Monday, 25 April 2011

Reds rampant as Maxi mauls Birmingham

A Maxi Rodriguez hat-trick, paired with strikes from Dirk Kuyt and late substitute Joe Cole, earned Liverpool an empathic 5-0 victory over Alex McLeish’s relegation threatened Birmingham City, crucially reducing the gap between us and fifth placed Tottenham Hotspur to a mere three points after former Reds’ boss Roy Hodgson helpfully led his Baggies to a 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane.

Although Birmingham were Liverpool's bogey team going into the contest, an encouraging performance and convincing win finally ended a seven-year spell without a league win against the Blues, and continues our recent run of good form, providing hope that we can finish the season positively and possibly sneak into a European position at the last minute.

Jack Robinson made his first senior start at left back while John Flanagan remained at right back after impressing against Manchester City and Arsenal respectively. Jamie Carragher recovered from concussion to join them in our back four, however Andy Carroll missed out altogether after suffering a niggling injury at the Emirates.

A fine start for the hosts was capped off perfectly seven minutes in when Maxi tapped home the opener after Foster failed to hold Spearing's long-range strike. The visitors responded in the right manner though, forcing Flanagan and Robinson to make two important headed clearances within seconds of each other before the latter did brilliantly to divert Jerome's cross behind for a corner. The Reds then survived a scare as Carragher hacked to safety after Ridgewell had threateningly nodded the set piece goalwards.

The Blues brief spell of pressure was ended on 24 minutes when the in-form Dirk Kuyt doubled our lead after Meireles had flicked on Reina's up field punt. Suarez raced onto the ball and forced Foster to make a save, before the former Manchester United keeper also denied Kuyt. Fortunately the rebound fell for the Dutchman and he comfortably struck into the corner after quick footwork had kept alive the goalscoring opportunity.

From that moment on Liverpool controlled proceedings, peppering Foster's goal and denying the away side any meaningful sight of goal. Mid-way through the first period Spearing's long-range effort was well blocked before his midfield partner Raul Meireles was denied in the area. Maxi then also saw his strike blocked and Robinson crashed one into the Kop as the Reds searched for a third to kill off the game as a contest.

To make matters worse for the Midlanders keeper Ben Foster, who had soldiered on manfully after suffering an injury in the build-up to the second goal, had to be replaced by Colin Doyle shortly before the interval. There was still time for Kuyt to guide Meireles' beautiful cross inches wide of the far post as Liverpool went into the break firmly in the ascendancy.

Reina was called into action within seconds of the restart when Larsson tried his luck with a speculative volley, however apart from that it was a low key start to the second period, with the Merseysiders comfortably retaining the lead while Birmingham stepped up their game slightly.

On the hour mark Keith Fahey fired well wide from 20 yards out before some sublime trickery from Suarez was brought to a halt just as he looked set to pull the trigger. The Uruguayan, who has been in scintillating form since arriving from Ajax in the January transfer window, was inevitably involved in most of our attacking play throughout, and played a crucial role in our third goal. Liverpool's new number 7 clipped an inviting ball to the back post, where Maxi was left unmarked to volley home from close range.

The game was quickly becoming a rout, as Maxi claimed his hat-trick and Liverpool's fourth with just under 20 minutes remaining when he intelligently followed up his first effort to tuck home the rebound after Doyle had initially denied the Argentinean winger.

After that Raul Meireles forced a fine save from Doyle before Suarez audaciously attempted to back flick the rebound home. The Portugese was replaced by Joe Cole moments later and the Londoner made an instant impact, cutting in from the right and firing a low shot goalwards that unexpectedly found the net after Doyle inexplicably fumbled over the line.

Hat-trick hero Maxi Rodriguez received a well-deserved standing ovation as David Ngog replaced him in injury time.

After a long spell on the sidelines both Maxi and Cole have given Dalglish a welcome selection headache. Despite little game time recently the pair were hugely influential, contributing four of the five goals towards our total and demonstrating their ability clearly with lively, forward thinking displays.

Kenny has skilfully crafted a situation where players are hungry to perform and prove their worth to the team and stake a claim for a regular position in the first eleven. This healthy competition for places should produce an ever-improving squad with more depth than previously perceived.

With West Brom holding Spurs on the weekend, Liverpool lie three points behind Harry Redknapp's side and, although they have a game in hand, Tottenham still have to face Chelsea and Manchester City before travelling to Anfield on 15th May. If the Reds can continue in this rich vein of form then a 5th place finish and Europa League football next season are an increasingly realistic prospect.


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