Leeds 0 Liverpool 1: N'Gog strikes to make Grayson's men pay for misses
23 September 2009 12:36
Rafael Benitez has an unusual man-management style to say the least.
Twelve minutes after seeing young centre forward David N'Gog score just the fifth goal of his unspectacular Liverpool career he took him off.
It may be argued that a player in need of goals and confidence and who won't play at home to Hull this weekend may have benefited from the chance to profit from the buzz that comes from making a telling contribution.
But as Benitez watched the Frenchman make way for captain Steven Gerrard at Elland Road, the Liverpool manager at least knew who to thank for saving him from another deflating night in a competition that has brought him little joy since losing in the final to Chelsea in 2005.
Until N'Gog's well-taken goal in the 66th minute, Liverpool had been largely outplayed by Simon Grayson's energetic and ambitious team. Too many errors and too little possession had made for an uncomfortable night.
With Liverpool's Greek central defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos looking troubled against Leeds forward pairing of Jermaine Beckford and Luciano Becchio and full backs Philipp Degen and Andrea Dossena proving too limited for the highest level, Benitez may have been explaining another cup defeat this morning had the home team's finishing been better.
But Leeds will have learned that you cannot waste chances against decent opposition and when N'Gog's goal came it was a good one indeed.
A corner from the right was cleared to Javier Mascherano and when the Argentinian, who had earlier appeared to swipe Beckford across the back of the head, shot first time from 30 yards N'Gog collected the ball, turned Lubomir Michalik with one touch and then flashed a low right-foot shot across keeper Shane Higgs and into the far corner.
It was only Liverpool's second real chance of the game until then, the other having seen Higgs save Albert Riera's point-blank header just before half-time.
It will, however, do N'Gog no harm at all. Rated highly in his home country when he joined Liverpool from Paris St Germain last season, the 20-year-old has found starting opportunities limited.
Benitez said: 'The goal was fantastic. He was playing very well but to score was good for him. We know he can do it. It confirmed what we know - he is a very good player. I took him off because he was tired. He had worked hard against big defenders.'
Simon Grayson's Leeds team have shown themselves to be serious promotion contenders again this season and they began the match at the top of League One.
Backed by a near full house, Leeds played with confidence and should have been in front within the first 15 minutes. Midfielder Michael Doyle had already headed a Robert Snodgrass cross wide when another delivery from the impressive Leeds wide man was nodded powerfully down by central defender Michalik.
The dive from Liverpool goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri was unconvincing and as the ball slid beneath him Leeds looked to have the lead. But Becchio helped it infrom the goal-line and was then judged to have been offside.
Leeds enjoyed their best period in the 20 second-half minutes before Liverpool scored. Beckford could have scored three times, coming closest when he turned to volley Bradley Johnson's cross over inthe 64th minute.
Leeds manager Grayson chose to make nothing of the Mascherano incident and said: 'His arm went up and I don't know if it was malicious. Sometimes it's malicious and sometimes not.
'But I won't complain. I am proud of my players and we think the offside goal should have been given. Had the breaks gone our way we could have got the win we deserved.'
LEEDS (4-4-2): Higgs; Crowe, Michalik, Kisnorbo, Hughes (Kilkenny, 78); Snodgrass, Howson, Doyle, Johnson; Beckford, Becchio (Grella, 80). Booked: Crowe. LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Cavalieri; Degen (Johnson, 71), Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Dossena; Mascherano, Aurelio; Babel (Skrtel, 90), Spearing, Riera; N'Gog (Gerrard, 78). Booked: Kyriagos. Man of the match: Robert Snodgrass. Referee: Alan Wiley.