Gerrard makes most of slips to leave Charlton on slide

This was abject from Charlton. Last weekend, Les Reed's team conceded five at Tottenham in a fragile display, but this was worse. Liverpool might have the superior personnel, and their clever passing and movement deserved the win, but Charlton had little fight to upset their opponents' rhythm.

Rafael Benitez's men were allowed a stroll so casual that, as the Liverpool manager noted afterwards, until second-half goals from Craig Bellamy and Steven Gerrard, the three points might have slipped away.

'This is the kind of game when, if you create many chances, as we did, but don't score, you might concede. And we did allow them opportunities,' a relaxed Benitez said. 'But it was difficult for them to go behind early, especially when Charlton are at the bottom of the table.'

Reed had the nightmare start. Djimi Traore's high boot took out Jermaine Pennant in the area, referee Howard Webb awarded the penalty and Xabi Alonso did not miss. It was the third minute.

Reed declared himself 'devastated' at the final result, but he said: 'I have to exude the belief we can turn this around.' The need for positive thinking was a recurring theme of his pronouncements afterwards. So, too, was how injury had forced his three substitutions and so hobbled his ability to shape the game.

It seemed a minor, possibly redundant quibble. Andy Reid's withdrawal at half-time might have hurt the cause because the Irish schemer had been involved, but Reed's two other substitutions - Souleymane Diawara and Bryan Hughes, who went on for Luke Young and Amdy Faye - hardly cheated the match of two stand-out performers.

The Senegalese's withdrawal after 57 minutes followed two embarrassing moments all too symbolic of his team's display. First up was the turn from trouble and pass back to Charlton goalkeeper Thomas Myhre from near halfway that went out for a corner. Then came a fumbled control that allowed a Liverpool throw-in. Reed claimed that the central midfielder had been suffering with the virus. Faye, though, appeared to be suffering a group malady that by the afternoon's end had allowed the visiting team to create 20 chances - too many, surely, for an away team.

In the first half, especially, Gerrard and Bellamy linked well, each taking a turn to move beyond the static Charlton defence, and should have had at least a goal apiece before the break.

Pennant, strangely subdued afterwards, might have scored early when his effort was cleared off the line by Traore. But at the turnaround Liverpool's lead was just the single goal. As Reed said: 'They left us a window of opportunity, and 15 minutes from the end we had a good chance to draw.'

This came when Darren Bent took possession close to Jose Manuel Reina but could only steer the ball wide. That was it for the home team as Liverpool cleaned up. Bellamy might have been offside, but his turn and volley was impressive, as was the craftily curled finish of Gerrard two minutes from time.

Having fought relegation with Extremadura in La Liga, Benitez's advice to Reed was to 'stay calm and choose the right games' to pick up points. Next up for Charlton are Middlesbrough, Fulham, Aston Villa and Arsenal over the holiday period.

Reed said that he has set a target of 42 points to avoid relegation. He must hope that at least six will have been added by the turn of the year, otherwise it could be a long time before he enjoys the same experience as Benitez did here and hear his name sung by fans.

Man of the match: Steven Gerrard

The Liverpool captain ran the match and was not reluctant to have a word with a team-mate or make a tackle . His movement was clever, as his positioning for his goal from Peter Crouch's knockdown indicated.

Match Facts

Thomas Myhre, Talal El Karkouri, Hermann Hreidarsson, Djimi Traore, Luke Young (Souleymane Diawara), Amady Faye (Bryan Hughes), Matt Holland, Andy Reid (Darren Ambrose), Darren Bent, D, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Dennis Rommedahl

Jose Manuel Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Mark Gonzalez (Javier Sanz Luis Garcia), Jermaine Pennant (Peter Crouch), John Arne Riise, Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt (Fabio Aurelio)

Referee: Webb, H

Venue: The Valley

Attendance: 27,111

Charlton 2
Liverpool 8

Goal Attempts:
Charlton 7
Liverpool 23

On Target:
Charlton 2
Liverpool 11

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

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