Steven Gerrard wrote another piece of Liverpool history for himself before being told he should not have been on the pitch to do it.
Gerrard’s opening goal in the 2-0 home victory over 10-man Wolves on Boxing Day made the Anfield skipper the club’s highest league scorer of the decade with his 75th Premier League strike taking him above Michael Owen.
The goal was also Gerrard’s first from open play since September and only his fifth of an injury-dogged season. But some of his tough tackles before he managed to get on to the end of an Emiliano Insua cross against Mick McCarthy’s well organised Wolves outfit, had former England and Manchester United winger Steve Coppell suggesting he was lucky not to have been sent off.
Article continues below ...
Coppell, the former Reading boss, was working as a TV pundit at the match, and said: "Decisions now are so critical. Gerrard got away with a couple of tackles in the first half, which if you compare them with the ones from Stephen Ward, Gerrard’s certainly deserved a booking too.
"In any game I have seen in the Premier League this season, Gerrard’s tackles deserved yellow cards. Those incidents changed things.
"Mick McCarthy will be thinking ‘what if’ Gerrard had been penalised. He may not have been around to score his goal."
Gerrard’s towering header, and a deflected Yossi Benayoun goal, gave Liverpool a much-needed victory, but it only came after defender Ward had been sent off for two bookable offences. It took referee Andre Marriner some time to get that decision right, having mistakenly booked Christophe Berra for the second of Ward’s offences.
Ward was cautioned for tugging Benayoun’s shirt and then a few minutes later making limited contact with Lucas Leiva, clearly offences that had Coppell believing Gerrard’s tackles deserved greater punishment.
Gerrard, with his future again being linked with a move away from Anfield – along with Fernando Torres – if Liverpool fail to reach the Champions League next season, was just happy for another hard-fought victory. He said: "Wolves were organised, they were always going to be difficult to beat.
"It was just all about waiting for that breakthrough. But we knew if we had the belief it would come, and it did. When you’re not getting the results you expect it’s always going to affect confidence.
"We want to put it right. The players are hurting at the moment. But if we keep showing the attitude we did against Wolves we’ll move up to where we want to be."
Boss Rafael Benitez, who admits to having held talks with Gerrard over his recent poor form, was delighted the midfielder is at last back on the goal trail. He said: "The first goal was a great delivery and he was attacking the ball, it is a big difference for him to score a goal like that.
"It was important for him to score, to play well, and to help the team. He normally scores more goals than this every season, so now he can start to build up his total."
Benitez was involved in a touchline rumpus with Wolves boss McCarthy in the uproar that followed West Midlands official Marriner’s initial decision to book Berra, and not give Ward a second yellow.
But afterwards the Anfield chief said: "We knew it was the wrong player booked. The referee eventually got it right.
"The sending off changed the game, against 11 men it is difficult in the Premier League, but against 10 men who are soon 1-0 behind, the game becomes more open.
"In the first half Wolves had some chances and they were dangerous. But in the second period we were in control."