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Liverpool wrest unlikely win in final flourish

Liverpool's hopes of securing a third successive season of Champions League football remain alive after a dramatic finale to what was shaping up to be a disappointing Anfield afternoon against a Charlton team supposedly entering close-season hibernation.

With only four minutes remaining the Londoners, who had travelled north with only one point from their previous six matches, were clinging grimly to a surprise lead snatched by Shaun Bartlett 72 seconds into the second half.

Then up came Sami Hyypia for a John Arne Riise corner which was flicked on by Steven Gerrard and the Finn, back as captain after missing Saturday's Merseyside derby triumph through suspension, raised his arms in a mixture of joy and relief as his instinctive stab proved just too strong to get past goalkeeper Dean Kiely.

An anxious crowd of 42,010 were expressing their thanks for small mercies when in the final seconds of normal time Gerrard burst into the penalty area and skipped between the tackles of Luke Young and John Robinson before lashing a low drive past a startled Kiely into the bottom corner.

Charlton's distraught players, desperate for a crumb of comfort during a miserable end to their campaign, sank to their knees as their opponents and the home supporters celebrated the prospect of overhauling Newcastle for the fourth place in the elite European competition.

Gerard Houllier, Liverpool's manager, admitted his team were fortunate to take all three points but maintained that they had often been unlucky this season not to take the spoils from matches they had dominated.

"This was a test for my nerve and my heart," said Houllier. "The surgeon [who operated on him last season] who was at the game will be pleased."

It was a test for the heart and resolve of everybody connected with Liverpool as the excellent work carried out at Goodison two days previously was so nearly wasted.

Houllier maintained that the mental and physical efforts of a derby match stay in the system longer than normal. "Some of the key players on Saturday were short of inspiration today," he said. He exempted his match-winner, Gerrard, from that sweeping criticism and praised the England international for his energy and inspiration as those around him were floundering.

"Stevie's goal epitomised the spirit of the team," said Houllier. "We went through a difficult period but we never gave up. We kept going to the end."

On a day when Liverpool did most of the basic things wrong the desperate situation they found themselves in was of their own making. Djimi Traore fell over when in possession just outside his own penalty area, allowing Bartlett a clear run at goal and a shot which Jerzy Dudek could only parry into the corner of the net.

Traore lay face down on the turf for a couple of minutes afterwards holding his head as though he was injured. Nobody took it that seriously, though.

Charlton, whose manager, Alan Curbishley, was happy at the vast improvement on recent performances, looked in little trouble after that as Kiely was required only to deal with a long-range Gerrard drive, before being beaten twice in those pulsating last five minutes.

Even after Hyypia's fortunate equaliser Liverpool still lived dangerously. Jason Euell, a lively late substitute, had a shot deflected narrowly wide and then saw Dudek produce a magnificent save to a sharp header from a Claus Jensen corner.

Liverpool's frustrations before that were typified by Danny Murphy's reaction to being substituted after an uncharacteristically lethargic display. The England midfielder clearly disapproved of comments by Phil Thompson, Liverpool's assistant manager, as he left the field and hurled a plastic drinks bottle at his tormentor.

Murphy apologised afterwards and Houllier has already dismissed it as an understandable show of emotion. "You need character like that," Houllier said. "It is no use behaving like sheep."

Team details

Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Riise, Diouf (Cheyrou 74), Hamann, Gerrard, Murphy (Smicer 74), Heskey (Baros 45), Owen.
Subs Not Used: Arphexad, Diao.
Goals: Hyypia 86, Gerrard 90.

Charlton: Kiely, Young, Rufus, Fortune, Powell, Kishishev, Jensen, Parker (Robinson 83), Konchesky, Bartlett (Euell 77), Lisbie (Johansson 90).
Subs Not Used: Roberts, Bart-Williams.
Booked: Fortune.
Goals: Bartlett 47.

Att: 42,010
Ref: S Dunn (Avon).

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited

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