LIVERPOOL 2-0 FC KAUNAS (5-1 AGG)
|Gerrard 77, Cisse 82
Steven Gerrard dragged Liverpool from the pits of a poor performance to send them into the final qualifying round of the Champions League.
The man Jose Mourinho thinks is wasting his time sticking around at Anfield showed just how much he means to the European champions.
He stepped off the bench to fire in his seventh goal in four qualifying matches to set Liverpool on their way to a victory which had been a long time coming as they struggled to suppress a spirited Lithuanian side.
Gerrard had only been on the pitch for two minutes when he belted Liverpool ahead, with Djibril Cisse adding a cool second with five minutes left.
It was all change in more ways than one as manager Rafael Benitez took the chance to rest eight of the side which won the first leg 3-1 in Lithuania.
Zak Whitbread got a chance at centre-back while Peter Crouch made his home debut along with Mohamed Sissoko.
There was change too for Kaunas, who had a new coach on the bench with Igoris Pankratjevas stepping in for Aleksandr Piskiarov.
The new broom swept out four of the side from last week, including Lithuanian international goalkeeper Eduardas Kurskis, and there was the expected high tempo and hard running from the visitors in front of another Anfield packed house.
Luis Garcia's trickery was met with a string of fouls, while every Crouch touch created a sense of anticipation from the fans.
But there was little else to enthuse the home faithful apart from a Fernando Morientes glancing header that was pulled down by goalkeeper Sarunas Kilijonas.
Any thought that Kaunas could be taken lightly soon evaporated on the Kop, and when Nukri Manchkhava fired in a curling 25-yard free-kick Scott Carson needed complete concentration to collect the effort.
There was little pace about Liverpool's approach, which was not pleasing Benitez, who was clearly encouraging his players to play quick one-twos that would open up the Lithuanians.
Bolo Zenden saw a shot blocked in the six-yard box as Liverpool slowly took control, and Crouch had a snap-shot charged down before Sissoko fizzed an effort wide, but it was a tepid first-half performance.
Cisse took over from Morientes at the break, and immediately linked better with Crouch.
The pair made chances for each other, with Luis Garcia also firing over. But the new front pair was short-lived with Crouch limping off, clearly bothered by a hamstring pull, allowing Darren Potter's introduction.
But Kaunas were still in there fighting and Manchkhava saw one shot fly across the goal and when Sami Hyypia produced a poor clearance, the Georgia international blasted the ball inches over the crossbar.
The Lithuanians continued to frustrate the Anfield men, forcing errors borne more from frustration than anything else.
Zenden saw a fierce drive headed away from a gaping goal by Irmantas Zelmikas before Hyypia hit the crossbar with a header from Dietmar Hamann's corner.
Liverpool were at last upping their tempo and playing positive passes rather than the dainty little flicks from Luis Garcia which had constantly cost them possession.
Gerrard's introduction on 75 minutes for Hamann was accompanied by a standing ovation from the home fans, and after Kilijonas had forced a Cisse effort wide of a post, the Liverpool skipper struck just two minutes after his arrival.
A corner was played out to him on the left and his fierce low drive from 25 yards was only half stopped by Kilijonas, and the ball rolled agonisingly over the line - Gerrard's seventh of this qualifying campaign.
Cisse produced a more respectable scoreline after 85 minutes when he volleyed home a Luis Garcia chip.
Liverpool: Carson, Finnan, Hyypia, Whitbread, Warnock, Luis Garcia, Hamann (Gerrard 75), Sissoko, Zenden, Crouch (Potter 55), Morientes (Cisse 45).
Subs Not Used: Reina, Riise, Alonso, Carragher.
FBK Kaunas: Kilijonas, Kancelskis, Zelmikas, Baguzis, Manchkhava, Pehlic (Barevicius 66), Vadim Petrenko (Klimek 45), Kvaratskhelia, Kunevicius, Poderis (Maciulis 87), Rimkevicius.
Subs Not Used: Kurskis, Beniusis, Kijanskas, Papeckys.
Ref: Gianluca Paparesta (Italy).
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|Match Report filed: 3 August 2005|