Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ngog saves Liverpool from defeat at Elland Road

David Ngog struck the only goal as a much-changed Liverpool side sneaked past a fired-up Leeds 1-0 in the Carling Cup tonight.

The Premier League giants were outplayed by the League One leaders for much of the third-round tie but Ngog netted against the run of play after 65 minutes.

Leeds spurned a number of chances as Elland Road enjoyed a big-game atmosphere once again, but a lack of composure in front of goal cost them. Striker Jermaine Beckford endured a particularly frustrating night as he missed several good chances and had a goal in the first half disallowed.

It was Liverpool's first visit to Leeds since their hosts were relegated from the top flight in 2004 but the atmosphere generated by the 38,168 crowd rekindled memories of a once intense rivalry. Leeds, looking upwards again after an unbeaten start to the season, played like they had a point to prove against a Liverpool side showing nine changes.

Jamie Carragher, who took over the captaincy, and Javier Mascherano were the only survivors from the Reds side which won at West Ham last weekend. Manager Rafael Benitez, however, had big guns Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson on the bench in case not all went according to plan.

It seemed a sensible insurance policy as for large parts Leeds, with Robert Snodgrass a constant danger on the right, exploited the unfamiliarity in the Liverpool ranks.

There was a huge roar inside the opening minutes when Beckford went down in the area but referee Alan Wiley gave nothing. Leeds were keen to attack and gave warning when Snodgrass broke free, although his cross was easily claimed by Liverpool keeper Diego Cavalieri.

Ngog, starting up front alone, then got into the game with a couple of breaks but saw a long-range shot after a neat turn blocked. Leeds then missed a glorious chance to take the lead when Snodgrass delivered a perfect cross but Michael Doyle headed wide from about eight yards.

The Yorkshire side had the ball in the net after 11 minutes when Beckford turned in Michalik's goalbound header from close range but Wiley ruled the striker offside. Luciano Becchio also tried his luck for Leeds but curled wide from 20 yards. Snodgrass caused further alarm in the Liverpool defence with another deep cross from a clever Beckford flick but Cavalieri just did enough to frustrate Becchio.

Ryan Babel, hoping to stake a claim for a regular place, created Liverpool's first serious chance after a run from deep but Shane Higgs dealt comfortably with his tame shot. And Albert Riera should have given Liverpool the lead on the stroke of half-time after meeting a Fabio Aurelio free-kick but Higgs saved his firm header.

The outstanding Snodgrass weaved his way into the Liverpool box soon after the restart but the visitors eventually managed to crowd him out. Leeds continued to look the most likely side but Liverpool youngster Jay Spearing got a shooting chance from a Riera lay-off, only to fire well over.

Beckford then raced on to a long bouncing ball but scuffed his shot when any firm contact might have beaten Cavalieri. The striker, who has hit six goals in the league this season, had another gilt-edged opportunity when Bradley Johnson crossed from the byline after 63 minutes but, after turning brilliantly, he sent his shot over.

Leeds paid the price as Liverpool went ahead two minutes later. Mascherano mis-hit a shot from the edge of the area but Ngog reacted quickly and seized on the ball to cooly tuck past Higgs.

Leeds tried to respond as Johnson controlled a Michalik long ball outside the area but shot straight at Cavalieri. Liverpool brought on Johnson and Gerrard in an attempt to see out the game but Leeds continued to push.

The Anfield clubl did break out again with Babel winning a free-kick on the edge of the area but Aurelio's shot was deflected wide. And Gerrard almost made doubly sure of victory as time ran down but fired into the side-netting and then straight at Cavalieri after powerful runs.

Benitez satisfied with Reds reward
After the match Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez felt his much-changed team were rewarded for their persistence.
The Spaniard said: "We worked hard and I feel we had our chances. We won with a lot of players not playing and I am really pleased with my team, with the squad. These kind of games are very important to keep the quality of character. I think it was a fantastic win for us.
"I think we showed today we can manage with different players and for the rest of the season it is important to know you have players who can come in."
Ngog played up front on his own and Benitez was pleased with his goal as he seized on a mishit Mascherano shot. Benitez said: "It was a great goal. He showed quality, very good movement. He was also fighting big lads, so I think he had a very positive game for the team."
Of Mascherano's clash with Beckford Benitez said his player "was turning around" while Leeds boss Simon Grayson also played it down.
Grayson said: "Mascherano had an arm that went and nicked Jermaine but sometimes they are not done for a reaction."
Grayson did feel his side were unlucky to have been denied a goal when Beckford's effort was ruled out for offside.
"I felt Jermaine was level with the centre-half for the goal but we are talking marginal errors at times," said Grayson. "I'm loathe to criticise but when you look he was level and the goal should have stood."
Grayson however was delighted with his players' performance which, in front of a lively 38,168 crowd, rekindled memories of Leeds' Premier League days.
"I'm hugely proud of them," Grayson said. "I thought they were excellent from start to finish. We certainly matched them and on another night we might have got the victory our performance deserved. We had good opportunities but over the course of it maybe did get the breaks we deserved."

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