Liverpool 2 QPR 1: With just one more Anfield performance to go in a career that marks him down as one of Liverpool’s greats, Steven Gerrard gave another reminder of just how badly he will be missed.
No-one goes on forever and Liverpool have dealt with the departure of legends before. But in their current state of flux, the departure of Gerrard will leave be a big hole to fill when the 34-year-old hands over the captain’s armband for the final time to wind down his career with LA Galaxy.
No longer an automatic choice, Gerrard had been rested for Liverpool’s mid-week trip to Hull for a 1-0 defeat which now looks even more costly following Saturday’s third successive loss for Manchester United, which might have left the door for Champions League qualification tantalisingly open.
A lack of leadership against Hull was painfully evident and Gerrard’s return against QPR merely underlined the fact.
Beating a team destined for an instant return to the Championship should be nothing to crow about but after winning just one of their previous five Premier League games — and tamely failing in their FA Cup semi-final — Liverpool were desperate for any sort of victory and Gerrard drove them to it.
After orchestrating Liverpool’s early play from his midfield anchor role, the old legs were showing signs of waning and when he missed a penalty with the score at 1-1 with just 10 minutes to go, it threatened to be another uncomfortable afternoon for manager Brendan Rodgers, who was subjected to a fly-by protest before kick-off, which called for him to be replaced by former manager Rafa Benitez.
But after more than 700 games in a Liverpool shirt, Gerrard is desperate to bow out on a high and with just three minutes left of his penultimate appearance on Merseyside, he made one last darting run to meet a Philippe Coutinho corner with a glancing header which won the game and gave him his 184th goal for the club — taking him past Robbie Fowler and into fifth in Liverpool’s all-time list of goal-scoring greats.
“We know the standard and the status here of Robbie and the sheer talent he was in terms of goals. So to pass that shows just what an achievement it is for Steven,” acknowledged a grateful Rodgers.
“It’s a small bracket of players who have that feeling of never being beaten. Boys like Steven and the (Luis) Suarez’s of the world are never beaten.
“Suarez, away at Norwich last season, was through on goal and missed while one-on-one. But five seconds later he scored because he has that world-class mentality.
“I have seen it so many times in games that I have been involved in and watched over the years. Players miss penalties at all levels and the player in question normally end up getting substituted because it affects him.
“With Steven it works the other way. It actually inspires him. He has an absolutely phenomenal talent with a tremendous drive and a determination not to be beaten.”
Gerrard’s heroics were needed after Liverpool, still four points behind United in fifth place with just three games to go, had wasted chances to kill off a QPR side who must now win its final three matches to have any chance of staying up.
Coutinho had put Liverpool in front by delightfully curling in his eighth goal of the season after 20 minutes, but the Londoners were allowed to stay in the game, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling being guilty of missing Liverpool’s best two chances of extending their lead early in the second half.
With 17 minutes to go QPR, who had only ever won once before at Anfield, made it 1-1 when Leroy Fer volleyed in from a Joey Barton free-kick.
Nedum Onuoha then dragged down Martin Skrtel to concede the penalty which Gerrard saw Robert Green save, before Onuoha was sent off for fouling to Jordon Ibe to earn a second caution.
Gerrard then won it, although Liverpool’s joy was offset by thoughts of QPR and former United defender Rio Ferdinand, who lost his wife Rebecca Ellison, 34, to cancer the night before.
Manager Chris Ramsey said: “We have humanitarian thoughts towards a stalwart of the game and, forget the game, as a man he’s outstanding as a person.
“We’ve had no conversation and we’ll let him lead any contact and any decisions that need to be made.”
Mignolet 7; Can 7, Skrtel 7, Lovren 7, Johnson 6 (Markovic 84); Gerrard, (Lucas 89); Sterling 6, Henderson 8, Coutinho 7, Lallana 6 (Ibe 68, 7); Lambert 7.
Green 8; Onuoha 5, Dunne 6, Caulker 5 (Suk-Young Yun 46, 6), Hill 6; Phillips 7, Barton 6, Sandro 6, Henry 6 (Zamora 71); Fer 7, Austin 6.
Martin Atkinson 8
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