01 November 2007

Fowler's return ruined by Gerrard

yo Gerrard... wanna join me in Cardiff? You get to play anywhere you want and also be our manager?....

Liverpool 2 Cardiff City 1 (Carling Cup... so don't get too excited laaa)


Steven Gerrard continued his spectacular return to form with a goal that dealt plucky Cardiff and returning Liverpool hero Robbie Fowler the cruellest of blows at Anfield.
The script was supposed to be written for the homecoming hero Robbie Fowler, but no one upstages Gerrard on his current form.
Former Liverpool favourite Fowler received a reception befitting his status as one of the Kop's greatest idols and even showed glimpses of his old sharpness as Cardiff, languishing in 17th place in the Championship, briefly threatened an upset.
But Anfield is Gerrard's stage now, and he is striding it with increasing authority after emerging from a rare lean spell earlier in the season and adding goals to his other irresistible qualities.
The dream scenario of Fowler popping up with a late winner on his return to Merseyside had looked increasingly feasible after visiting skipper Darren Purse answered Nabil El Zhar's 48th-minute breakthrough with a powerful 65th-minute headed equaliser in front of 5,600 rapturous travelling fans.
Their elation was shortlived, though, as Gerrard hit back with his third goal in as many games less than 60 seconds later.
It may not have been one of the long-range blockbusters that seem to be his stock-in trade, but few have been better crafted than the one that sealed Liverpool's place in the quarter-finals.
Releasing substitute Yossi Benayoun with an instinctive pass deep inside his own half, he saw the Israel midfielder set off on a surging run that took him past one defender after another.
Typically for Gerrard, the view was from close quarters as he kept pace with Benayoun and arrived on the edge of the area just in time to fire his cut-back past keeper Michael Oakes.
It was a goal fit to win any cup-tie, yet Gerrard might not have been playing, but for injuries and illness.
"In an ideal world, he would have been rested or at least on the bench," said manager Rafa Benitez, who embraced Fowler in the centre circle at the end. "Normally, in this kind of game, you keep players safe, but we had little option, because Momo Sissoko is still sick and others are carrying injuries.
"I looked through the list and decided Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, with their experience and current form, should play. People talk about our team selections in this competition, but that showed we wanted to win.
"It was important to see Harry Kewell back as a second-half substitute, and I was pleased with the pairing of Peter Crouch and Ryan Babel up front. It was a great goal in front of the Kop by El Zhar as well, and things look positive for him.
"I spoke to Robbie at the end and wished him all the best. He has great memories of this place and gave us so much, and I just wanted to wish him good luck."
Benitez may have unearthed another gem in 21-year old El Zhar, judging by the former St Etienne midfielder's willingness down the right flank and eye for goal that broke Cardiff's resistance.
There seemed little on when Gerrard rolled the ball into his path 30 yards out, but he set his sights for a moment before unleashing an unstoppable drive into the top corner.
That should have been enough to silence a spirited start by Cardiff, in which Fowler forced a flying save from Charles Itandje from a curling 20-yard free-kick, but the tie was back in the balance when Purse planted a header past the Liverpool keeper from Paul Parry's inswinging free-kick.
Within seconds, Gerrard's pace and power crushed all former Everton defender and current Cardiff manager Dave Jones' dreams, and he looked crestfallen as he reflected on his side's near-miss.
"We should at least take some confidence into our League campaign after a performance like that, but half of you will never know just how much it hurts me to come here and lose," he said.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Itandje 7; Arbeloa 6, Hobbs 7, Carragher 7, Aurelio 7; El Zhar 7 (Kewell 71min, 6), Gerrard 8, Lucas 6 (Mascherano 87), Leto 5 (Benayoun 63, 6); Crouch 7, Babel 5. Booked: Lucas, Babel.

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