was deflected up into the air and the Liverpool defence failed to deal with it, as Little took over and ran unopposed into dangerous territory before slipping the ball into Lita, who finished well. It was 4-2 and the game was becoming reminiscent to the match against Galatasaray – a determined side with lots of attacking mentality they may have been, but they still got the breaks from sloppy defending from those in Red.
Benitez was once again off his seat, shouting instructions to his players. Zenden, for about the fourth time in the match, tried to play a ball to the right hand side at head height and, again, for the fourth time, Pennant failed to control it. Frustration was evident but, Jermaine, leave the moaning to us fans, please. Some of us have got years of experience, so you’re leaving the mantle in safe hands.
Two attacking sides were now both throwing caution to the wind: Reading were trying to get back into the game and Liverpool attempting to give the scoreline that emphatic feel it had had on two occasions. Without Sissoko, however, we didn’t have the grip on the game we once had and Reading came forward in force once again. Liverpool’s right-hand side identified as the weak-spot as tired legs prevented Pennant getting back to help the inexperienced Smith. Liverpool failed to fully clear a corner and Glen Little found himself in space. He dinked the ball into the far post and there were blue-and-white shirts queuing up to put it in the back of the net. Shane Long did and suddenly the impossible was on.
Fortunately for Liverpool, Reading seemed to run out of ideas, and had Dirk Kuyt’s dipping shot from 20 yards out been a few inches lower and found the net rather than the crossbar, the four minutes of stoppage time could have been spent with fingernails in tact. Liverpool's biggest threat seemed to be Pepe Reina, who must have been watching videos of David James' handling of corners during his spell here. He opted to punch the ball on two occasions and both times, Liverpool could have been punished.
The final whistle came as a relief: Liverpool have merely papered over the cracks, but take nothing away from Steve Coppell’s men – who were determined and dogged. The league fixture will certainly be no walkover, but the two respective teams will probably look rather different.
Four goals, successful debuts to stars of the future, particularly Paletta and Peltier at the back and into the next round of the competition.
All in all, a good night, although my poor luck on the Walton Breck Road continued – after having pigeon excrement splat on me throughout the past two years not once, not twice, but three times - I stood in a puddle that went up to my shin. Oh how we laughed.
Man of the match: Robbie Fowler. Gives Rafa a headache over whether he should play more often. Certainly knows where the goal is. Narrow second is Pennant, who played a part in three of the goals tonight and, particularly in the second half, got down to the by-line and delivered great service into the box.
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