SHOULD Liverpool achieve the improbable and overhaul Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table then no-one will have personified the spirit and determination of Rafael Benitez’s side more than Dirk Kuyt.
If anyone deserves to claim a championship winning medal this season, it is the Dutchman. In recent weeks he has taken it upon himself to drive Liverpool forward in the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard, lacing his extraordinary energy with that priceless knack of producing crucial goals at crucial times.
It has taken Kuyt longer than expected to become a firm favourite of Liverpool supporters but even the most critical of followers must be struggling to find fault with a player who never gives in.
This was a contest Liverpool were expected to win yet until Xabi Alonso’s opening goal on the cusp of half-time such an outcome appeared to be in serious doubt.
Stubborn and resilient, Hull were quick into the tackle and creative on the break and it is no exaggeration to suggest that, but for the industry and quality finishing of Kuyt Phil Brown’s hosts could have manufactured at least a point.
The chances of this happening were blown out of the water when Caleb Folan, the Republic of Ireland international, kicked out at Martin Skrtel in the 59th minute when chasing down a back-pass from Jamie Carragher to earn himself a straight red card.
Four minutes later Kuyt’s clinical header doubled Liverpool’s advantage. Geovanni pulled a goal back for Hull but the result was confirmed when Kuyt scored his second of the match in the final minute.
“We didn’t play very well but sometimes that happens in football,” he said. “The positive thing is that we showed character and we kept going until we got the three points.
“To score the most goals in the Premier League is not the most important thing — it is all about winning it. We will just keep fighting for it — all we can do is keep winning our games.
“We don’t give up. Hopefully the miracle will happen.
“I believe in miracles in football — I have certainly seen stranger things happen in football.
“We just have to give everything we can as a team — that is the most important thing. At the end of the day, the team that is top deserves to win the league. We have got a great team and will fight till the end and we shall see what happens on the last day of the season. “It’s not game over in the league and we will keep chasing them (United) right till the end.”
For Benitez, satisfaction at his side’s relatively routine triumph was muffled two hours later by Manchester United’s extraordinary comeback against Tottenham.
Games are running out for Benitez, but the Spaniard — aware that his team’s fixture list has a gentler hue than Alex Ferguson’s — is not prepared to concede, especially as he is confident of welcoming back Gerrard, who has missed the last four games, including this one, due to a hamstring injury, will recover in time to face Newcastle next week.
“We have to keep on winning,” Benitez said. “This football is always difficult and United are a good team, but if we keep winning I think maybe they will feel the pressure.
“You never know in football. We have done our job here.”
As for Hull, the gloom that has enveloped Humberside since the new year shows no sign of dispersing. Competitive for 45 minutes, they were dispatched comfortably enough in the second half and it appears only the failings of others will suffice to keep them up.
Folan, who was recalled to the Hull side but is now facing a club fine and suspension as Brown’s team battle to stay out of the bottom three, was inconsolable.
“I was trying to get past the defender but he got in front of me and was trying to obstruct me,” he said.
“I don’t know whether the referee pulled me for the use of my arm or my foot towards the end.
“I don’t know whether he thought I purposely meant to kick him but I didn’t intentionally kick him. It was more a frustration thing.
“I will be watching the Middlesbrough and Newcastle games and it is hard sometimes to watch the other teams around you.
“But I am always keeping an eye out on the results and we need them to go our way.”
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire) 7: Angered the home supporters by dismissing Caleb Folan but replays proved his decision was correct.
MATCH RATING. *** Hull’s lack of genuine quality and Liverpool’s failure to find top gear contributed to an average contest, punctuated only by Dirk Kuyt’s brilliance.
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