Dirk Kuyt fired Liverpool into the last sixteen of the Europa League after another frustrating encounter with Sparta Prague. The reds brought Sparta Prague back to Anfield after a toothless display in the first leg last week which finished a dull goalless draw. And although there was a little more tempo to Liverpools play, many fans thought it was going to end up goalless again after 90 minutes.
But after Kuyt having a quiet first half and not really influencing the game like he has done in the past, the Dutchman was there in the 86th minute to head the ball home in front of the delighted Kop. When you look at the team sheet before the game and seek players out who could cause danger for the opposition, you’d have to say one of those players would be Meireles of late. And it was he who provided the delivery for Kuyt to score from a corner, which would see Kenny Dalglish have his first victory in Europe as Liverpool Football Club manager.
Although the Liverpool players walked off the pitch into the last sixteen of the competition, there was no denying that the performance over the two legs was lacking in conviction and Liverpool didn’t pose a great threat.
Again, Ngog was out-muscled whilst leading the line and his control of the ball was not as good as you’d hope. Poulsen seemed off the pace in the middle and both him and his partner Lucas didn’t really get a strangle hold of the engine room.
Joe Cole desperately trying to get some form and a good level of fitness back, struggled to have an influence on the game. Although Cole did have two late chances in the dying stages of the game – one where he didn’t have the legs to put the ball past the keeper after breaking free and the other which was cruelly stolen from him by Ngog, just when Cole was about to pull the trigger. Ngog missed, but any striker can be forgiven for being greedy. Especially a striker who has really struggled to cause danger and has two of his team mates who also happen to be strikers, breathing down his neck and ready to take his place in the team.
Martin Kelly stood out for many as Liverpools best player on the night. But unfortunately for Kelly, he was subbed for Jamie Carragher through injury. Agger also went off injured in the second half.
Sparta Prague, whilst being well worked and determined to leave little time and space for the reds in the middle of the pitch, didn’t really pose a true threat. Although they were dangerous at set pieces, you got the feeling that they were showing the same type of toothless display in attack as Liverpool did. Maybe that’s why the whole tie was a stalemate for so long. And the frustration soon started to show on their old defenders face, Repka, as he seemed to want to pick an argument with the Kop in the latter stages of the game.
But like many before him have found out in previous years, a Liverpool side that is led by a legendary leader in Europe, is a tough one to beat. Kenny Dalglish has brought the togetherness and team spirit back. And even when some of the guns are misfiring up front, or some of the pistons in the midfield engine are stuttering, there will still be that belief that Liverpool can progress. As TV replays showed, Steven Gerrard gleefully celebrating Kuyts goal, you could be forgiven for thinking that he’d had a cheeky little bet on Kuyt getting the winner. But more realistically, it would make more sense to come to the conclusion that there is such a togetherness and desire to be successful within the club these days. And it was great to see our captain being so overjoyed with the goal that makes us progress in this competition.
Not an exactly pleasing display of football, but most importantly, job done. Without some of our most influential and quality players on the pitch. Credit where credit is due for another clean sheet and some good defending. And a pat on the back to Dirk Kuyt for finding the net and keeping this roller coaster of a season – in which we are still in a position to gather a trophy – alive.