Match Report and player analysis by Robbie Amins at talklfc
Like it or not Milan Baros is Liverpool's No.1 striker at the moment. Despite his obvious flaws like his constant failure to spot team-mates in a better goalscoring position, he is still much-needed in the Reds line-up which was evident in the match against Birmingham. His first ever hat-trick in a Red shirt was enough to give Liverpool all three points and snuff out the irritating threat of Iain Dowie's Crystal Palace who adopted a soak-and-strike strategy.
Before the match, the Palace fans told us on the Robbie Amins Show that Fitz Hall at the back was a consistent performer for them and of course we also talked about alleged Reds target Andrew Johnson. As fate would have it, neither of them were fit enough to play. Not that it made Liverpool's job any easier!
Palace were certainly not around just to make up the numbers and although Liverpool started with some neat and clever passing, the south Londoners set about them with confidence and desire. Ben Watson and then Kolkka threatened in the opening minutes, but Baros began to unhinge young and inexperienced defenders with his pace and movement.
It did not augur well for Palace and after 23 minutes Liverpool took the lead. From a Xabi Alonso pass, Didi Hamann back-heeled the ball to the Czech Republic star's path. Baros took one touch of the ball to push it forward before his legs were whipped away from him by the challenge of Mikele Leigertwood, the striker stroking the penalty into the bottom right-hand corner.
Dougie Freedman had a thankless task up front for Palace, and got nothing from the referee when he went down under a challenge from Sami Hyypia. But the striker's efforts won a throw near the corner two minutes from half-time and from the restart Tony Popovic found Kolkka who somehow managed to 'hide' himself from Josemi. The winger smashed a stupendous shot into the far corner for the equaliser.
But Iain Dowie's team failed to hold on until half-time and Baros struck again. Kolkka brought down Baros but the player who just scored was furious. He claimed that the Liverpool striker had dived and decided to demonstrate exactly how he did it. The ref wasn't at all amused and he was booked to the delight of the home fans. Xabi Alonso's superb delivery found the run of Harry Kewell who squared the ball to Baros for his second. 2-1 at half-time.
Palace though managed to find yet another equaliser and yet again from their left flank. Josemi again failed to track the run of Kolkka and the winger croosed the ball for Michael Hughes to score with a header 7 minutes after the break. Riise went close with a left-foot shot from a free-kick and Baros headed wide as the Reds camped in the visitors' half as they looked for the winning goal.
But they failed to create clearcut chances and even brought on Neil Mellor for a different dimension in their attack. The defining moment came in the dying seconds of the match when Harry Kewell got the ball in the opposition's half. He ran with the ball slowly and steadily before threading a through pass for Baros whose pace took him past Popovic. The defender was judged to had brought him down and another penalty was given. Despite the best efforts of Gabor Kiraly in the Palace goal wasting time to irritate Baros, the Reds striker didn't lose his composure and he converted the penalty. How Liverpool have missed Baros against Birmingham...
Chris wasn't at fault for any of Palace's goals. Despite conceding the goals, he looked safe and secure in the Liverpool goal. His handling was superb. Did very well to take out the sting of Ben Watson's shot from range in the first half before diving instantly to grab the ball. His diving header outside the box in the last few minutes of the match was also important because Dougie Freedman might had been in with a chance there.
Jose Miguel Gonzalez Rey
It was no coincidence that the two goals Liverpool conceded started with moves from Crystal Palace's left flank - Josemi's side. Both times he failed to track the run of Joonas Kolkka who scored the first goal with a screamer and crossed for the second. His recent poor form have got to be a thought for concern if Rafa Benitez persists in starting with the former Malaga man.
Carra unexpectedly got the first goalscoring opportunity for Liverpool but he was under pressure from two Palace defenders and could only get a corner kick. At the back, he was solid and Dougie Freedman never got the better of him.
Sami was cool when under pressure and he was quick to get to his man and head the ball away when the long ball was played into Liverpool's half. In the opposition box, he was a threat with his height and when the ball was cleared outside the box, he wasted no time in charging in with a challenge.
Djimi did better than against Birmingham. The lanky defender combined well with Riise down the left flank and did very well to provide extra width with his overlapping runs. The tricky little Wayne Routledge never made an impact and Djimi has got to take some of the credit for that.
Luis is a frustrating player. At times, he comes up with something sublime like a cheeky backheel for instance and at times, he loses the ball cheaply. He never got going yesterday and was fairly quiet.
