“One of the greatest nights in this football club’s history,” was the verdict of Phil Thompson after Liverpool blasted their way to a 2-0 victory which secured their place in the last eight of the competition.
Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier had been absent for five months after being taken ill at half-time during a game with Leeds United, the Frenchman’s life saved by an emergency heart operation.
Liverpool had performed well in Houllier’s absence, but Thompson knew that the players, many of whom shared close relationships with the manager, would be lifted by his presence.
The effects of his illness were still clear – Steven Gerrard was shocked by how pale Houllier looked and how much weight he had lost – but Thompson was right; Liverpool were energised, motivated and emboldened by their leader’s return.
Anfield was already buzzing, knowing the task facing its side, but Houllier’s emergence from the tunnel seconds before kick-off lifted it to a new level.
Liverpool were ahead inside seven minutes, Jari Litmanen converting a penalty after Marcos Assuncao fouled Danny Murphy.
“Gerard has always said when these players want something badly they go and get it,” Thompson said, and after the break, despite one scare when Totti went close, Liverpool got the crucial second goal, Heskey heading in Murphy’s free-kick.
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