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Football: Rafa debt as Gerrard runs show; LIVERPOOL 2 MAN CITY 1.

THE ENGLISHMEN may be gone and the Spanish wait in the directors' box for their chance to take centre stage, but it was skipper Steven Gerrard who struck the crucial winner for the home guard.

Michael Owen, Emile Heskey and Danny Murphy have been shorn from this Liverpool squad, and new boss Rafael Benitez insists he must be trusted when he plumps for Spanish imports now.

And although City were hugely upset by the 85th-minute sending off of Richard Dunne - on a linesman's intervention - Liverpool under Benitez deservedly got off the mark with a home win on the former Valencia coach's Anfield bow.

City had led at the break through Nicolas Anelka - Jerzy Dudek's place could be in doubt after a second mistake in successive games - and it looked as if Kevin Keegan's men would embarrass the new Liverpool boss.

But a highly-charged secondhalf saw Milan Baros equalise, before helping create the winner for a rampant Gerrard.

But even though City's men protested long and hard well after the final whistle to unmoved referee Graham Poll, the right team won a fierce, competitive Barclays Premiership clash.

Benitez watched Liverpool control possession, spin passes around and search for spaces behind the full-backs - but he saw few chances created today.

The Kop got an early sight of Djibril Cisse in full flow, but he surged down the right and went for glory rather than picking out the unmarked Harry Kewell, screaming for the ball in the middle.

Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia - both signed 24 hours earlier - were watching from the sidelines as Gerrard produced one of his trademark 25-yard piledrivers, which David James saved easily. City's first chance came when Anelka swung in a corner and Antoine Sibierski rose to head wide of a post.

But soon after the French striker had more significant input when City managed to grab the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Claudio Reyna and Shaun Wright-Phillips combined well with the latter lifting the ball into the box, and Jamie Carragher's flick left Dudek in a fumbling mess, with Anelka stealing in to angle the ball home.

But Liverpool were level in the 48th minute through Baros.

A poor clearance from Reyna was snapped up by Gerrard, who fed the Czech - and the striker scampered into the box to lift his shot over the exposed James.

Josemi, struggling with a back problem after a tangle with Anelka, was then replaced by Salif Diao, who went to the centre of defence with Carragher moving to right-back.

And Liverpool finally made their superiority tell in the 75th minute.

Hamann and Baros got through the middle virtually unhindered, James blocked the Czech's shot and it bounced out for Gerrard to surge in and convert.

CAPTION(S):

MAIN MAN: hero Steven Gerrard, right, is mobbed
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 22, 2004
Words:465
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