Liverpool's aspirations of a top three finish in the Premiership suffered a body blow at Anfield today as fellow Champions League challengers Leeds United ran out 2-1 winners in an incident packed Good Friday encounter.
Prior to kick-off a minute’s silence was impeccably observed by the near capacity crowd in memory of the impending 12th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and also the recent tragedy at the Ellis Park stadium in South Africa.
Gerard Houllier selected his strongest line-up for the visit of fourth placed Leeds, but his side looked strangely out of sorts during a subdued opening 45 minutes.
The Reds defence was caught cold as early as the third minute when Leeds took the lead through captain Rio Ferdinand. Ian Harte swung in a corner from the right and Ferdinand, unmarked at the far post, headed past Westerveld from close range.
Liverpool almost hit back immediately with a sweetly stuck free kick from Danny Murphy that was pushed around the post for a corner by Nigel Martyn.
Alan Smith went close to increasing the visitors? lead in the 16th minute with an overhead kick inside the Liverpool box and the home side looked clearly rattled. Too many passes were going astray and Leeds continued in the ascendancy.
Steven Gerrard was harshly booked for a foul on Smith after 25 minutes and shortly after the half hour mark Gerrard gave the ball straight to Dacourt inside the Liverpool half of the field and the otherwise impressive youngster was made to pay dearly.
Dacourt fed Kewell on the left and he proceeded to cut inside the Reds back line before slipping a perfectly timed ball through to Lee Bowyer. The Leeds midfield man beat the offside trap and from close range made it 2-0.
Liverpool's response was to make a double substitution at half time with McAllister and Smicer replacing Murphy and Berger respectively. The injection of fresh legscertainly gave the Reds added impetuous as an attacking force and on 54 minutes the deficit was reduced.
Carragher supplied Owen down the left and his teasing centre was met by the in rushing Gerrard who coolly slid the ball home to register Liverpool’s 100th goal of the season.
As the Reds pressed for an equalising goal the challenges were flying in thick and fast and Gerrard’s joy at scoring was tempered in the 70th minute when he picked up his second yellow card for a foul on Batty and was given his marching orders.
As time ticked by the action flowed from end to end and Mark Viduka, Liverpool’s chief tormentor at Elland Road, almost put the game beyond the Reds’ reach when he struck a post and he later had a goal disallowed for offside.
Despite their best efforts Liverpool could find no way past a Leeds rearguard that was marshalled superbly by the impressive Rio Ferdinand and David O’Leary’s side comfortably held on to their advantage, claiming a first league double over the Reds since 1971/72 and, more importantly, three priceless points in the pursuit of that coveted place in the top three.
Liverpool: Babbel, Berger, Carragher, Fowler (c), Gerrard, Hamann, Henchoz, Hyypia, Murphy, Owen, Westerveld. Subs - Arphexad, Heskey, McAllister, Smicer, Vignal
Leeds United: Batty, Bowyer, Dacourt, Ferdinand (c), Harte, Kewell, Martyn, Matteo, Mills, Smith, Viduka. Subs - Bakke, Keane, Kelly, Robinson, Wilcox
Referee: Alan Wiley - Burntwood
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