Gerrard rescues Reds again
Steven Gerrard came to Liverpool's rescue once again as his fortunately awarded last-gasp penalty salvaged a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.
With the final seconds of stoppage time ticking away at Anfield, Rafa Benitez's side were heading for a shock defeat thanks to Maxi Rodriguez's first-half strike. But Gerrard has a habit of digging his team out of trouble in European matches and the Liverpool captain did it again by winning and converting a penalty in the 95th minute.
The England midfielder's spot-kick kept Liverpool on course for the second round and stopped Atletico securing a place in the last 16, but Benitez must be concerned by the way his team continue to squander chances to turn their dominance into goals.
Gerrard believed he had merited the penalty. "I went down first, so yes it was a penalty," said Gerrard."I can understand why Atletico were livid as we would have been if it had been against us. But that is how it goes."
Benitez also thought that based on the game they had deserved a penalty after several decisions had gone against them. "I think we deserved to level the match," said the Spaniard. "Thanks to the linesman we got the decision we merited."
Just four days after losing to Tottenham despite out-playing them for long periods, the Reds once again struggled due to their lack of cutting edge. Benitez had opted not to risk Fernando Torres as the Spain striker makes recovers from a hamstring injury, but Liverpool looked toothless without their talisman.
Torres wasn't even on the bench as he missed out on a reunion with his former club, while Atletico boss Javier Aguirre also sprang a surprise by leaving Argentine prodigy Sergio Aguero among his substitutes. Benitez had predicted his players would take out their frustrations on Atletico after that last-gasp defeat at White Hart Lane and they were on the attack within a minute.
Gerrard's corner caused panic in the Atletico defence and Swedish referee Martin Hansson turned down Daniel Agger's appeal for a penalty as he tumbled following a slight tug.
Robbie Keane was once again asked to play up front on his own in Torres's absence, but his clever movement will always make him a danger. Picked out by Xabi Alonso's superb long pass, Keane peeled away from his marker, controlled on his chest and drove a fierce strike just wide as half of Anfield rose prematurely to acclaim a goal.
Atletico mounted their first serious raid in the 20th minute when Mariano Pernia's cross found Simao, who once dumped Liverpool out of the competition during his time at Benfica, but the winger scooped his shot over the bar. Keane had a sight of goal when he ran onto Gerrard's penetrating through-ball, only for Atletico keeper Leo Franco to rush from his line to smother the danger.
But just as the hosts were taking control, Atletico hit Liverpool with a classic counter attack in the 37th minute. Antonio Lopez collected John Heitinga's raking pass down the right side of the penalty area and slipped a low ball through to Rodriguez, who left Jamie Carragher flat-footed and slammed his shot into the far corner of Jose Reina's goal.
Hansson infuriated the Kop when he turned down another penalty appeal early in the second half after Atletico's Luis Perea looked to handle while trying to clear from Keane.
Liverpool had never won a home Champions League tie against a Spanish club and, with Torres watching from the stands, they were always in danger of extending that unwanted run. Another chance went begging when Agger headed over from Fabio Aurelio's free-kick and Benitez responded by sending on Dutch winger Ryan Babel for Albert Riera.
Gerrard blazed wastefully over after a neat one-two with Keane before substitute David N'Gog shot straight at Franco, then Agger headed woefully wide from close range.
Just as it looked like Liverpool had run out of ideas, Gerrard fell dramatically after a clash with Pernia in stoppage time and this time Hansson did award a penalty. The captain picked himself up and made no mistake with the spot-kick to salvage a point for the Reds.