Gerrard double lifts rusty Reds

Dominic Fifield at the Racecourse Ground

Liverpool's display may have been caked in rust but their progress remains smooth enough. Spirited opponents in Total Network Solutions were eased aside last night amid plenty of pre-season huff and puff and a flattering late flurry of goals. For now, the polish can wait.

All in all this was not a bad day's work for Rafael Benítez. With Peter Crouch back in Merseyside waiting to undergo a medical prior to completing a £7m transfer from Southampton, Liverpool will be even more content with the second qualifying-round tie with FBK Kaunas to come next week. Crouch, at 6ft 7in, will be absent for the next round but will eventually add more than mere presence to the European champions' front line.

"When a team loses 11 games away from home in the Premiership you need to change things," said Benítez. "He's another kind of player. He can keep the ball and is good in the air and gives us more possibilities."

The England forward would surely have prospered from the supply-line flung consistently into the six-yard box here, with the visitors thwarted so often by TNS's excellent goalkeeper Gerard Doherty. The tie may have long been decided, Djibril Cissé's first-half goal deflating even the most optimistic local of Llansantffraid, but the Northern Irishman's display was magnificent throughout. "He was the best player in the two games," said Benítez.

That may seem surprising given that Steven Gerrard emerged from the bench late on first to pummel a goal from distance, then slide in a second after a leggy run from midfield, within the space of a minute. The Liverpool captain scored five of his side's six goals over the two legs and, on this form, could boast double figures even before the Premiership season kicks off.

The holders needed Gerrard's late burst of energy to add bite to their slog. They will be without Harry Kewell for up to six weeks after an operation on a hernia yesterday but it was their lack of quality in front of goal which was troubling here. Cissé might have scored earlier before Boudewijn Zenden's cross eluded Chris King for the Frenchman to collect, cut back inside and place his shot into the corner.

Thereafter profligacy set in with Phil Baker scrambling Anthony Le Tallec's attempt from the line and Jamie Car ragher denied a first goal in seven years by a point-blank save from Doherty. Jamie Wood tripped Darren Potter in the confusion which followed, only for Dietmar Hamann's weak penalty to be suffocated by the goalkeeper.

They might have paid for that miss had Beck not battered against a post and Marc Lloyd-Williams seen a goal ruled out for offside before Gerrard added late gloss.

Copyright - The Guardian

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