Steven Gerrard capitalised on a rare mistake by Manchester City's massed defensive ranks to settle an uninspiring encounter between two old rivals whose respective seasons hover precipitously at the moment, the promise of anti-climax and disappointment just a couple more bad results away for both.
This week, City's talk was bold and of competing for a European place after last weekend's victory over Fulham, but a total of one away point all season suggests they should be looking, somewhat more warily, at the other end of the table. For Liverpool, too, while Gerrard's heroics covered their all-too-usual flaws, the fact is they lie far closer to the relegation places than they do Manchester United or Chelsea.
But while there is Gerrard there is always hope for Liverpool, especially now he has claimed his first league goal of the season. The England midfielder capitalised on a mis-hit Joey Barton pass in the 66th minute, which was stolen by Dirk Kuyt and passed to Gerrard who advanced a couple of yards and sent an unstoppable right-foot shot past the dive of Nicky Weaver.
Stuart Pearce's midweek bleating that Joey Barton should be called up for England brought Steve McClaren to Anfield as a spectator, the national team manager presumably also taking the opportunity to spy on his newest cap, Micah Richards, employed by a defensive-minded City in midfield yesterday.
The visitors packed their midfield with five bodies - Bernardo Corradi was their lone striker - and invited Liverpool to break down their ranks, an invitation Rafael Benitez had predicted with the result that Liverpool used three at the back and had Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise marauding down the flanks from the wing-back positions.
Thus the pattern of play was established early on with City doing a decent job of stifling Liverpool even if they seemed unlikely to collect a first away win of the season in the process.
Peter Crouch failed to control the ball in a promising early attack and skied his shot over, Bolo Zenden sent a ferocious left-foot shot curling wide from 25 yards and Gerrard, capitalising on a loose pass from Richard Dunne, did likewise from the same distance after 18 minutes.
But so effective was City's work-rate and commitment to getting men behind the ball that Liverpool began to become careless at the back, leaving the occasional glimmer of an opening for the visitors. Claudio Reyna's well-judged pass sprung Hatem Trabelsi clear in the 20th minute only for the midfielder to shoot poorly, under pressure from the covering Riise and Barton conjured a superb pass to pick out Richards' run beyond the home back line four minutes later. Unfortunately for the visitors, the youngster did not react well in the unfamiliar turf of the opposition penalty area and his poor pass was stabbed well wide by Corradi.
When City did make a rare defensive error, youngster Nedum Onuoha over-committing himself as he reached for a Sami Hyypia through ball and allowing Luis Garcia to skip past him, they found fortune on their side. Garcia advanced into the six-yard box but drilled a hopelessly inaccurate shot into the side netting with only Nicky Weaver to beat.
It was all becoming very frustrating for Garcia whose poor afternoon was beginning to reflect Liverpool's. The object of the ire of his supporters and manager for mis-controlling a number of passes, the Spaniard reacted stupidly in the 40th minute and hacked down Reyna to become the game's first caution.
The hapless Garcia opened the second half with a couple of wildly optimistic shots that were never likely to lead to anything. Before the hour was up, Benitez did the humane thing and brought on Jermaine Pennant as his replacement.
The substitution was followed by the best chance of the game - for City. Ben Thatcher's tidy pass freed Darius Vassell and, after Richards made a hash of an attempted shot, the ball fell to Corradi whose strike, from just outside the penalty area, passed just beyond the right-hand post.
That substitution was followed, soon after, by former City forward Robbie Fowler coming on for Peter Crouch and, within a minute, that substitution had the desired effect with Gerrard opening the scoring.
Man of the match: Steven Gerrard
Liverpool line-up at LFChistory.net
Nicky Weaver, Sylvain Distin, Richard Dunne, Nedum Onuoha (Georgios Samaras), Micah Richards, Ben Thatcher, Hatem Trabelsi (Stephen Ireland), Joey Barton, Claudio Reyna, Bernardo Corradi, Darius Vassell
Man City 2
Man City 6
Man City 2
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