Derby County 1
Torres 12, Gerrard 90
I’m sure most of you will have enjoyed Christmas but in truth how many of you were glad to see Boxing Day and the footy! It’s only one day but sometimes it feels like a lifetime! Still, all was not lost having after taking the best part of fifteen minutes to convert my son’s toy car into a robot in the morning I’ve now got it down to fifteen seconds! Not something for the CV but the day had been worthwhile!
The biggest “transformer” of them all made five changes for this game. In: Finnan, Voronin, Alonso, Babel, Aurelio. Out: Arbeloa, Benayoun, Kuyt, Kewell and Mascherano. Five changes but still enough to win the game in what should have been a relatively easy, straightforward start to the holiday campaign. Derby’s form has been abject and, despite showing signs of renewal against Newcastle last weekend, they should not have presented us with any problems?
Things went badly for Derby even before the game had started losing their keeper in the warm up. However they had the first meaningful chance. Kenny Miller, after Reina’s misjudgment, opted to squeeze the ball in from an impossible angle when it would have been better to cross? Unexpected stuff but the so called “natural order” was soon to be restored.
Torres received the ball from Babel on the right in a position most would say was of no real danger. However, this is Fernando Torres and within seconds we were 1-0 up. He surged passed a befuddled Moore nutmeging him in the process, slalomed between two more Derby defenders before lifting it past the keeper’s outstretched hand into the corner. Pure class, who needs players around you when you can create goals from nothing like that?
How many thought that this would be the prelude to comfortable win? Further North The Mancs were dismantling Sunderland to the extent that they were 3-0 up before half time. However, there was to be no such thoroughness here. True we had plenty of chances and dominated the game, but we could not the kill Derby off. In the first half Babel went close with a volley whilst Riise and Torres were unlucky both being denied by last ditch tackles. Carragher, of all people, also had a good opportunity from a Gerrard corner but finished like a centre half! Derby were giving us far to much space and in all honesty we should have been away from them by half time leaving Rafa to think about resting players for the Manchester City game. However, at 1-0 we had given Paul Jewell something to hang his half time speech on.
In the second half Derby, spurred on by the home crowd’s decidedly “original” repertoire of anti Scouse songs from the eighties (does anyone still “look in a dustbin for something to eat” when we have food recycling?), had more about them. We almost seemed to be going through the motions, as if one goal would be enough or that another would come without us having to unduly exert ourselves. Alonso went close with a grass cutter after good work by Gerrard. However, the writing had been on the wall for us for a while. Lewis’ free-kick into a crowded box which contained no less than eight red shirts eventually saw the ball squirm out to McEveley who made no mistake. It was poor defending, with Aurelio being singled out as the player who should have cleared.
One wondered if we would see a repeat of the Chelsea game when we went into our shells once faced with a set back. However, it did serve to wake us up. Gerrard fired wide after Voronin’s cross was cleared. Alonso, with the Derby defence lapsing into old ways and backing off, bought out a terrific save from Price. Gerrard then smacked the underside of the cross bar from Benayoun’s cut back. In-between Derby, now effectively down to ten men with Earnshaw injured and all their substitutes on, could have taken the lead but Giles Barnes’ headed effort, from Lewis’ cross, was poor.
Deliverance finally came. Derby claimed they should have had a free kick when Mears was bought down. However the referee waved play on and Gerrard steamed down the left and found Benayoun, who found Torres whose close range effort was blacked by Price only for a following up Gerrard, not for the first time, to spare us our blushes. Phew!
A performance that was a far cry from the 6-0 win in September if fact from a Liverpool perspective it will only be remembered for the three points. After the ruthless, efficiency of the Portsmouth game the weekend before, we saw the old, worrying Liverpool of recent times – too reliant on Gerrard and lacking the killer instinct in front of goal. After the game Benitez said…
“We were much better in the first half, but we could not kill the game off….we gave the ball away too much but in the end Gerrard scored, a player like that will always come to the fore in the end.”
Paul Jewell said….
“I was bitterly disappointed with the first-half display, we looked frightened, scared of Liverpool.”
On this evidence Manchester City, who we play next, will not be so overawed. It remains to be seen what version of Liverpool will turn up?
Derby: Price, Mears, Leacock, Moore (Feilhaber 46), McEveley, Teale (Earnshaw 56), Barnes, Pearson (Johnson 26), Lewis, Howard, Miller.
Subs Not Used: Hinchliffe, Fagan.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Hyypia (Benayoun 54), Carragher, Riise, Babel (Kuyt 72), Gerrard, Alonso, Aurelio, Torres, Voronin (Lucas 90).
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Mascherano.