Liverpool Cup celebrations dampened by Smith injury
It was billed as the biggest tie of the 5th round, revenge for the last minute defeat at Old Trafford. Much more than that, for Gary Neville's shirt-yanking celebrations in the direction of the Liverpool fans. Much more was made of the potential clashes between both sets of players and the reception from the home side for Neville and former Merseyside blue Wayne Rooney. Hardly anything was made on the history between the two in the cup, the ties played at Anfield previously, what happened in 1921, and much more, as if the main focus was to stir up tension.
It started ordinarily for me, without Rio Ferdinand after a hamstring injury that wouldn't let up in the warm-up, I think Utd missed his height and presence. They hadn't played up to their usual tempo with Christiano Ronaldo on one side, Kieron Richardson on the other, and Liverpool went at a leisurely pace, keeping possession well, engineering openings on the flanks. Utd were allowed near our goal for a shot by Ruud Van Nistelrooy where he was offside, and Rooney practically bustling himself through the Liverpool defence, who were poorly attempting to clear the ball. A Steven Gerrard freekick from the left found Harry Kewell unchallenged and his header pulled a great save from Edwin Van Der Sar. From the resulting corner, Gerrard played short to Steve Finnan, back to Gerrard, back to Finnan, then Finnan crossed, Peter Crouch got away from Wes Brown (I understand the Utd fans call him 'Duracell') and headed free to pull yet another save from Van Der Sar, the ball bouncing off one post, then the other and bouncing up over the line.
Kewell was bundled down from behind by Ryan Giggs, which occurred in the penalty box so it seems Howard Webb seek to avoid controversy by simply awarding a freekick outside it, from which Gerrard crossed, nobody got to and it reached Finnan near the far post, where he hit the side netting from absolute yards, unmarked, unchallenged. Should have got it blatantly on goal. The half belonged to Liverpool.
Utd came out in the 2nd half with more bite in them but were practically subdued by Liverpool, who looked to be everywhere when a Utd player had possession and closed that player down quickly. Instrumental was the middle, Mohamed Sissoko and Dietmar Hamann dug in and held well to gain possession and release the ball safely and quickly. Early in this half, Brown had to clear in the area with John Arne Riise crossing for Crouch. Neville got down the right and crossed, the ball going over Louis Saha and Jamie Carragher, Finnan being in the right spot to stop the ball reaching Van Nistelrooy, Pepe Reina clearing away. From a corner, the ball reached past all and bounced to Kewell, who had time to chest and set it up only to scuff the shot horribly wide, deflecting off Nemanja Vidic for Giggs to clear.
But with Alan Smith coming on for Darren Fletcher on 76mins, some 10mins later he went to lunge in a block to Riise following up a Hamann freekick in the Utd half and his weight came down on his left foot, dislocating the ankle and braking his leg. I despise it when such injuries occur in the game, regardless of who it is. But Smith wasn't writhing about, he summoned for attention and waited as the Utd medical team was aided by Liverpool's doctor Mark Waller, an airbag pumped around his shattered lower leg to keep it secured, one Liverpool player, Brown and Rooney giving Smith some comforting support before he was stretchered off, Neville giving him a kiss on the head as he went, just about taking oxygen, both sets of fans applauding him off and it was touching.. Was about as brave as they come, probably braver than most. Broken bones have hit some players quite hard, Smith took it quite well in his stride, in comparison. I don't care who the player is, I'm behind any player who suffers such an injury, and I wish for a safe and full recovery for the man real soon.