back, and Stevie's the winner
By Ian Doyle - Daily Post
Absence really does make the heart grow fonder at
Anfield. How else to explain the recent clamour from
Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and countless thousands of
Liverpool fans for the swift return of Dietmar Hamann to
the starting lineup?
As the German recuperated from a serious shin injury
earlier this season, Gerard Houllier's side lurched from
one Premiership defeat to another as the championship
moved out of reach for another year.
Last night, however, saw Hamann make his first start of
the campaign to help guide a shaky Liverpool into the
third round of the UEFA Cup.
But while his presence was a visible and vital lift to
the Reds, there was no happier player than Gerrard at
his midfield partner's return.
It's easy to see why. With Hamann sidelined, the
England international has been pressed into primarily
defensive duties as Houllier sought for a more attacking
style of play. The job was done well, but the belief
persisted Gerrard's natural game was being stymied.
And against a skilful Steaua side, the midfielder served
only to further emphasise why his true talents can only
be fully harnessed when given a license to adventure
Gerrard had admitted beforehand this was crunch time for
a Liverpool season which he had charitably referred to
as a 'let-down'.
And with Hamann back alongside him, the Reds skipper led
by example with an impressive display which made it
plainly obvious which position he prefers to play in.
Driven, determined and tenacious, Gerrard was the heart
of a Liverpool side clearly betrayed by a lack of
confidence and first-choice personnel.
It was no surprise, then, that Gerrard was provider
for Harry Kewell's 48thminute winner, culminating a
charging run down the right flank with a cross for the
Australian to convert.
Hamann, as is his style, was more quietly effective.
Although he showed understandable signs of rustiness
after such a lengthy spell out, the merits for his
continued selection are widely acknowledged. The German
must again be a regular fixture in this Liverpool side,
no matter how attacking or defensive Houllier chooses
them to be.
It wasn't all great news, however. They may have won,
but Liverpool rarely convinced, particularly during a
first half which was so insipidly dire, the pain of
observing it was second only to a 45-minute session of
sandpapering your own retinas.
Still, the win was a much-needed boost for the Reds,
who can now forget about Europe until the new year and
concentrate on improving their Premiership position.
With that in mind, they'll be grateful for the return of
Hamann - and the re-emergence of Gerrard.
Houllier happy to
Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier was delighted to see
his side progress into the next round of the Uefa Cup
following a nervy 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest.
Harry Kewell's second half goal was enough to give
Liverpool a 2-1 aggregate victory and Houllier admits it
is vital that Liverpool enjoy a long run in Europe.
"It was important to keep the run in Europe because it
is always exciting," said Houllier.
"We have beaten a good team. They could pass a ball
well. I don't think that they had a lot of chances but
on the whole it is a deserved victory."
Houllier was boosted by the return of Dietmar Hamann,
who made his first start since May, and although Michael
Owen came off just before half time with a calf problem
Houllier is hopeful that the problem is nothing serious.
"Michael felt his calf was a bit tight but I think - I
hope - it is nothing much," added Houllier.
"It was a first game for Didi since early May so it was
good to see him back."
BBC Sport Online
Liverpool stuttered into the Uefa Cup third round
after overcoming stiff resistance from Romanian side
Harry Kewell's header gave Liverpool a narrow win
against a Steaua team that fluffed a number of chances
and had a reasonable penalty claim turned down.
Liverpool never really got into their stride, the
honourable exception being Steven Gerrard, who turned in
a powering performance.
Whether tracking back, tackling, crossing or shooting,
his immense drive was the difference between the two
Yet the England midfielder also demonstrated that
reckless streak in his decision-making that has blighted
his development in the past.
Early in the game, his dangerous challenge on Matei
Radoi infuriated Steaua, although German referee Florian
Meyer awarded a free kick to Liverpool on that occasion.
Michael Owen headed narrowly over from the resulting
free kick before Gerrard powered another header straight
at Steaua goalkeeper Vasili Hamutovski moments later.
Steaua were having real problems getting to grips with
Gerrard's forages from midfield - and Dorel Mutica was
yellow carded for hauling down the Liverpool captain.
But the visitors were not without their own chances.
Early on, Claudiu Raducanu's lob just cleared the bar,
Marian Aliuta went close with a shot, while Gabriel
Bostina wasted another opportunity to score with a
Steaua were incensed when Raducanu's penalty appeal was
turned down by Meyer after the break following a
challenge by Igor Biscan.
And their mood became even darker when Liverpool took
the lead seconds later, Kewell heading home from
Gerrard's right-wing cross.
Both Owen and Emile Heskey went close to doubling
Liverpool's lead, but Steaua almost took the game into
extra time when Dinita flashed a shot narrowly wide.