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23.12.06

Liverpool 2 Watford 0



FOOTBALL LIVE REPORTS
Picture Pennant and Bouazza have eyes on the ball.
By Paul Walker, PA Sport
Liverpool made it 26 home league games without defeat as they overcame Watford this afternoon - equalling a run last accomplished under Kenny Dalglish in 1991.

Rafael Benitez's men may not quite be up to that vintage, but they are on the sort of run now with four straight league wins, that at least should secure them another season in the Champions League.

Watford made them work hard. It was not until Craig Bellamy broke the deadlock 62 seconds into the second period with a neat chip - his fourth goal in five games - that the Anfield men started to look comfortable.

Adrian Boothroyd's side are resilient, fit, organised and full of powerful players, but depend on set-pieces to carry their threat.

Liverpool were forced to concentrate against such a barrage, and it took them until two minutes from time for Xabi Alonso seal it with a spectacular 25 yarder.

Liverpool brought in young Danish defender Daniel Agger and midfielder Luis Garcia in place of Sami Hyypia and Mark Gonzalez from the side that won 3-0 at Charlton last weekend.

For Watford, there was a boost when goalkeeper Ben Foster was declared fit following a knee injury - and he was certainly a busy man.

The Anfield fans were expecting a convincing win but they found it tough getting space and time against Watford's renowned resilience.

Twice in the opening minutes Steven Gerrard was almost clear in the box but the giant frame of Danny Shittu managed to get in the way. That proved the story of the first period.

Watford have won praise for the work ethic and desire, and the ball spent an awful long time in the air as their set-piece routines fell into Liverpool's defence, who did not always deal well with the tactic.

But Bellamy was causing immense problems with his pace at the other end. He gave Jay DeMerit a torrid time but his efforts to set up colleagues failed to produce the breakthrough.

Bellamy saw a fierce shot strike DeMerit following a John Arne Riise run and cross before Dirk Kuyt was next into the act with a low drive that Foster pushed away.

But for all Liverpool's dominance, Watford missed a sitter on 39 minutes when Jose Reina fumbled away a cross from Ashley Young, and unmarked Alhassan Bangura scooped the loose ball over the bar from 10 yards.

Then Agger ran 50 yards from deep unchecked before firing in a drive that Foster fumbled, but Garcia could not guide the rebound into an empty net.

But Watford's resistance lasted just a couple of minutes of the second period when Kuyt's touch sent Gerrard storming through the middle, and his neat pass found Bellamy on the edge of the box.

He was fractionally onside and turned to control the ball and lift it over Foster for his sixth goal of the season.

Watford sent on Anthony McNamee to play on the left, Darius Henderson making way with Hameur Bouazza moving up front - the visitors looking for width and pace to try to salvage something from the game.

And it almost came on 63 minutes when Tommy Smith got down the right and fired over a cross that Young met with a flicked header, Reina touching the ball over the bar.

Liverpool then sent on Gonzalez for Jermaine Pennant on 65 minutes and with his first touch he sent Bellamy away, just failing with a header when the Welshman's shot bounced up off Foster.

Jamie Carragher, who scored his first league goal since 1999 last weekend, almost added another on 74 minutes when he peeled off at the back post onto a Gerrard corner. He hit a fierce volley that Foster somehow managed to palm over the bar from point-blank range.

On 81 minutes Bellamy was replaced by Peter Crouch, while Watford sent on Damien Francis for Bangura, and Crouch hit the post from a Garcia pass on 85 minutes.

It seemed Liverpool could not settle things but with two minutes left that elusive goal arrived.

Kuyt raced down the left and with his second attempt, slipped the ball back for Alonso fire in a spectacular 25-yarder into the top corner.







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