Team: Green, Onuoha, Dunne, Caulker (Suk-Young), Hill, Phillips, Barton, Sandro, Henry (Zamora), Fer, Austin
Subs Not Used: McCarthy, Wright-Phillips, Kranjcar, Hoilett, Grego-Cox
A plane circled Anfield before kick-off carrying a banner that read: “Rodgers Out Rafa In” but it was Queen’s Park Rangers who were directed towards the exit by the end.
Steven Gerrard dug Liverpool out of a hole, just for old times’ sake, with an 87th minute winner on his penultimate home appearance. One man’s fairy tale ending proved a nightmare for the opposition.
QPR must avoid defeat at Manchester City next Sunday or they will make an immediate return to the Championship.
They lost Steven Caulker to a suspected broken hand at half-time, another defender, Nedum Onuoha, to a needless red card and, not for the first time this season, their concentration late on when Gerrard appeared through a crowded six-yard box to head home Philippe Coutinho’s corner and his 184th goal for Liverpool.
With Rodgers also defending his tenure, Anfield witnessed an important day in the life of its manager, its indefatigable captain and relegation-threatened opponents.
However, as Rodgers eloquently put it, the serious narratives were rendered “insignificant” in comparison to the news that Rio Ferdinand’s wife, Rebecca Ellison, had died of cancer on Friday at the age of 34.
Both teams wore black armbands in memory of the mother of three young children and Leroy Fer revealed a t-shirt tribute to the Ferdinand family after equalising Coutinho’s opener.
Fer’s 73rd minute volley gave QPR hope in their bid to avoid the drop. Gerrard offered them more encouragement when his 77th minute penalty at the Kop end was saved by Robert Green. Ten minutes later he took it away.
“A lot of players when they miss a big penalty their game goes and their confidence goes. Steven is the total opposite,” said the Liverpool manager, who was going to replace the 34-year old with Lucas Leiva had he converted the spot-kick.
“He is one of a unique group of players that when they need to respond, they do, and an outstanding header gets us the win. It is world-class talent.”
“The career is all flashing before his eyes now. It was brilliant to get it at the Kop as well. This is a guy that you cannot replace. He is getting on in age a wee bit but in terms of quality, his sheer quality as a player, there are not many in our team that can rival that. It will probably only be when he is gone that people will recognise what a sheer talent he is.”
Anfield desperately craved another Gerrard goal but it proved an agonising wait with the captain going close with a free kick from the edge of the penalty area and missing a penalty here for the sixth time in his career before finally delivering.
QPR made a bright, determined start and Fer had the ball in Simon Mignolet’s goal after 47 seconds only for an assistant referee to spot that Matt Phillips’s corner had curled out of play en route. Caulker and Fer also went close before Liverpool started to play with the game 10 minutes old.
With Mario Balotelli nursing a foot injury and Daniel Sturridge in Boston for an assessment on his hip problem, Rickie Lambert was handed his first start in the Premier League since 6 December. The England international took the rare, arguably overdue, opportunity well and it was his vision that allowed Coutinho to open the scoring.
Liverpool broke down their right through Raheem Sterling and found Lambert. The striker picked out Coutinho lurking on the opposite side of the area. The Brazilian cut back inside Onuoha and curled a shot into the top corner.
Adam Lallana and Sterling squandered glorious chances to put the game beyond QPR in the second half and their profligacy was punished when Fer volleyed Joey Barton’s corner down the centre of Mignolet’s goal. Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel stood watching as he did so.
Then came Onuoha’s self-implosion. With 12 minutes remaining he pulled Skrtel to the ground at a Liverpool corner, to concede the penalty that Gerrard failed to convert, and collected a yellow card into the bargain.
Four minutes later he scythed down the substitute Jordon Ibe and walked before Martin Atkinson could produce the second yellow card.
Further punishment arrived for Rangers when they failed to track Gerrard’s run to meet Coutinho’s corner and the captain steered a header into Green’s bottom left-hand corner.
“The fans can see that we are not going out with a whimper,” said Chris Ramsey, seemingly resigned to his team’s fate.
Andy Hunter – The Guardian