It was a shaky start for the reds in what was to be John W Henry’s first match experience at Anfield with his wife. It was only for the brilliance of Steven Gerrard, who came on as a half time substitute, that spared our blushes and gave our new owner a good look at the fighting character we all know and love about our great football club.
The line-up was a relatively different one, with an abundance of central players making up the attack, with Poulsen, Spearing, Shelvey and Meireles all in there with Jovanovic, arguably, the only wide man and N’Gog up front.
The first half started with the reds pressuring Napoli’s goal confidently. It looked to be a good night for Liverpool with a number of chances in the first 10 minutes, but then the pace and urgency seemed to drain from us and Napoli began to see more of the ball. Luckily, when the opposition found themselves with a clear cut opportunity they often shot with too much haste and not enough accuracy. Although this wastefulness was put aside shortly before the half hour mark as Lavezzi, known by the Napoli faithful as ‘The Chubby One,’ following a poor header from Poulsen was clear through and scored a very well taken opener at the Anfield Road end.
The remainder of the first half continued in very much the same vein up until half time. It was evident that something had to change, and thankfully Hodgson decided to put Gerrard on for the second half.
What a decision this turned out to be. From the first minute Gerrard was right in to Napoli’s players, snapping for the ball and looking every bit the player we’ve seen transform games for Liverpool. Nathan Eccleston then came on for Poulsen as the attack began to look much more bolstered. As a result the opportunities started to flow a little more freely, although N’Gog missed an absolute sitter which had even John W Henry shaking his head, and possibly wondering whether his wife would have been better suited up front.
But the Liverpool drought was to be shortly ended. The ball broke in to the box and bounced for a 50-50 between Gerrard and the Napoli keeper. There was only going to be one winner as De Sanctis didn’t look up for the challenge, and Gerrard despatched the ball into the back of his net for the equaliser.
A dangerous challenge from a Napoli defender saw N’Gog go off for Lucas, although there was no red card for the Napoli player.
Then in the 87th minute Glen Johnson, in what can only be described as a fantastic bit of skill, made a run from the right hand side and absolutely sold two players and was brought down in the penalty area. Up steps Gerrard, who sends the ball home confidently to put Liverpool 2-1 up over the Italians.
Less than two minutes later, some good work from Jay Spearing and a fantastic ball through from Lucas saw Gerrard seal the win with his hat-trick by chipping the ball calmly over De Sanctis.
The decision to rest key players before Sunday’s big game, against league leaders Chelsea, looked to have put this result in jeopardy and only the introduction of Gerrard really saved us from another defeat. There is a saying in football that you should concentrate on the match in front of you, rather than thinking ahead to arguably more important matches. It is a good job that Gerrard wasn’t fully rested, as Torres was, or I wonder where the goals would have come from last night.
All in all though, a fantastic result and a brilliant second half performance, not only from our captain but from every man in red. His introduction sparked life in to a side that looked to be fizzling out.
Line-up : Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Konchesky; Spearing, Poulsen (Eccleston 65); Shelvey, Meireles, Jovanovic (Gerrard 45); Ngog (Lucas 82).
Subs: Hansen, Wilson, Kelly, Skrtel.