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Liverpool’s Gini in a bottle! Wijnaldum steps up when it really matters again

21:07 GMT+4 21/04/2019
Gini Wijnaldum Liverpool 2018-19
The Reds kept up the heat in the Premier League title race with a 2-0 victory over relegation-threatened Cardiff

He doesn’t get many these days, Gini Wijnaldum.

When he does, though, they tend to be pretty important.

The Dutchman may not score a more critical goal than the one which broke open this tense contest at a sun-drenched Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday.

Wijnaldum’s finish, slammed home 11 minutes after half-time, settled Liverpool down. James Milner, summoned from the bench, kept his nerve from the penalty spot to clinch the points in the closing stages. Their 2-0 victory was clinched with nine minutes to spare.

On a day when Jurgen Klopp’s side simply had to win, they did. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t particularly convincing, but it’ll do. At this stage of the season, anything will do. In this most remarkable of title races, the Reds are still very much alive and kicking.

Now all eyes will fall on Manchester, and Wednesday’s derby match at Old Trafford. Liverpool remain hopeful, but the games are running out. Manchester City sit second but retain – just – the advantage at the top of the Premier League. Beat Manchester United, and then Burnley on Sunday, and it is hard to imagine Pep Guardiola’s side slipping up thereafter. The next week should be crucial.

Liverpool, though, can only do what they can do. Their remaining three fixtures – Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolves – are appealing, and after yet another clean sheet, and yet another victory over a side in the bottom half of the table, Klopp’s men will be expecting to take nine points from nine.

They were made to work for this victory. They wasted chances in the first 45 minutes, with Roberto Firmino wasteful and Mohamed Salah denied by Neil Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.

The Bluebirds, roared on by a boisterous home crowd, did what they could to disrupt the Liverpool rhythm. They delayed over goal-kicks and other set-pieces, they challenged Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk to win a series of aerial duels and they got at Trent Alexander-Arnold, in particular, down their left flank.

For a while, they threatened to get something. Had Alisson Becker not been alert towards the end of the half, Cardiff might even have led through Oumar Niasse.

As it was, it would be Liverpool who struck the decisive first blow after the interval.

It was one from the training ground, too. Wijnaldum, who had only scored one Premier League away goal for the Reds prior to Sunday, timed his arrival perfectly to meet Alexander-Arnold’s low corner and leather the ball past Etheridge for just his third goal of the campaign. The away end, in good voice throughout, erupted.

They nearly fainted when Jordan Henderson blazed a glorious chance over moments later, and then when Alisson misjudged Joe Ralls’ corner soon after. Thankfully for their goalkeeper, Sean Morrison somehow failed to convert with the goal at his mercy. The referee may well have whistled for a foul on Alisson in any case.

Morrison’s misery was compounded when his ill-advised grabbing at Salah in the penalty area resulted, correctly, in a spot-kick award. Milner, brought on for Fabinho, who had replaced Naby Keita as a substitute just moments earlier, stayed cool in the sun to bury from 12 yards and that was that.

"It was prepared to be a proper banana skin and we knew that," said a beaming Klopp afterwards. "The boys were unbelievable."

Neil Warnock, predictably, railed at the officials, feeling that Salah's penalty award was soft. "A 9.9 dive," the Cardiff boss called it, while suggesting a similar offence on Morrison by Andy Robertson at the other end should have been punished. His side remain rooted in the relegation zone with three games to play.

But Liverpool move on. On to Huddersfield, and what should be a home banker on Friday night.

Before then, though, they’ll take their eyes to Old Trafford. Over to you, Pep.