Liverpool skipper sees action for the first time since March and Spaniard Vicente makes Seagulls debut as Reds make wholesale changes following drubbing at the weekendIt was a tale of two subs at the AmEx Stadium as Steven Gerrard made his long awaited return from injury for Liverpool in the League Cup victory over Brighton in a game which also saw Vicente make his debut for the south coast side. Craig Bellamy, who made a return to the starting lineup grabbed the first goal and Dirk Kuyt sealed the win late in the second half by doubling the lead.
Goals in each half summed up a performance from Kenny Dalglish's side which was enough to see of Gus Poyet's men who gave a good account of themselves against their Premier League visitors.
Brighton manager Poyet had a real selection dilemma going into this fixture with Leeds United coming to the AmEx Stadium on Friday night and Crystal Palace next Tuesday meaning many of his players could be playing three games in the space of six days.
On the other hand, the need for a win for Liverpool was paramount as Kenny Dalglish’s side entered this game. Two scoreless defeats – a respectable loss at Stoke and the nightmare defeat at White Hart Lane on Sunday – meant that any slip-ups against a talented Brighton side would be met with serious ramifications.
With Liverpool not in European football of any kind for the first time since 1999/00, the focus shifts onto the cup competitions for success this season. The Premier League title seems out of financial reach with the two Manchester clubs setting the pace, so the League Cup is a viable option for another addition to the Anfield trophy room. Dalglish made seven changes from the side which lost on Sunday – although with such a heavy defeat wholesale changes were expected – one of which was bringing Craig Bellamy into the starting XI.
The move paid dividends quickly when after seven minutes a marvellous passage of swift, sharp passing from Liverpool allowed Luis Suarez to feed Bellamy. The Welshman strode past the defence to slide the ball into the far post leaving Casper Ankergren floundering. It was the mark of a side with obvious talent and the know-how to implement it.
With Brighton going behind so quickly, the Sussex side receded somewhat fearing a drubbing could be on the cards and this allowed the visitors to dictate the game. Lucas and Jay Spearing in particular were controlling affairs from the heart of the team.
With such dominance chances were always on the horizon, and the front pair of Bellamy and Suarez were the best of the missed opportunities. A Bellamy free-kick from the right was met by the head of Suarez who’s glancing header scrapped the outside of the post on it’s path past Ankergren. Another dead ball from the Welshman almost made the lead two when he fired from 35 yards and was unlucky to see the ball smash against the crossbar. Once again Ankergren could do nothing but watch.
As the half drew to it’s conclusion it was Brighton who took the game by the scruff of the neck and a slinky run from Will Buckley on the left wing resulted in Liverpool full-back Martin Kelly bundling Buckley down. Referee Mike Oliver was literally on top of the incident and decided that contact was minimal.
The last act of the first half was another Brighton raid which saw Craig Noone’s shot forcing a fumble from Pepe Reina which required Kelly to slide in to clear the imminent danger.
The second half saw Brighton continue to trouble Liverpool but the killer instinct was never quite there. A change was needed by Gus Poyet and what a change he made. Vicente, the former Spanish international who was signed from Valencia in the summer, received rapturous applause when he came on to make his debut for the injured Buckley on the hour. Much is expected of Vicente and this game was an ideal starting point for his Brighton career.
As time passed the chances of Brighton getting back into the contest waned and Dalglish took this situation to give his captain Gerrard his first competitive action since March when the England man replaced Suarez after 75 mintues.
Liverpool continued to hold the whip hand and Kuyt doubled Liverpool's advantage on 88 mintues with a cool finish to beat Ankergren, who would want to forget this game.
Vicente didn't get on the scoresheet but he did earn the penalty which gave Brighton the slimmest of hopes of a comeback. The Spaniard was felled by Spearing, meaning Ashley Barnes stepped up to give the Brighton fans something to cheer.
Liverpool fans would have been pleased with the calm and assured performance and with the knowledge that they are in the hat for the next round which will be drawn this coming Saturday.
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