After two losses and a draw of late you have to be happy with a win of any form really but this game really was a snore. Vitesse were a poor side there for the taking yet the Reds went a goal up and sat on it and nearly paid for it near the end. This was by far and away a performance ready for igniting and building confidence.
The midfield was juggled about a bit with Gerrard and Diao in the middle of the pitch and Cheyrou and Murphy either side although they tended to play in a diamond shape where they could. Cheyrou however lasted less than ten minutes on the pitch. He went in for a challenge on just six minutes and felt a twinge in his groin. After running about for a couple of minutes he signalled that he couldnt go on and sat out thegame. Vladimir Smicer replaced him after nine minutes of the game.
The game was being played very much in the middle although the Reds were slowly taking the game by the scruff of the neck and winning the challenges. Salif Diao got himself booked on twenty two minutes for what was a nothing challenge where the Arnhem player dived through the air.
The Reds converted their dominance to a goal on twenty seven minutes play. Smicer made an excellent challenge to win the ball halfway in to the Arnhem half and as the ball went wide to Gerrard he picked out Baros on the edge of the box. Baros held the ball up well and with some good foot work edged the ball into Owen. Owen took one touch for control before side footing the ball past the keeper. The goal was number 15 away in Europe for Michael and takes him just two behind Rush in the overall scoring charts. It was also goal number fifty away in the UEFA Cup for the Reds.
The goal should have set the Reds up for more goals but they never came. Murphy had two chances in the first half to extend the lead and really should have done with at least one of them. Two minutes after the goal Owen made a dart into the area before laying the ball back to Murphy whose shot went over the bar. Two minutes later after an initial throw in was cleared Smicer headed the ball back in to the danger zone where Murphy ran in and headed the ball over the keeper but also just over the bar.
The Reds also had another chance to score in a very dominant time of the game and it fell to Gerrard who created good space thirty yards out but his shot fizzed over the bar. Vitesse finally created a chance two minutes before the end of the half but the shot ended up looking more like a square ball in the area.
The second half got underway and really should have been a case of the Reds extending their lead and looking to rest a couple of players up ready for the next few games ahead. However what came was a dull half of the Reds sitting back a lot. They did create a few chances it has to be said but they never capitalised on them.
On sixty five minutes a break for the Reds saw Baros play Owen clean through from the halfway line. Owen raced in on goal but couldnt hit his shot over the keeper and then scuffed the rebound wide of the far post. Two minutes later Owen was one on one again but again he failed to beat the keeper and lashed his follow up well wide.
Five minutes later it was Smicer who was one on one with the keeper but again the Reds failed to beat the keeper. Emile Heskey was given a run up front on seventy three minutes in place of Baros.
With the Reds now pretty much sitting on the one goal lead Vitesse started to come in to the game a bit more and they very nearly embarrassed the Reds late in the game. The best chance for the home side came on eighty one minutes when the Reds defence were caught all ends up. A ball across the box was controlled and fired on goal but despite getting past Dudek it rebounded off the post across the six yard box and on the other side of goal it fell inviting a shot into the empty net. The shot that came thugh went just wide of the post when it looked easier to score.
Overall the Reds got the win and it should be plain sailing in the second leg but this game really should have been sealed already and some players could have been rested up a little.
MotM : Djimi Traore - Switched to left back but still played particularly well and stopped anything at his side. Gerrard also played well in the midfield.