Leeds United 0 Liverpool FC 1: James Pearce's verdict from Elland Road
David N'Gog scores Liverpool FC's winner against Leeds THE understudies didn't quite fluff their lines but this was certainly no award winning performance. Rafa Benitez had thrown down the gauntlet to his fringe players to grab the chance to force their way into his plans on a more regular basis. The Spaniard had warned that an early exit from the Carling Cup could leave some kicking their heels for the rest of the campaign. This was the stage for those on the outside looking in to show supporters what they've been missing and repay the faith shown in them by the manager but their response was tepid to say the least. David Ngog's clinical strike - his fifth in six starts for the Reds - ensured opportunity will knock for Benitez's second string once again but unless they learn lessons Liverpool's stay in the Carling Cup is likely to be brief. A potential upset was successfully avoided last night but this was scrappy and unconvincing. Inflicting a first home defeat on Leeds since January will do little to silence the critics who claim the Reds don't possess the strength in depth needed to land the Premier League crown. The feeling persists that Benitez possesses a first choice XI to match anyone in Europe but scratch beneath the surface and there are weaknesses. Of course the manager will be grateful for small mercies in this competition. Liverpool may have won the League Cup a record seven times but since suffering the agony of the 2005 final defeat to Chelsea, it has brought nothing but disappointment. An early exit at the hands of Crystal Palace, an embarrassing 6-3 humbling at home to Arsenal, a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea and a woeful 4-2 reverse at Spurs have led to countless inquests into the lack of talent at his disposal. But courtesy of Leeds' profligacy in front of goal and Ngog's cool finish dreams of a first trip to the new Wembley are still alive. This tie conjured up images of Ian St John's winner in the 1965 FA Cup final, legendary duels between Bill Shankly and Don Revie and Kevin Keegan's infamous brawl with Billy Bremner in the 1974 Charity Shield. But where once a great rivalry existed, only pity has been forthcoming in recent years.
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