Liverpool FC never tend to do things the easy way, well it feels like that anyway…
Being a supporter of this football club is an occupational hazard. Although the rewards can be nourishing and bountiful, they generally don’t come without an agonising dose of pain and anxiety thrown in for good measure.
So, when Olympiacos travelled to Anfield on matchday six of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday 8 December 2004, the ingredients were in place to serve up a dramatic night. After a mixed group stage performance, the equation was simple: the Reds had to defeat their Greek opponents to stand any chance of reaching the Round of 16.
Despite a frantic opening, Rafael Benitez’s side suffered a huge blow on 26 minutes. A free-kick from former Barcelona and Brazil star Rivaldo flew through a gap in the wall to give Olympiacos the lead. Liverpool needed three goals without reply to progress.
With just 45 minutes to save themselves, Benitez shuffled his pack and brought on Florent Sinama-Pongolle for Djimi Traore. Within two minutes of the restart, the change proved instant dividends as the forward tapped home from close range after a low ball from the left by-line courtesy of Harry Kewell. Anfield believed again.
Liverpool continued to press for further opportunities in the second half, and were denied by referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez when Steven Gerrard’s speculative strike squirmed under Antonis Nikopolidis was disallowed for a prior foul in the build-up. As the clock ticked closer towards 90, anxiety grew again.
But with 10 minutes remaining, another substitute would play his part as Neil Mellor reacted instinctively to slam home after Nikopolidis palmed Antonio Nunez’s header into the young forward’s path. Six minutes later, Mellor would play his part in one of Anfield’s most iconic moments.
Pushed further forward, centre-back Jamie Carragher found himself on the left-wing desperately trying to fashion a crossing opportunity. His eventual ball forward found Mellor inside the box, and his knock-down bounced enticingly for Gerrard 20 yards out to fire with missile accuracy past a helpless Nikopolidis and sent Anfield into raptures.
It wasn’t just the Liverpool fans who Gerrard wowed. A certain beIN SPORTS analyst by the name of Andy Gray, who was once an Everton forward, reacted as if he was on the Kop himself with a commentary line that has gone down in folklore:
“Oh, you beauty!! What a hit son! What a hit!”
Gray’s line captured the moment perfectly, and in the years that have followed many, a goal scored in the park or on a school playground has been accompanied with an impersonation of the Scot’s dulcet tones.
As for Gerrard, his match-winning moment encapsulated his importance to a Liverpool side that was nowhere near his world-class standards. During a period that was rife with speculation about the midfielder’s future, the Scouse icon was a one-man show and his determination to drag his boyhood club to victory was prevalent on a night that has gone down in folklore in Liverpool’s rich European history.
After all, that win spearheaded the Reds’ charge for Champions League glory that culminated in an even more incredible night in Istanbul,