Late Kuyt header takes Europe off Reading's radar

Three victories, nine goals, a place in the Champions League semi-finals there for the taking and a top-four Premiership spot now virtually assured. Even for a club like Liverpool who demand success, the past eight days have provided particularly rich pickings.
They were not that convincing winners here, though, allowing Reading to come back strongly in the second half for what looked like a point until Dirk Kuyt's late winner. But when it mattered most, they just had the edge - and there could be no argument about the way Rafael Benitez swopped things around to telling effect when the tide was turning against them.

It was no coincidence that Kuyt and Jermaine Pennant fashioned the decider after coming off the bench. Craig Bellamy was less than happy when forced to make way for the Dutch striker, but Benitez insisted: 'A manager has to make this sort of decision. We needed fresh legs and a different type of movement.

'It was difficult for us against a side who pressed and worked hard. We had chances to kill the game on the counter in the first half, but could not make the final pass count.'

Despite a commendable first season for Reading in the top flight, Steve Coppell has always insisted that a place in Europe 'is not on the radar'. This result means the manager is unlikely to be pressed on the subject again.

His side have picked up one point from their last five matches. Keeping hold of a place in the top half of the table would now seem to be the target.

'I thought we deserved a point,' said Coppell. 'To lose the way we did was hard to take. We were a bit naive. We don't draw too often and maybe have to try to be a bit more circumspect, instead of over-committing when trying to win the game.'

High spots of a largely mundane match were two sweet strikes by defenders, the first by Alvaro Arbeloa, Liverpool's £2.6m signing from Deportivo la Coruna in the January transfer window. Peter Crouch, in the inside-left channel, sent the overlapping full-back clear of the defence with a cute pass and Arbeloa's cool finish into the far corner opened his account for the side.

That should have been the signal for Liverpool to press their superiority. Instead, Coppell's side held on, regrouped at the interval and levelled while their manager was still in the dressing room.

Brynjar Gunnarsson chested down a lofted angled pass from Stephen Hunt and whipped the ball across Jose Reina, the ball going in off the far upright.

Kuyt was soon involved, skipping past two challenges and forcing Marcus Hahnemann to leave his line with some urgency to close him down. But Liverpool were fortunate when Crouch displayed his aerial prowess - at the wrong end. He made contact with John Oster's free-kick, was grateful to see the ball rebound from his own crossbar and was taken off not long after.

With Reading taking on a new lease of life and looking the more likely to go on and win it, there was no margin of error for Reina as he went down to collect Dave Kitson's cross as Kevin Doyle awaited any slip.

But the Royals had some defending to do when Hahnemann conceded a free-kick for handling outside the penalty area and received a booking. Steven Gerrard floated the ball to the far post where Hunt, an industrious figure at both ends of the pitch, headed clear.

The reprieve was shortlived as Pennant crossed to the far post where Kuyt made the most of some indifferent marking to score easily with a header.

'There was real potential on their bench to change things,' said Coppell. 'That's the difference between a lot of sides and the big boys.'

Match Facts
Saturday April 07, 2007
FT Reading 1-2 Liverpool
15' 0-1 Arbeloa
47' Gunnarsson 1-1
68' Sissoko
73' Kitson
76' Hahnemann
86' 1-2 Kuyt
Marcus Hahnemann, Michael Duberry (Andre Bikey), Ivar Ingimarsson, Nicky Shorey, Brynjar Gunnarsson, James Harper, Stephen Hunt, John Oster (Leroy Lita), Steven Sidwell, Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson

Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia, Steven Gerrard, Mark Gonzalez (John Arne Riise), Javier Mascherano, Mohamed Sissoko, Craig Bellamy (Dirk Kuyt), Peter Crouch (Jermaine Pennant)

Referee: Walton, P

Venue: Madejski Stadium

Attendance: 24,121

Reading 7
Liverpool 6

Goal Attempts:
Reading 9
Liverpool 4

On Target:
Reading 4
Liverpool 3

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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