Liverpool Daily Post report

GERARD HOULLIER stood alone last night - as a Premiership manager ready to view the Worthington Cup as more of a help than a hinderance.

With a passage through to the third round of the competition everyone else seems to love to hate having been assured at Boothferry Park eight days ago, Houllier took the opportunity to experiment before next Monday's main attraction and the arrival of Everton at Anfield.

There were 10 changes from the weekend disappointment at Leicester City and five players making home debuts, including the long-awaited appearance of Stephane Henchoz.

And while for a spell plucky Hull City threatened to make their outing everything 4,000 partisan supporters wanted it to be, the exercise can probably be deemed a success for Houllier.

Goals from Danny Murphy, debutant Layton Maxwell and two strikes from Karlheinz Riedle, which may yet prove to be his last for the club, gave the scoreline a respectable glint after the Third Division side offered to induce one or two more of the headaches the Liverpool management team have been experiencing of late.

It may have even been a tougher work-out for what amounted to a shadow Reds XI, but for another headline-dominating referee, this time John Brandwood, whose 35th minute dismissal of Hull goalkeeper Lee Bracey bordered on the ludicrous.

There was no doubting Bracey's momentum in attempting to snuff out the danger of a long ball took him outside of his area, but with Danny Murphy having given Liverpool a flattering lead just two minutes earlier to leave the tie at 6-1, surely a little more compassion could have been shown by the official.

Not only did the dismissal ruin probably one of the biggest night's in Bracey's career, but also that of team-mate Jamie Wood who was sacrificed to allow substitute keeper Matthew Baker to come on.

Hull boss Warren Joyce can be justifiably proud, however, the sending-off did not see his side buckle. Indeed, at the time they should have been holding a lead.

As seems their want these days, Liverpool started half asleep and the visitors could - probably should - have had Houllier and Co shuffling uncomfortably in the dug-out twice inside the first six minutes.

Boyhood Evertonian and former Liverpool nightclub bouncer Gary Brabin was denied by the on-rushing Brad Friedel inside the opening minutes after a free-kick was not cleared properly.

But if that was a good opportunity, then Hull had a gilt-edged chance on six minutes to take a shock lead. John Eyre's raking pass from deep inside his own half found that a change in personnel does not necessarily provide a cure to the gaping holes that appear in the Liverpool rearguard on a far too frequent basis as he sent David Brown bearing down on an exposed Friedel. Unfortunately, for Hull, he dragged his shot wide of the post.

French starlet Djimi Traore can be pleased with his performance in defence, improving as the game wore on and showing a penchant for the kind of vertical distribution that his manager craves from more experienced members of his squad.

But while the elegant youngster remains essentially one for the future, of greater immediate significant was the presence alongside him of Henchoz. His senior debut has become more and more pressing with each and every defensive howler, although it is hard to truly judge the Swiss international on last night's showing.

He looked composed and assured - two qualities admittedly in short supply elsewhere at times already this season - but still a little short on match fitness.

There must be a temptation for Houllier to plunge his summer signing straight into the fray of a derby clash, but bench duty remains more probable.

Eventually, but not before a typical rocket from Phil Thompson, Liverpool began to come to grips with Hull's sheer enthusiasm and work-rate and carve out chances.

Steve Staunton's crossfield pass was headed back by Erik Meijer into Rigobert Song's path, but he was denied by Bracey.

Then the defender went closer towards claiming his first Liverpool goal on 31 minutes when Staunton's quick free-kick saw the African escape the attentions of Gareth Williams and drill a shot which struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced to safety.

A goal looked likely and duly arrived two minutes later. Staunton picked out Murphy in the area and he sent his header back across the goal and moved to the top of the scoring charts in the process.

If that was a blow, then Bracey's dismissal could have left Hull reeling especially as Maxwell ensured his debut was a night to remember with the pick of the goals just a minute after the break.

The 19-year-old Wales Under-21 international had combined plenty of tricks and clever touches with a prodigious work-rate before the interval as his eye-catching displays for the reserves earned him his step up.

The youngster later revealed how he used to share car trips to training with Michael Owen and he showed all the England star's scoring prowess to double Liverpool's advantage.

Cutting in the from the left and ducking past one defender, he curled an excellent shot past Baker's outstretched hand and into the corner of the net in front of the Kop.

But any thoughts that strike would lead to one-way traffic ended as Hull gleaned the rewards their non-stop efforts duly deserved.

David Thompson was adjudged to have handled inside his own penalty area on 51 minutes - perhaps a peace offering of sorts from the official - and John Eyre nonchalently chipped the kick past Brad Friedel.

And with the travelling support still celebrating, Colin Alcide equalised just five minutes later.

Perhaps predictably, Liverpool played a part in their own downfall as Friedel and Traore hesitated over how best to deal with a long goal kick, allowing Alcide to snake out his left leg and hook the ball into an empty net.

"We've only got 10 men," crowed the ecstatic Hull supporters, before German veteran Riedle bagged a brace to ensure Liverpool's blushes were spared.

His first came on 66 minutes when his low drive from just inside the area wrong-footed Baker and that was followed in the final minute with a header after excellent work from Jon Newby, who had joined fellow youngster Frode Kippe in making his debut.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Friedel, Song, Traore, Henchoz (Newby 75), Staunton; Smicer (Kippe 67), Thompson, Murphy (Heggem 45), Maxwell; Meijer, Riedle. Subs: Nielsen, Gerrard.

Hull City (4-4-2): Bracey, Williams, Edwards, Whittle, Harper; Eyre, Brabin, Schofield (D'Auria 78), Wood (Baker 36); Alcide (Harris 67), Brown. Subs: Swales, Morgan.

Referee: John Brandwood (Lichfield).

Sent-off: Bracey (35).

Attendance: 24,318

Match report by Paul Joyce - Copyright  Liverpool Daily Post

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