AmEx Stadium, Brighton
Barnes 89 (pen) – Bellamy 7, Kuyt 81
Brighton suffered a first defeat in their sparkling new Amex Stadium as they were beaten by a powerful Liverpool side, but not before they made their Premier League opponents work hard for their victory.
Brighton had to be pragmatic in their team selection. The windfall offered to them by Sky Sports to televise this tie meant two games in 48 hours for the Seagulls. The visit of Leeds United on Friday evening for a league fixture impacted on Gus Poyet’s selection. They lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. Matt Sparrow, Charlie Bridcutt and Scouser Alan Navarro made up the midfield. Record summer signing, Craig Mackail-Smith was the central man in the front three flanked by Buckley and Craig Noone.
The big team news from Liverpool centered on the possible return of Steven Gerrard after a six month injury lay-off. As it was he only made the substitutes bench as the Reds, looking to bounce back after consecutive defeats, named a very strong line-up, with the Carling Cup offering a great opportunity for silverware, without the distraction of European football. Uruguayan centre-back Sebastian Coates was at the heart of the defence alongside Jamie Carragher. With Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing anchoring the midfield, Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt were given licence to provide the ammunition for Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez up front.
Brighton are renowned for playing neat possession football. However to do that you need the ball and for long periods of the first half they were starved of it by a slick Liverpool side. It took the Reds just seven minutes to open the scoring with a neat passing movement getting Craig Bellamy behind the defence on the left-hand-side of the penalty area, his neat finish across Casper Ankergren finding the net via the far post.
The movement of Liverpool’s front two, with their diagonal runs in behind the defence were causing Brighton all sorts of problems. Within a fifteen minute period the Reds really should have put the tie to bed, with Suarez missing two opportunities, a shot across goal and a header glancing off the outside of the post. Bellamy rattled the crossbar with a stunning 35 yard free-kick, and Jay Spearing was denied by a finger-tip save by Ankergren, the Dane touching the ball onto the post.
Brighton were getting frustrated, losing the ball too easily whenever they did manage to get the ball and both Navarro and Sparrow were booked in quick succession for late challenges. But in the dying moments of the half, Mackail Smith played in Noone on the right, and his shot was spilled by Reina with Buckley unable to turn home the rebound.
Brighton were much more attack-minded in the second half, playing at a higher tempo and providing Liverpool with some uncomfortable moments. Just two minutes into the second period a horrible cross-field ball by Coates was pounced upon by Noone, the forward instantly shooting from 25 yards but he saw his effort come off the crossbar.
Despite their efforts, Brighton lacked a real cutting edge and their dreams were ended by Kuyt’s late strike, the Dutch striker providing the finish to a quick-fire Liverpool break, his rolled effort past Ankergren again going in off the post.
Liverpool had to ride out a nervous finish as a last minute penalty, smashed in by Barnes, and four minutes stoppage time gave Brighton hope, but there was to be no comeback.
Brighton (4-3-3): Ankergren; Calderon, Greer, Cook, Vincelot; Sparrow (Lua Lua 78), Bridcutt, Navarro (Barnes78); Buckley (Vicente 61), Mackail-Smith, Noone.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Kelly (Flanagan 86), Carragher, Coates, Robinson; Kuyt, Lucas, Spearing, Rodriguez; Suarez (Gerrard 76), Bellamy
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