Club Focus – Liverpool – Reds edge through against Czech outfit

Injury-hit Liverpool edged their way into the last 16 of the Europa League with a slender 1-0 victory over battling Czech side Sparta Prague. The Reds only managed to hold their opponents to a drab 0-0 draw in the first leg last week; however Kenny Dalglish’s side scored a late winner during the return leg at Anfield to send the Merseysiders through to the next round of the competition.

Dirk Kuyt was the man to extinguish Sparta Prague’s hopes of progressing, as the Dutchman finally converted one of Liverpool’s many chances by heading home an 86th minute winner from a Raul Meireles corner. The industrious forward, who is currently in negotiations to extend his contract with the Reds, bagged his 15th European goal in a Red shirt.

But for much of this game and indeed the tie overall, Liverpool failed to break their spirited opponents down. The Reds certainly looked livelier last night, though there were still signs that they were lacking sufficient quality up front. Young Frenchman David Ngog, who Rafael Benitez is reported to have snapped up for a measly £1.5m, is an undoubted talent; however this was not one of his greatest nights at Anfield. Meanwhile, Uruguayan hot-shot Luis Suarez is cup-tied, whilst £35m centre forward Andy Carroll continues to recover from injury. At least Liverpool will be able to call upon his aerial presence at some point in the competition, should they continue to progress.

But for all their striking deficiencies, Liverpool looked solid at the back. Already without Glen Johnson going into the game, the Reds soon lost starlet Martin Kelly to injury at half time, whilst Daniel Agger and Sotiris Kyrgiakos both picked up knocks during the match. Nevertheless, the Anfield outfit remarkably kept another clean sheet, which happened to be their sixth in seven games. Credit must not only go to Dalglish for restoring confidence around the place, but also coach Steve Clarke, whose arrival appears to have played a key role in getting Liverpool back to their best defensively. With a long-standing unbeaten run and clean sheets galore, the Reds will now welcome Portuguese side Braga in the next round of the Europa League.

In off the field matters, former Managing Director Christian Purslow has left his posts as a special adviser and non-executive director at the club. Purslow, who has often been criticised by former Reds boss Rafael Benitez in recent months, is regarded to have played a fundamental role in the sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures. The 47-year-old is now to spend his time concentrating on other business interests.

Meanwhile, the Reds are preparing to face relegation-threatened West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. Avram Grant’s Hammers currently have the worst home record in the division, having secured just 13 points in as many games on home soil. Liverpool will be looking to keep their impressive run of form going and must win this game if they are to stand any chance of challenging for an unlikely yet achievable top four finish.

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