Mellor makes his mark as Liverpool dump holders
Louise Taylor at Anfield
Talk about a chameleon performance. Having lulled Middlesbrough into a false sense of security by spending the first 80 minutes snatching at a series of half-chances and exhibiting a distinctly suspect first touch, Neil Mellor finally morphed into a predator supreme, scoring twice to eliminate the Carling Cup holders.
"It's good for Neil's confidence because he tried so hard to score all night and then finally managed it twice," said Rafael Benítez, Liverpool's manager. "I wanted to leave him on all game because I hoped he'd get a goal."
Both managers had insisted this competition was "extremely important" to them but the teamsheets indicated otherwise. Benítez made nine changes to the side that started against Birmingham on Saturday and Steve McClaren made six to the XI who began against Bolton on Sunday.
Harry Kewell ranked among the Liverpool absentees but, rather than being rested, the Australian has been partially separated from his team-mates while he undergoes an intensive "personal training programme" which Benítez hopes will prompt a much-needed renaissance in his form.
Stewart Downing's recent performances have seen McClaren's left-winger hyped as a candidate for the England squad to face Spain in next week's friendly but he found Steve Finnan, Liverpool's right-back, a tough opponent and exerted minimal impact in a first period which saw him outshone by Stephen Warnock, Benítez's left-winger.
Boudewijn Zenden had been finding the central-midfield going similarly onerous against Igor Biscan and Salif Diao but was left thoroughly frustrated when his 41st-minute shot past Jerzy Dudek was disallowed for offside after he had been played in by Mark Viduka. At that juncture Viduka looked rather more assured in possession than Mellor, the 22-year-old appearing anything but poised.
The impressive Ritchie Partridge, having missed out on a penalty after being tripped by Franck Queudrue, was destined to help win the tie and it was his incisive through-pass which created the on-rushing Mellor's late opener. Having found his range, Anfield's hero for the night then rifled a second shot past Carlo Nash after being set up by Darren Potter's dispossessing of Zenden.
"I'm disappointed," said McClaren. "Too many of my players were below par tonight."
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