Cheyrou heads Reds through
By Ian Whittell
Liverpool produced their most impressive performance for several months in taking their place in the fifth round, Gérard Houllier's promise of getting back to 'basics' paying dividends. However, another of the manager's pre-match observations proved more relevant, namely that any team who field Dietmar Hamann, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Harry Kewell in the starting line-up - as Liverpool did for only the second time - cannot be as bad as their displays in the first half of the season have implied.
The romanticism of the FA Cup is all well and good, let the Scarboroughs and Northampton Towns have their day, but there is nothing to compare to two Premiership heavyweights - even wannabes - squaring up in an early round.
The 'big three' at the top of English football are already all but guaranteed Champions League football next season, the campaign a success of sorts because of it. For Liverpool and Newcastle, however, success in the FA Cup would give their support something to cheer about this season and, therefore, ease the mounting uncertainty surrounding the futures of Houllier and Sir Bobby Robson.
All of which contributed to a highly charged pre-match atmosphere and an opening couple of minutes that managed to intensify that further: two goals, one for each side, that had thoughts darting back to the classic encounters between the clubs in 1996 and 1997 that ended in 4-3 victories for Liverpool.
Seventy-one seconds of frenetic action had elapsed when Gerrard had the presence of mind to thread a pass through. Owen helped it into the path of Emile Heskey, whose effort was blocked by the covering Olivier Bernard. The ricochet broke kindly for Bruno Cheyrou and the Frenchman showed poise to place the ball into the back of the Newcastle goal.
It was an amazing start, and about to become even more so when Hamann fouled Bernard, wide on the left 35 yards from goal, fewer than three minutes later. Laurent Robert, 10 goals to his name in an eventful season, struck his eleventh in stunning fashion, a left-foot shot that sailed directly into the top right of Jerzy Dudek's goal.
It was probably too much to expect the match to continue in such a vein although, while the quality of those two moments was not to be duplicated in the remainder of the half, there was no lessening in intensity or endeavour.
Liverpool's defence were caught napping by a Jermaine Jenas through-ball that played in Kieron Dyer, Sami Hyypia saving the occasion with a fine covering tackle, before Nolberto Solano's right-wing corner was met by Jenas, whose header flew just wide.
In an evenly balanced half, Owen almost made a decisive touch on Gerrard's driven free-kick, Jamie Carragher's curling shot was deflected behind and keeper and defenders were tested by a number of crosses, mostly from the right. It was a highly entertaining duel.
And it continued after the interval, at which point Anthony Le Tallec was brought on for Emile Heskey, ineffective in the first period. It soon became apparent, however, that with Gerrard and Hamann driving from the middle of the pitch, Liverpool were beginning to exert a degree of control upon the tie.
Harry Kewell's free-kick resulted in a tame Hyypia header, easily gathered by Shay Given; Le Tallec, Owen and Hyypia combined to produce an opening for Hamann whose shot skidded wide from the edge of the area; Gerrard broke purposefully down the left only for his cross to prove too deep for the fast-arriving Owen; Steve Finnan shot straight at the keeper and Cheyrou just wide after a concerted run.
It all pointed to a goal, and it duly arrived in the 61st minute, with Cheyrou claiming his fourth goal in as many games. The pass came from Gerrard, probing down the left and crossing into a semi-crowded area from which the Frenchman made magnificent contact with a 15-yard header that rocketed past Given.
There were to be other chances before Graham Poll's final whistle, mostly for the home side, who dominated the second half. Le Tallec possibly wasted the best, a pair of off-target headers, although Finnan was equally culpable when he attacked the near post but hit a defender, rather than either of his unmarked team-mates at the far post.
Alan Shearer came closest to earning United a replay with a header in time added on that was superbly saved by Dudek, but anything other than victory for Liverpool, and Houllier, would have been unjust.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Bruno Cheyrou The Frenchman, like so many Houllier signings, has been slow in establishing himself at Liverpool. However, with bodies away on African Nations Cup duty and Emile Heskey apparently serving his notice at Anfield, Cheyrou finally looked like he could become a Premiership force.
Copyright - The Observer