Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Victory wave on sea of Red

On target:

On target: Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard kicks the first goal for the visiting side at the MCG. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Liverpool: 2 (Steven Gerrard, 32min, Iago Aspas, 90+min) Victory: 0
Referee: Jumpei Iida
Crowd: 95,446 at MCG.

Goals from Liverpool's much-adored captain Steven Gerrard and Spanish recruit Iago Aspas with the last kick of the match gave Liverpool a 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory.

Expectations the crowd could rival the biggest Liverpool has played in front of proved correct, with 95,446 attending the match on Wednesday night.

Gerrard scored in the 32nd minute before Aspas made it a deserved 2-0 win.

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Victory hosted the match, but clearly Liverpool was the beneficiary of the crowd's affections. There was but a smattering of Victory navy blue in the crowd, with the MCG stands soaked in red.

The bias was evident from the point the Victory players appeared for their warm-up 40 minutes beforehand and were booed while the visiting players were cheered 10 minutes' later. The clearest indication of who the vast majority of the crowd had come to see was displayed in the stirring ritual rendition of the English club's anthem You'll Never Walk Alone immediately before kick-off.

While the match had far more significance for Victory than it did for Liverpool, it was the English team that fielded a line-up more resembling its ideal team.

Victory, shackled by injury and international representation, boasted only four players older than 21. That Victory had first use of the ball and held unbroken possession for the first 30 seconds was not a fleeting advantage. The A-League team held its own for the opening half-hour, and actually fashioned the clearest scoring opportunity.

Attacker Andrew Nabbout gained possession outside Victory's attacking box and audaciously cut inside Liverpool full-back Luis Enrique. With the Spaniard beaten Nabbout produced a firm strike that was repelled by his countryman Brad Jones, Liverpool's reserve goalkeeper who began the night in goal ahead of new custodian Simon Mignolet.

Enrique was not the only Liverpool full-back given some nervous moments. England international Glen Johnson was beaten for pace at least twice on Victory's left wing by Connor Pain, the 19-year-old temporarily released from Socceroos duty in South Korea to play in this match. On both occasions, however, his dashing play was not capitalised upon.

Victory full-back Jason Geria was among the most influential players early in the match but was shaded as the match progressed, notably by Liverpool's dashing 17-year-old midfielders Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe.

Victory coach Ange Postecoglou said his primary goal for the match was that his players could have moments in which they shaded their illustrious opponents. This was achieved with an unbroken streak of at least 20 passes in their attacking half, although it was at point near the half-way mark that Liverpool began to deliver on their expectations.

When Liverpool reduced its reliance on deep passes from the half-way mark its control became pronounced. Its reward came in the 32nd minute when Joe Allen dribbled towards goal from the right wing and slid in a pass across goal. Captain Gerrard was already being cheered at every touch but it did not compare to the rapturous response when the advanced from the left and swept Allen's deft pass inside Coe's left post.

The clearest scoring opportunity after the restart came on the hour mark when Pain again used his pace to great advantage. His shot from inside the box was crisp and it required a parry from Jones.

Once Gerrard was substituted a few minutes later the crowd began to implore Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers to introduce the club's cunning striker Luis Suarez. Their wish was granted in the 72nd minute when Liverpool made a remarkable 10 changes.

The crowd got its first wish with Gerrard scoring but did not get its wish of that feat being matched by Suarez, who was making his first appearance of the season for Liverpool. Suarez did the next best thing, however, with an accurate pass across goal that was poked home by 25-year-old Aspas.


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