Many fans wanted to see the inclusion of the fast-improving Igor...Igor Biscan in place of Didi Hamann but Rafa Benitez decided to stick to the line-up that lost to Birmingham. Palace manager Iain Dowie must have pinpointed his lack of pace to his players because they wasted no time in closing him down whenever he got the ball. But credit to him, he did well on most times to retain possession.
Xabi's passing wasn't as up to scratch as it usually is. But he played well and played some dangerous balls into the box - including the one which resulted into the second Liverpool goal. His freekick went just a yard wide when any contact on the ball from a team-mate and surely it would had hit the back of the net. And did anyone noticed that Milan Baros wasn't taking the corners down the left anymore?
Johnny Riise was fairly quiet in the first few minutes of the match but saw more of the ball as the game went on. His crosses was generally good and his free-kick (just before he went off) swerved agonisingly wide by inches.
One saw the good and the bad of Milan in this match. Most times, he fails to spots team-mates in a better goalscoring position but his team link-up play IS improving. The player who bagged his first Liverpool hat-trick, earned two penalties, converted them with ease and had another penalty claim waved away was a constant thorn to the Palace defence. How Liverpool missed him against Birmingham....
Harry is still far from his best but signs of improvement are there. He didn't give away the ball as much as in previous games - I counted just twice. And he did well not to give up on Xabi Alonso's freekick which looked destined to go out of play. His game fizzled out a bit when he was moved to the left but decent game overall nonetheless.
Most fans would probably agree with me if I say that Rafa should have brought on Steve earlier or even started with him at the right fullback position. As always, he was calm when under pressure and got some decent crosses in when he was playing as a right-midfielder. And he did well after switching to rightback.
The two-goal hero against Boro in midweek, Neil was brought on for a different option upfront for Liverpool but he didn't get more than just a few touches of the ball.
Milan Baros came off to a well-deserved standing ovation near the end of the match but his replacement Flo-Po didn't had enough time to impress. He probably touched the ball only twice or thrice.
Man of the Match: Milan Baros
The returning Milan Baros got his first hattrick in a Liverpool shirt to help the Reds to all three points against a stubborn Crystal Palace. The game looked set for a draw until Baros was judged to be tripped in the box and the man himself converted the penalty at the death. Let's see what they said after the match.....
by Robbie Amins' for talklfc
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez on the match: "When you play with the right attitude you can always win, even if it comes right at the end. They played very well, they were well organised and they pressed us throughout the game. But I felt we controlled the game and kept going right to the end, and that is what got us the victory."
"The players are very, very happy and the supporters too. We fought right until the end and that was important. We knew it would be difficult but I thought we played as we had to. The only thing was that we crossed many balls at the end of the game and didn't get anything. But we had the opportunity. In my opinion the penalties were right and I thought it was just that we won."
Rafa Benitez on hat-trick hero Milan Baros: "He plays very well around and in the box. It's a fantastic day for him. To score three goals is important for all the players. I was pleased for Milan. He kept going right to the end. But we need all our strikers now to help. (Florent) Sinama-Pongolle, (Neil) Mellor and (Harry) Kewell are all needed, not just Baros. With Djibril Cisse injured, it's important to have all our strikers in good condition."
Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie on the match: "Baros was their most outstanding player and he hurt us. I don't want to get embroiled in any debate over whether he goes down too easily, that is for other people to decide. But it was hard to take - a bitter pill to swallow. They hardly had a shot in the second half and we scored two `stand out' goals and frankly conceded three sloppy ones."
"I would contest the free kick that got them the free kick which saw them reclaim the lead just before the break, and I would like to see the penalties on TV. What is frustrating is the way they did us at the end. My players are stunned after that but we must take the positives from games like this. Ben Watson and Wayne Routledge were outstanding for us and it is from games like this that players and teams gain the character, that X-factor, you need to become top class performers in the Premiership."
Liverpool striker Milan Baros on the match: "This victory was not just down to me. Together as a team we played good attacking football and I managed to score the three goals. For that it will be my name in the headlines but I appreciate the work of my team-mates. Without them my hat-trick would not have been possible. But the most important thing is that Liverpool got three points, not that I scored three goals, and we are all happy about that."
Milan Baros on the penalties: "They were definite penalties in my eyes. We had claims for another one but the referee said no. Fortunately it didn't matter in the end. The winning penalty came in the very last minute and he reveals that stepping up in front of the Kop to seal victory was a tense moment. I was very nervous before taking the winning penalty because I knew how important it was for us to win the match after the defeat we suffered against Birmingham last week. Of course, it was also the first time I have scored three goals in a game for Liverpool."