x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Farces and force keep the double dream alive for Liverpool

The 6-1 rout of Brighton puts the Anfield side in the quart-finals of the FA Cup, ahead of next week's Carling Cup final.

Luis Suarez, centre, scored Liverpool’s sixth goal, set-up by Andy Carroll, during the FA Cup Fifth Round match in the 6-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at Anfield.
Luis Suarez, centre, scored Liverpool’s sixth goal, set-up by Andy Carroll, during the FA Cup Fifth Round match in the 6-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at Anfield.

LIVERPOOL // To adapt the lyrics of Liverpool's club anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone, at the end of the storm there may be a silver sky.

In a season of controversy and criticism, the dream of a Cup double is appearing ever more realistic at Anfield. Sunday's Carling Cup final gives them the opportunity to end a six-year wait for silverware while an FA Cup quarter-final date with Stoke is a new addition to the calendar.

If all opponents are as generous as Brighton, who contributed three own goals to a rout, their ambitions will be achieved. The Championship side's munificence left Liverpool the highest-placed team guaranteed a place in the last eight and an emphatic scoreline gave Kenny Dalglish his biggest win as Liverpool manager since 1990.

For those seeking favourable omens, the Seagulls were overcome on the route to Wembley in the Carling Cup while Dalglish's maiden season in the Anfield dugout, in 1986, culminated in an FA Cup final victory to complete the Double. In the first full year of his return, there is another two-pronged challenge for trophies.

"We have got our reward for a fantastic result and a great performance," Dalglish said.

Liverpool's obvious energy gave them an attacking verve in a performance of dominance.

It marked the first occasion that Steven Gerrard, an authoritative presence, Luis Suarez, who sparkled, and Andy Carroll, who delivered one of his more influential performances since his £35 million (Dh204m) move, had started together and the manager added: "The three of them are fantastic footballers and they played really well today."

The consequences was that chances were created and finished, three of them by the visitors. "We always said we would like to get our conversion rate up and today is not a bad return," Dalglish added.

Liverpool began conventionally enough. They led when Martin Skrtel met Gerrard's near-post corner with a glancing header, beating the Peter Brezovan.

Then Brighton levelled with the first of their four goals, but the only one scored at the right end. It was a well-worked free-kick routine. The ball was rolled sideways for Will Buckley to tee up Kazenga LuaLua. The on-loan Newcastle winger's skidding shot went beneath the Liverpool wall and beat Pepe Reina at his near post.

Liverpool regained the lead in farcical fashion, the unfortunate Liam Bridcutt inadvertently redirecting team-mate Sam Vokes' header over the line.

What preceded it, however, was rather more impressive. When Brezovan punched a corner away, Suarez plucked the ball out of the air with a delightful touch. His low shot was parried by the Brighton goalkeeper, who was defeated by Glen Johnson's subsequent header. Vokes prevented that from entering the net, but only for a second or so.

Bridcutt achieved his unwanted brace when turning in Gerrard's effort, the Liverpool captain having a second shot from an acute angle after Brezovan parried the initial attempt.

"Are you trying to take Steven's off him?" asked Dalglish, aghast at the thought of it being debited to Bridcutt instead.

The hat-trick of own goals was completed by the strangest of all. Brezovan touched Luis Suarez's cross to Lewis Dunk, who controlled the ball on his chest, flicked it up on his thigh and failed to react before it crossed the line

At least Liverpool's third was scored by one of their employees. It had a particular significance, too. It was the first time a £55 million pair have combined for a goal, with Stewart Downing's intelligent cut-back being drilled in by Carroll.

"He's been brilliant for weeks," said Gerrard; this, though, was just Carroll's second strike at Anfield this season.

Scorer turned supplier for the sixth goal, the record signing heading the ball back across goal for Suarez to apply the finishing touch.

It ended a campaign to get the Uruguayan a goal. He had been denied by a terrific goal-line clearance from Inigo Calderon following a mesmerising solo run. Then, with 10 minutes remaining, the Liverpool fan Craig Noone chopped substitute Dirk Kuyt down. Dalglish signalled for Suarez to take the resulting penalty. Brezovan saved both that and the rebound.

"That was my fault, because I let sentiment get in the way," said Dalglish. "But I have learned my lesson."