Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Carroll on the double as Reds run riot

Andy Carroll opened his goalscoring account for the Reds yesterday with two well taken goals as Liverpool claimed a comprehensive and well deserved 3-0 victory over Roberto Mancini's Citizens. A dominant display from Dalglish's side was duly rewarded as a fine finish from Dirk Kuyt, combined with Carroll's powerful drive and trademark header, earned the Reds three crucial points, cementing our place in sixth and keeping alive faint hopes of European qualification.

With injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard depleting our squad significantly, 18-year old right back John Flanagan was thrown in at the deep end as he made his first team debut despite failing to feature in the reserve side. The no-nonsense defender performed well and was solid throughout, providing yet another glimpse of the potential possessed by the Reds' Academy, and demonstrating the notable faith Dalglish has in the youngsters progressing through the system.

After a moving minute's silence to remember the 96 who died at Hillsborough, solider and Reds supporters Mark Burgan and David Fairclough's wife Jan, who tragically passed away this week, Liverpool began in the ascendancy, controlling the contest and putting City, who have failed to win on the road in 2011, immediately under pressure.

Encouragingly, the understanding established between new front pair Carroll and Suarez continued to develop, with the former's incisive through ball sending the latter bearing down on goal six minutes in. Only a world-class stop from Hart prevented the in-form Uruguayan breaking the deadlock as the England keeper excellently nudged his strike onto the base of the post.

The hosts didn't have to wait much longer to claim the all-important first goal though, as Andy Carroll struck just before the quarter of an hour mark to send Anfield into delirium. Liverpool's tall number 9 sent a fantastic first time finish arrowing into the corner of the net after Kompany had deflected Meireles' shot into his path.

It was a simply superb strike from Carroll, who has already gone some way to justifying the gargantuan fee paid for him, with his sheer physical presence and goalscoring threat adding an extra element to our play and providing much needed attacking potency going forward.

To add injury to insult for the visitors, City captain and talisman Carlos Tevez had to be replaced by Mario Balotelli moments later after Carroll has caught the Argentine in the build up to our first goal.

With the away side enduring a torrid opening, Liverpool continued to dominate, playing some neat football in midfield and restricting City to pot shots from range. This was demonstrated on 29 minutes, when Dzeko turned and shot wide of target from the edge of the box. Kolarov's cross then flashed threateningly across the face of Reina's goal, as Balotelli was inches away from converting.

Ten minutes before the break Kuyt doubled the Reds' lead with a fine finish beyond Hart after a flurry of goalmouth activity had seen Meireles, Suarez, Aurelio and Carroll denied by desperate blocks from the City defence. The conscientious Dutchman is our top goalscorer this season, and has been an ever present throughout the campaign, putting in 100% and finding the net regularly, to the delight of the Kop. Incredibly, only a minute later Carroll increased our lead further, as he rose to nod Meireles' left wing cross beyond Hart's despairing dive in typical fashion.

After such a thrilling first half, in which Liverpool had secured an emphatic three goal lead, the second half was inevitably and understandably less eventful, with the visitors showing little sign of pulling off a remarkable, Istanbul-esque comeback and the Reds happy to contain City and shut up shop.

Nevertheless, Liverpool looked the more likely to score, with Kuyt glancing Meireles' corner inches wide from close range and Spearing lashing a volley high into the Kop during the opening exchanges of the second period. Hart then swiped Meireles' effort away before Barry blocked Kuyt's strike from the edge of the box as the Reds searched for a fourth to place a metaphorical cherry on top of the mouth-watering cake that was this performance.

After 68 minutes the enigmatic Italian Mario Balotelli curled a shot high and wide from 25 yards, as Reina remained a virtual spectator in the Reds' goal. In fact, the Spaniard wasn't called into action until seven minutes from time, when he punched Yaya Toure's powerful 30-yard drive away to safety.

Carroll almost grabbed a hat-trick with two minutes remaining when the Geordie striker looped a header onto the roof of the net after sensational skill from Suarez had allowed him to skip to the touchline and dig out a cross to the back post. In injury time the 22-year old received a raucous reception from the grateful Anfield faithful, as he was replaced by young French striker David Ngog, to cap a great game off perfectly for both Carroll and his team-mates.

In many ways this victory should have been anticipated, with City's terrible recent away record coupling favourably with our good form against the big teams. However, considering the Reds' injury list and the massive amount spent by the visitors to accumulate a formidable squad, this victory is a pleasant surprise, demonstrating both our youngsters' ability and the quality within our first eleven.

Unfazed by the occasion John Flanagan put in a steady, solid and impressive performance, while fellow youngster Jay Spearing worked efficiently, enthusiastically and productively alongside Lucas Leiva to patrol the midfield and constrain City's attack. Suarez was at the centre of most of our attacks, buzzing around purposefully and creating many chances, while Carroll scored two excellent goals and remained a constant threat to the Citizens' defence, both in the air and on the ground.

Most importantly, this victory demonstrates that we can compete with the likes of Manchester City and Spurs, despite the financial handcuffs enforced by our former owners creating a massive chasm in squad depth between the Reds' and their nearest rivals.

This provides renewed hope and optimism that we can seriously challenge for a top four finish next season, particularly if new American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) invest heavily in the playing squad during the summer transfer window.



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