The Reds got back to winning ways by beating Levski Sofia by two goals to nil. The two goals came in quick succession from Gerrard and then Kewell and got a large part of the Kop chanting the manager's name once more. It certainly started very differently though with a virtually silent singing of You'll Never Walk Alone. The nerves were there from the players and the fans for all to see and at times Sofia looked a very organised side. Two goals later and many showed how fickle supporters can be at times.
The Reds lost the toss and were forced to attack the Kop in the first half. Baros, Kewell and Murphy all returned to the starting lineup in place of Heskey, Le Tallec and Cheyrou. The Reds got the game underway though and from the start both Murphy and Baros looked extremely lively. The running of Baros was like a breath of fresh air in all honesty.
Baros went on a run after just four minutes. Sent through by Murphy the Czech star ran at the Levski back line but found himself crowded out in the end and the chance went. Baros was putting fear through Sofia defenders straight away and when he was clattered by Golovskoj on just eight minutes the referee booked him. At least the referee took down his name in the notebook but I personally don't remember the yellow card being show as the Sofia player just ran off.
On eleven minutes Owen went on a mazy run at the edge of the box and as he neared the edge was chopped down for an obvious free kick. Obvious to all bar the referee from Holland. A minute later and the referee again got it wrong. Baros picked the ball up right hand side of the area and ran round his man. As he was about past him and cutting in he was scythed down for a blatant penalty. However the referee adjudged not and bizarrely gave a goal kick. That despite the fact that a Sofia player kicked the ball out and if Baros had kicked the ball out then it was even more of a penalty as well.
Two minutes later and it was Baros again causing the trouble as he met a Murphy corner but headed just wide of the target. Hamann tried an effort on goal after eighteen minutes but his low shot went a couple of yards wide without troubling the keeper. Within a minute Sofia caused a worry for the Reds as star striker Ivanov shot from outside the area. Although the shot went just wide it certainly had Kirkland scrambling across his goal.
That really was the first half in fairness as the Reds seemed to run out of steam after twenty five minutes or so. The little movement stopped and with Sofia defending with every man behind the ball it became harder to breakdown the opposition. Kewell wasted a couple of good crossing opportunities and Owen headed just wide as the half time whistle approached. With the scoreboard stuck at one minute forty left the added time was shown as one minute and then seemingly within seconds the whistle blew.
No changes at half time were made on either side and Levski got us started again. The one problem was no-one remembered to start the countdown clock on the scoreboard for over a minute of the half. That in the end got worse as the whole thing would just breakdown and switch off halfway through the half.
Michael Owen really should have scored just three minutes into the half when he beat the offside trap but his header went far to straight and the keeper saved with ease. The second half was far better than the first but there still wasn't exactly a rush of chances at goal. Baros did have a second penalty appeal turned down and again it looked blatant from my view but once again the referee waved play on.
The pressure started to build for the Reds as Sofia sank backwards and started to tire. The Reds eventually made the breakthrough on sixty seven minutes when Steven Gerrard fired a volley home from outside the box after a corner was half cleared. Gerrard turned and ran straight to his manager who had jumped from his seat on the bench. There was so much relief around the ground with the goal it was unbelievable.
Just three minutes later and Harry Kewell hit a stunning shot in to the top corner for a two goal lead. Suddenly the scoreline looked a lot better and the Reds were playing better. Sofia had to make changes and straight away made two but in fairness the game was beyond them now. The most important matter for the Reds now was to maintain the clean sheet at the back. That in fairness was never in doubt as the first half shot just off target was the only shot Kirkland had to deal with all game.
The scoreboard went off in the latter part of the half as it struggled to cope with a two being posted on the Liverpool line perhaps :o). Then again based on its lack of quality that probably has a lot to do with it too. The Reds continued to search for a third goal but not in a gung-ho manner.
El Hadji Diouf was introduced with five minutes to go for Harry Kewell who went straight down the tunnel for treatment on his troublesome ankle. With just stoppage time left Bruno Cheyrou was put on the pitch to ensure Milan Baros came off to his own personal standing ovation. Much deserved give that the Czech star had ran himself into the ground and within minutes the game was over.
Overall the first half was poor although the second certainly improved. A win is a win and it should be enough to put the Reds through to the next round in truth. This wasn't vintage stuff by a long way but did at least mean the Reds won which is the main thing and they have something to build on perhaps. Time will tell how that pans out.
MotM : Milan Baros - absolutely no contest. The refreshing manner in which Milan came back was superb and his never give up attitude is what won the two corners that eventually gave the Reds the two goals. Very unlucky on two occasions at least not to get a penalty. The standing ovation he got at the end was very deserved!