Oh, no, not another football post… wait! Surely exceptions can be made for a 0-7 victory…
On a morning when Nairobi woke up to discover it had rained during the night, Liverpool fans may have been pleasantly surprised to find that it had been raining goals in Birmingham as well. Admittedly, last night’s 0-7 FA Cup quarterfinal scoreline was a reflection more of a woeful defensive performance from an undermanned Birmingham side playing without Heskey and Butt than of any surfeit of Liverpudlian skill. But the chances came Liverpool’s way, and this time, on this night, Liverpool’s strikers took them.
Perhaps it was a sign of just how bad things were that the first goal came from a defender. Sami Hyppia was gifted the chance of an open header right in front of goal and he made no mistake from close range. There were 54 seconds on the clock at the time. Worse was to follow, for within 3 minutes Birmingham were 2-0 down. This time, more fittingly, a striker turned scorer, with Crouch presented with an opening after Gerrard’s cross found him unmarked in front of goal. Birmingham’s defence was again AWOL and Crouch gratefully stooped to conquer, heading home comfortably.
Mercifully the goal rate decreased, and there followed a long stretch during which no scoring took place. There were intermittent chances for Birmingham, but these were few and far between. As halftime approached Luis Garcia received a pass in the middle third of the pitch. His deft first touch took him away from two lurking markers, and the little Spaniard did well to hold off their attentions until he laid on a perfect short ball for Crouch. It is a long way from Crouch’s head to his feet, but on this night the gangly striker showed that he could use both ends of his body to telling effect; he took quick two steps before lashing the ball past the hapless Maik Taylor.
If the third goal was well-crafted, the fourth was a work of art. Beauty is often simple, and once again Luis Garcia was in the thick of things. Crouch had been removed with Saturday’s Merseyside derby against Everton in mind; Morientes was his replacement. There appeared little danger when Garcia looked to receive a pass in the midfield with a Blues defender right in back of him. However the ex-Barcelona man allowed the ball to run between his own feet and apparently between those of his unsuspecting marker. The fact that he had his back to the bamboozled defender and to Gerrard at the time added to the beauty of the move, for the ball ran through to find Gerrard onside and wide on the right with not a defender in sight. Judging his cross to a nicety, the Liverpool midfield dynamo placed it beyond the despairing run of yet another Birmingham defender and at the feet of Morientes. Liverpool fans must have held their breath, for their strikers have been known to miss the most gilt-edged chances. But on this night, even Morientes could not miss (his celebrations showed his relief), and it was 4-0 on the hour.
The best goal of the night was followed by the second-best. Where teamwork had been the cornerstone of the fourth, an amazing individual effort led to a stupendous fifth. John Arne Riise received the ball outside the penalty area, and there followed a routine that Liverpool times have seen countless times during the Norwegian’s career, as the red-haired man looked up, looked down at the ball, took a step and cannonned an unstoppable left-foot shot into the top left corner with the Birmingham defence asleep once again and Maik Taylor well and truly beaten. Such was the class and power of the shot that a few Birmingham spectators rose to applaud the effort. Not that there were many of them; the stadium was to be half-empty by the time the match was over.
A Birmingham player finally got his name on the scoresheet, only that it was unfortunate that the scoring took place at the wrong end. Kewell’s low cross appeared to have lost itself in a sea of blue shirts, but while looking to scythe the ball clear, Olivier Tebily inexplicably sliced the ball beyond his own keeper and in the back of the net. Steve Bruce’s face at this point was heartbreaking to see.
Goal number seven was a somewhat fortunate strike. Steven Gerrard had been hauled off, with Benitez’ eye clearly on Saturday’s derby. Cisse, his replacement, came on sporting an uncharacteristically normal hairdo (fatherhood, it would seem, has the ability to mature all of us). The speedy Frenchman appeared to have run himself out of options as he headed for the byline, but instead of crossing the ball, the winger took a shot at goal; the ball took a slight deflection and wriggled underneath Maik Taylor’s diving body, so that all Liverpool’s playing strikers got their names on the scoresheet on the night.
Mercifully, the final whistle was not long in following.
Unsung hero of the night: Luis Garcia.
Good-to-see-you-back player of the night: Mohammed Sissoko.