Torres 28, 29, 61
Tuncay 9, Downing 83.
Going into this game we knew we would have a problem in defence. Agger’s injury and Carragher’s suspension always meant we were going to be vulnerable. However, if we were going to play a side least equipped to exploit this weakness Middlesbrough were as good a choice as any. Goals have not been Brough’s forte this season with only 11 on the road and 14 at home. Fortunately Brough’s defence had more of an off day that ours oh, and we had Fernando Torres!
One wonders how the game might have turned out had Middlesbrough’s defence kept their concentration for the full ninety minutes and not handed us two goals. However, that’s part and parcel of the game and we made the most of the opportunities given to us which we don’t do that often.
Rafa held firm with his statement earlier in the week not to rotate. The only change from the Inter game was enforced, Arbeloa for the suspended Carragher at centre half although strangely Srktel was on the bench. Presumably he was not fully fit?
We began by testing Schwarzer from range a couple of times however this didn’t make the goal a surprise. Middlesbrough more than held their own and, although the goal was down to poor Liverpool defending, they deserved it. Downing’s free kick on the right of the area found Tuncay, who had escaped the attentions of a group of five Liverpool defenders to score with a free header. The crowd and Rafa seemed to think it was offside however It wasn’t, we were slow in coming out.
If Middlesbrough’s goal was a mistake, then our equaliser was a complete and utter howler. Arca under no pressure, and nearer the edge of the centre circle than his own area, didn’t take the easy option by bringing the ball down and playing it upfield. Instead he inexplicably attempted a 32 yard headed back pass to Schwarzer. Torres said thank you very much and rounded the keeper to score. A bizarre, needless, error by Arca that undid all the good work Middlesbrough had done so far.
There was no such calamity with our second goal which came two minutes later. Aurelio fed Torres on the edge of the area, the defence backed off and his shot from 22 yards or so out gave Schwarzer no chance.
Later Midlesbrough, via Tuncay again had the ball in the net but the referee disallowed it for handball. However, this was not fluke Middlesbrough acquitted themselves well and made us work hard. This was helped by Arbeloa and Hyypia who showed that there relationship in the centre of defence has barely got past “first date” status! Thankfully Borough pressed the left destruct button again. Kyut’s long punt saw Torres and Wheater contesting the ball however, Schwarzer, anxious for a piece of the action, charged off his line and surprised both players with his presence. Torres reacted the quickest and fired into an empty net for his first Premiership hat trick leaving Schwarzer looking stranded and embarrassed.
Any confidence we had from the lead was pulled back slightly via well taken Downing goal. Thankfully however we saw it out which was helped by Aliadiere seeing red for his innocuous, but half witted, contribution to a bout of slapping with Mascherano.
A good game, end to end stuff. Middlesbrough, perhaps sensing our fragility in defence, really went for it rather employing the negative tactics that many visiting sides do. They will rue their own defensive mistakes thinking that they might have got something. However, this was all about Torres, 21 goals this season the first time any Liverpool player has achieved this for five years AND it’s still only February. He deserved the match ball and the money paid we for him looks like a decent investment longer the season goes on.
Above all I guess the most important thing is the three points. A week to rest before moving on to Bolton which is, at the end of the day, all we need to do at present.
Finally thoughts go out to Arsenal’s Eduardo after yesterday’s horrific injury together with wishes for a full recovery.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Arbeloa, Hyypia, Aurelio, Kuyt (Riise 73), Lucas, Mascherano, Babel (Benayoun 62), Gerrard, Torres (Crouch 90).
Subs Not Used: Martin, Skrtel.
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Young, Wheater, Grounds, Pogatetz, O’Neil (Mido 59), Rochemback, Arca, Downing, Aliadiere, Sanli (Alves 69).
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Boateng, Hines.