Two-goal Heskey writes off Spartak
Life among Europe's elite will seem rosier for Liverpool and Gérard Houllier this morning.
Spartak Moscow may have been weak to the point of humiliation here last night but this was still a statement of intent rammed home by late goals from Salif Diao and Emile Heskey - his second of the night.
Where once Liverpool's European challenge appeared to be stuttering, it is clearly alive and well again after the exorcism of the memory of last week's profligacy against the Swiss champions Basel.
On that occasion the visitors' goal had been peppered to the tune of 33 attempts with their defence breached, ridiculously, only once. But the Swiss, and particularly their goalkeeper, had defended heroically; Moscow, faced by a similar barrage, merely capitulated.
Liverpool had never previously scored against Russian opponents, let alone prevailed, but they had surely never been confronted by such feeble resistance as that offered by Oleg Romantsev's side.
Spartak were a shambles, their miserable excuse at defence torn to shreds from the start. Houllier's side, vibrant and overwhelming, ran riot.
The attacking intent was obvious from the start when the Brazilian Moises, sprawled on the goal-line, somehow blocked Steven Gerrard's hammered attempt from John-Arne Riise's cross.
The miss mattered little, with the Norwegian's floated diagonal cross bypassing dithering defenders seconds later for Heskey and Michael Owen to chase.
The strikers appeared to cramp each other's style before the more muscular prevailed, Heskey waiting for the goalkeeper, Stanislav Cherchesov, to commit before placing his second goal of the season.
That concession was all it took for Russian heads to drop effectively for good. Moises denied Owen at the last, while Gerrard's vicious volley was deflected behind, but a second goal was only ever a simple pass away.
Heskey dispossessed the ponderous Dmitry Khlestov, with Owen finding Murphy who slid in Bruno Cheyrou. The Frenchman kept his nerve to guide in his first competitive goal for the club.
The gulf in class was embarrassing. Moscow had not won a game in this competition in 13 attempts, their last success being a 4-1 drubbing of Arsenal two years ago, and it showed. Their domestic form has been so sluggish that they had not celebrated a win of any kind since mid-August. Third in the Russian league, they will relinquish their title for the first time since 1995.
On this evidence, it may take them some time to return to the Champions League.
When they caught their breath, the visitors were occasionally cute amid the midfield clutter, with Dmitri Kudryashov dancing through dizzy opponents only to have a shot deflected wide. But while their defending was so abysmal any attacking bite hardly mattered.
Owen teased and tormented Khlestov and Igor Mitreski before lifting a shot over the goalkeeper only for the effort to rebound off the post and back into Cherchesov's hands.
Heskey and Cheyrou both had headers from Gerrard centres saved while, when the England midfielder kept the ball to himself - his mesmeric feet leaving the Russians dazed and confused - he attracted illegal challenges like a magnet. True to depressing form, Moises chopped Gerrard down and Danny Murphy, outstanding yet again, spun a free-kick into the six-yard box. Up leaped Sami Hyypia above grounded, wide-eyed defenders, to nod in his first goal of the campaign and Liverpool's third of the evening.
That effectively rendered the contest won and lost, though Heskey's lay-off and Gerrard's shot wide 35 seconds after the resumption suggested Liverpool's appetite was yet to be satisfied. The visitors roused themselves thereafter at least to attempt to suffocate midfield, though invariably even that involved resorting to desperate hacks to halt the home tide. Baye Kebe's crunching tackle on Gerrard prompted a third Spartak booking for fouls on the midfielder - Cheyrou and Heskey were also floored illegally - and virtually every free-kick threatened further reward. In the 81st minute Owen and Heskey combined for the substitute Salif Diao to amble forward, leap above Igor Mitreski and add a fourth. Then Heskey scored his own second from Owen's pass with two minutes to go.
Liverpool (4-1-2-1-2): Dudek; Carragher, Hyypia, Henchoz (Traoré, 67), Riise; Hamann; Gerrard (Diao, 76), Murphy; Cheyrou (Diouf, 83); Heskey, Owen.
Spartak Moscow (4-4-2): Cherchesov; Mitreski, Moises, Kovtun (Abramidze, 63), Khlestov (Bezrodny, 24); Beschastnykh, Kalynychenko, Kudryashov (Da Silva, 49), Kebe; Pavlenko, Danishevskiy.
Referee: A Hamer (Luxembourg).
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