Eagles take-off as reds rue misses

A succession of glaring misses saw Liverpool fail to capitalise in a Worthington Cup semi-final first leg that was there for the taking.

Where the Reds stalled, the Eagles landed, with two second half sucker punches, which despite Smicer's reply, sees the First Division club go into the Anfield return with a one goal advantage.

With Gerard Houllier declaring victory against Palace 'as important as beating Roma next month', the Reds will be calling on all their experience of two-legged cup-ties this season if they are to lift their first piece of silverware in almost six years.

Having won eight and drawn two of the ten cup ties played this season, tonight's defeat - without taking anything away from the Eagles' valiant efforts - was more a result of missed chances by the Reds than anything else. Underlining their flailing efforts in front of goal, the post-match statistics read 18 attempts with 10 on target.

First it was Owen who scuffed a half chance on 2 minutes, but at such an early stage you could forgive his lapse of concentration. His next miss was bluntly unforgivable. After good work by Heskey to find Owen with a cut-back from the byline, the crop-haired striker had nowhere to hide as he lifted his shot high over the bar from 8 yards out.

With Liverpool in control, and Heskey chasing everything in the opening 20 minutes, it seemed just a matter of time before Owen's sitter would be forgotten. But when Heskey fired over Kolinko's goal on 21 minutes, after Gerrard had sent him clear with a perfectly weighted ball from midfield, you got the feeling it was going to be one of those nights. And it was as Heskey's election for power over precision proved to be the turning point in the game.

As Palace rode the storm of Liverpool pressure in the first 20 minutes, the home side grew in stature as the pendulum swung in their favour towards half-time.

With good work down the Palace right as the Londoner's applied the pressure, the battle of the Jamie's saw Palace's Smith give Liverpool's Carragher a torrid time as the Eagles settled into a rhythm which caught the Reds on the back foot.

But despite star striker, Clinton Morrison forcing a good save from Westerveld, to produce a succession of corners from which Austin eventually headed just wide, both sides went in level at the interval - but a buoyed up home side ended the stronger of the two.

With Gerard Houllier conceding after the game: "We should have sealed it in the first half, but we made one mistake at the back that cost us the first goal", Owen and Barmby would both squander chances again before Palace broke the deadlock.

As Kolinko narrowed the angle after a defensive slip saw Owen clear on goal, the striker was unlucky to see his effort rebound away of the keepers' chin. Barmby however, could not demand such grace as after good work by Biscan sent him through on the right, the former Everton man's cross-cum shot had even the Palace fans baffled.

And on 55 minutes the Reds woeful shooting was finally punished as Henchoz failed to control a routine clearance from the Palace defence. Slipping on the ball to send it spinning to Forssell, the on-loan striker from Chelsea, simply spread it wide for Rubins to poke the ball forward before releasing an absolute gem of a goal with his left foot. From 20 yards out, the pace and power on the shot was too much for Westerveld and Palace went 1-0 up.

As the home side sought to double their lead, Houllier introduced Jari Litmanen and Smicer for Owen and Murphy, but rather than add the impetus needed, the debutante endured a comedy of errors before stamping his mark on the game. Shortly after his entr饬 Litmanen failed to control an inside ball from Biscan but fortunately it ran to Barmby. But in front of goal, Barmby's indecision saw Kolinko close him down. As the ball ran free to Litmanen on the edge of the box, the Finnish star, with the keeper grounded, showed all the rustiness of a man who has not played competitive football for over eight months as he simply took too long to despatch an effort before he was dispossessed by a shroud of Palace players.

Biscan was the next offender to get in a tangle after a good ball from Litmanen found Carragher to cross to the Croatian - but once again, a Liverpool attempt went begging.

With Palace not believing their luck - or Liverpool's lack of it - star striker Clinton Morrison looked to have sealed the tie with his 16th of the season on 76 minutes. After good work from Harrison to Forssell, the Finnish hitman showed the deftest of touches to knock down for Morrison to finish.

But in doing what they had failed to all night, Liverpool replied instantly to salvage something from the game. As Gerrard found Litmanen in space in the centre, the former Barcelona man crossed low for Smicer to pass the ball into the net. Simple but so, so effective in giving the Reds a vital away goal to take back to Anfield.

After a 1-1 draw in this competition in 1992, Crystal Palace beat Liverpool 2-1 in the second leg to send the Reds crashing out in the 4th Round. At least this time round, Liverpool have the luxury of a return at Anfield to try and pull things back and re-open the route to Cardiff. But as Palace have already knocked out both of last year's finalists as well as Sunderland on the way to the semi's, Liverpool will have to put in some target practice in the next fortnight if Gerard Houllier is to lift his first trophy at Anfield on February 25th

Copyright - Liverpool Daily Post

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