By Pavle Gognidze from S. Darius & S. Girenas stadium
Liverpool FC remain on course to defend their UEFA Champions League title after closing in on a place in the third qualifying round with a comfortable 3-1 win against FBK Kaunas.
However, it was the Lithuanian side that drew first blood, Giedrius Barevicius giving them a shock lead midway through the first half. But by the half-hour mark, goals from Djibril Cissé and Jamie Carragher had restored order, before Steven Gerrard sealed victory from the penalty spot on 54 minutes – his sixth goal in three games.
The result will be a disappointment for Kaunas, who went into the game optimistic after easing through the first qualifying round 8-2 against HB Tórshavn. Indeed, spurred on by a partisan capacity crowd, they started the evening on the attack and Tomas Tomašauskas would have broken through on five minutes had a poor first touch not let him down.
Liverpool soon settled though and when Gerrard's sublime long ball was centred by Cissé, the on-rushing Peter Crouch, a €10.1m arrival during the summer, looked set to mark his debut in style. But a timely intervention by Eduardas Kurskis denied the striker a shot at goal.
Kaunas were slowly being forced on the back foot but finally broke out of their half on 21 minutes, the in-form Arturas Rimkevicius leading an attack down the right flank before firing a low cross into a crowded penalty box where Barevicius was on hand to bundle the ball in.
Lack of composure
But for José Manuel Reina's awareness, Kaunas could have made it 2-0 soon after. The Spanish goalkeeper was forced to sprint off his line to head clear with Rimkevicius bearing down as Liverpool struggled to regain their composure. A sweeping move a minute later soon did that, Crouch directing Boudewijn Zenden's looping cross into the path of Cissé, who applied a stylish finish.
Kaunas struggled to deal with Liverpool's superior aerial prowess and three minutes later another cross, this time from Gerrard, saw Liverpool take the lead with Carragher rising unmarked to head his first goal for six years. The holders never looked back.
Only a superb goal-line clearance from Irmantas Zelmikas prevented the effervescent Cissé from extending the lead before the interval, but Gerrard made no mistake after the break, picking himself up to convert a penalty. The Liverpool captain was almost immediately replaced by Mohamed Sissoko and the game's tempo went with him as the Premiership outfit settled back and began thinking of Friday's third qualifying round draw, ahead of next Tuesday's second leg at Anfield.