26 November 2005 (3pm) at City of Manchester Stadium

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GOALS: Riise

TEAM: Reina, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Warnock, Gerrard, Hamann, Sissoko, Riise (Luis Garcia 77), Cisse (Kewell 51), Crouch (Morientes 81).

Subs Not Used: Dudek, Potter.

YELLOW CARD : Cisse, Crouch

Att: 47,105
Ref: A Wiley (Staffordshire)
Man City: James, Mills (Wright-Phillips 83), Dunne, Distin, Jordan (Jihai 75), Croft, Barton, Ireland, Musampa (Sinclair 68), Cole, Vassell. Subs Not Used: Sibierski, Onuoha.

Rafael Benitez
John Arne Riise
Stuart Pearce

Gerrard pleased with Riise


John Arne Riise's blistering second-half strike maintained Liverpool's surge up the Premiership table.

The Norwegian settled a miserable contest just past the hour mark when he rifled Steven Gerrard's return pass beyond David James from the edge of the box.

It handed Rafael Benitez's men their fourth successive league win, a run which pushes them further towards the top six, with precious games in hand.

The result represented a job well done for the visitors who, despite never getting close to reaching top form, provided the few moments to savour in a game where a poor City side managed just a single shot on target.

It also sent the Liverpool fans home happy, although they were less than impressive during the minute's silence for George Best, which referee Alan Wiley cut down to barely 20 seconds to ensure audible murmurings from the visiting section did not turn into something more embarrassing.

The TV images of Best in his pomp, cutting through opposition defences in such thrilling fashion and scoring so many memorable goals is a reminder of why football is revered as the beautiful game.

True, most mere mortals, including the modern-day professionals, cannot hope to produce anywhere near the kind of skill Best boasted in his twinkling feet - but it would have been nice to see them try.

Only once in a dire opening half were a capacity crowd treated to anything beyond the mediocre, and typically it came from Gerrard.

After starting the match stationed on the right flank, the Liverpool skipper clearly decided he needed to get more involved.

Three minutes before the break, Gerrard surged onto a Peter Crouch lay-off, burst into the City area, cut inside Richard Dunne and sent a precise shot curling towards the far corner.

Wiley did not see the midfielder handle as he beat Dunne, so it was probably just as well Gerrard's effort flashed just the wrong side of James' goal.

As they currently boast tag of Champions League holders, it could be argued Liverpool are under more obligation to entertain than City, who have now won just three times in 10 games.

Yet the visitors' tactics basically relied on Crouch winning his aerial duels with Dunne and Sylvain Distin - which he did - and flicking on balls for team-mates who were supposed to run off him - which they did not.

Only once did the strategy come close to working, when Crouch rose to meet Steve Finnan's angled free-kick. Cisse got to the bouncing ball first but could only jab his first-time shot straight into James' stomach.

For their part, City produced their usual industrious efforts but too often passes went astray, with returning midfielder Joey Barton a particular culprit.

Lee Croft did start promisingly and gave Stephen Warnock plenty of problems down the City right.

However, the home side's single first-half chance came through a cross from the other wing, Kiki Musampa floating an excellent ball into the Liverpool box which Darius Vassell met in space, only to guide his header beyond Jose Reina's far post.

Benitez was clearly not impressed with Liverpool's efforts either as the second half was only five minutes old when he made his first change.

Barring Gerrard, any of his midfield or attack could have been a target to be replaced by Harry Kewell. In the end, Cisse was the man fingered, much to the Frenchman's obvious displeasure.

There has been much speculation about whether Cisse will move on during the January transfer window and there appeared little harmony between player and manager as the striker walked slowly to the touchline, shaking his head as he took his seat on the bench.

For all his disappointment, Cisse could not have much complaint given his total failure to impose himself on the contest and, while Kewell was not involved in the move which led to Liverpool's opener, Riise's goal justified Benitez's decision.

The build-up was intricate, with Riise collecting Dietmar Hamman's pass, then laying off to Gerrard before racing onto his captain's return ball. The finish was explosive as the Norwegian powered his first goal of the season past James from the edge of the area.

At least there was a touch of Best-ish class about the strike, which allowed Riise to move one ahead of Crouch in the Anfield scoring stakes as the England man's 17th appearance for the Reds ended without an end to his personal goal drought.

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Match Report filed: 26 November 2005