Brighton 1-2 Liverpool

By Phil McNultyChief football writer at the Amex Stadium
Craig Noone
Noone hit the bar as Brighton fought bravely against Liverpool

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard made his comeback after six months on the sidelines as they came through a potentially hazardous Carling Cup third round tie at Brighton unscathed.

The visit of Liverpool to Brighton's new stadium was portrayed as a possible upset with Gus Poyet's side lying third in the Championship after an impressive start to the season.

But Liverpool were deserved winners as manager Kenny Dalglish confirmed his intention to make a serious attempt to win this much-maligned competition by fielding a strong line-up.

Craig Bellamy was the inspiration behind Liverpool's victory as he made the most of his first start since returning to Anfield on a free transfer from Manchester City on transfer deadline day.

The 32-year-old opened the scoring with a composed finish early on and played a part Liverpool's second goal as Dirk Kuyt confirmed their place in the next round draw 10 minutes from time.

Bellamy also thundered a first-half free-kick against the bar and his pace and swift passing style looked a perfect fit alongside Luis Suarez, who twice came close to increasing Liverpool's advantage before half-time.

Ashley Barnes' late penalty gave Liverpool anxious moments at the conclusion, but this was a night when they had the double delight of a victory and the long-awaited return of Gerrard following groin surgery.

Craig Noone, released by Liverpool at the age of 11 and who recently revealed he helped put the roof on Gerrard's games room at his Merseyside home, almost scored a dream goal seconds after half-time only to strike the bar from 25 yards.

But Liverpool were in command and even the late lifeline offered to Brighton by Barnes' penalty was not enough to stop them closing out the win.

Bellamy made the most of his chance as he combined with Suarez and Kuyt with regularity to torment Brighton in a first-half of almost total Liverpool domination.

The Wales striker had already shot narrowly wide before he put Liverpool ahead after seven minutes with an angled shot from a typically incisive pass from Suarez.

Suarez's movement was all too much for Brighton's defence and twice in quick succession he was inches away from extending Liverpool's lead and giving them the advantage their superiority deserved.

The Uruguayan exchanged passes with Kuyt and held his head in his hands in anguish as his shot rolled agonisingly wide - and he was similarly frustrated with a glancing header from Bellamy's free-kick.

Bellamy almost added a spectacular second five minutes before the interval. As his colleagues waiting for the striker to deliver a free-kick into the box he lashed a rising shot against the bar from in excess of 30 yards with Brighton keeper Casper Ankergren little more than an observer.

In a rare moment of danger, Liverpool defender Martin Kelly was forced into a desperate clearance after Noone had tested keeper Pepe Reina.

And it was Noone again who almost punished his boyhood heroes with a powerful drive that struck the crossbar with Reina beaten as Brighton began the second half in positive mood.

Liverpool were being placed under much more pressure than they had in the first half, and Brighton attempted to increase their options by introducing former Spain international Vicente Rodriguez on the hour for the limping Will Buckley.

And he was joined in the action by Gerrard with 16 minutes left. He came on to a rousing reception from the Liverpool fans delighted to see their talisman back and taking the captain's armband.

Liverpool were looking to punish Brighton on the break as they pushed for an equaliser. And so it proved as Kuyt beat Ankergren to round off a sweeping move involving Bellamy and Maxi.

Brighton were given brief hope when Barnes scored after Jamie Carragher fouled Vicente - but the home fans had no complaints as they filed away at the final whistle.

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