LIVERPOOL 2-1 ARSENAL (Alonso 37, Mellor 90+2; Vieira 57)
“MELLOR… My goodness. Where did that come from? The right foot of Neil Mellor… it’s probably the last kick of the game.”
Scarcely believable as it is but the footage of a fresh faced Neil Mellor unleashing an improbable 25-yard last-minute winner against the former Invincibles in front of the Kop is 10 years old today. Mellor’s career may not have hit such stratospheric heights again, though this winning goal was followed by the second against Olympiakos only 10 days later, a golden period in the early days of his Liverpool career.
For manager Rafa Benitez though, this was the first fruits of his Anfield vision, the Rafalution as some were prone to calling it a decade ago. It had been a difficult start for the Spaniard; six wins and five defeats in his first 13 league games had stalled the progress that was being made in transforming the Reds’ style from the prosaic final days of Gerard Houllier’s reign. The signings of Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia had injected positivity into the new era, whilst injuries to Steven Gerrard and Djibril Cisse had disrupted its fluency.
Champions Arsenal arrived at Anfield as overwhelming favourites on the day. A month had passed since the end of their unbeaten run at Old Trafford, and though they sat five points behind leaders Chelsea, Jose Mourinho’s side remained a somewhat unknown quantity, and expectation that Arsene Wenger’s team would supplant them still prevailed to a degree.
They had crashed in 38 goals in their opening 14 league games, but since defeat to Manchester United on October 24 they had drawn three of their next four fixtures and one in eight in all competitions. The aura around Arsenal remained though, an aura totally unrecognisable 10 years on; they stood tall, and they knew it, capable of playing breathtakingly beautiful football, or dogging out the result when needed.
Kirkland; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Gerrard, Alonso, Hamann, Kewell; Mellor, Sinama-Pongolle
Lehmann; Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cole, Ljungberg, Vieira, Fabregas, Pires, Reyes, Henry
The performance of that Liverpool XI was perhaps indicative of Benitez’s ability to get his side playing as more than the sum of its parts. The Reds were in the faces of their more illustrious opponents, no hint of shrinking at the occasion, instead it was full throttle. It was a high quality game, defined by its three goals, each of them stunning and well crafted in their own right, although it is the Mellor sledgehammer that has lived on.
Kevin McCarra wrote in the Guardian, “This was the type of display to nurture trust that Rafael Benítez will eventually put the club back among the elite. All three goals were riveting in their different ways but there was also a shrewd strategy at work. Lacking all of his proven strikers through injury, Benítez turned that obstacle into an opportunity. His five midfielders were set out in two banks and Arsenal generally lost their way while trying to slalom through them.”
The opening strike from Xabi Alonso is one of the few Liverpool goals to have elicited a celebration from Benitez; his muted thumbs up celebration, akin to a Jose Mourinho knee slide. It comes from Arsenal looking to break at speed, yet stopped in their tracks by the indomitable Didi Hamann, before Steve Finnan sprays a cross field ball out to Harry Kewell on the left-hand side.
With Patrick Vieira caught up the field from the Arsenal counter-attack that never was, space has opened up inside their half. Kewell cushions a header into the path of an unmarked Steven Gerrard. The captain rests on the ball, delays his next action, with only Neil Mellor ahead of him. The young forward pulls Sol Campbell out of position with a run towards Gerrard, who delicately lays the ball right, to the edge of the 18-yard box and the onrushing Alonso.
The Spaniard meets it first time, and caresses it side footed into the top corner beyond Jens Lehmann. The champions are caught with their trousers down; the best team goal yet of Benitez’s time in charge.
Arsenal were being outplayed and swarmed off the ball every time. Yet you can’t keep a good team out so easily. The eventual equaliser was exquisite in its simplicity, stunning in its craft. Vieira picks up the ball centrally, just beyond the edge of the centre-circle. His first touch is heavy, but the Liverpool midfield are tiring and the pressure is not forthcoming.
The captain plays it to Thierry Henry on the edge of the Liverpool box and continues his run; not a single red shirt tracks it. Henry with a sideways pass to Robert Pires, who picks out Vieira’s slalom into the penalty area. Suddenly out of nothing Vieira is one-on-one with Chris Kirkland, and deliciously dinks the ball over him and into the far bottom corner. A simple goal, born of intricate passing, supreme skill and confidence.
The Gunners could perhaps have expected to win from this point, pre-Old Trafford perhaps they would have done. They enjoyed more of the ball and the better of the play as Liverpool tired, but the Reds summoned up supreme levels of strength and endeavour – not for the last time that season – and held the opposition at bay.
The reward came deep into added time, with both sides staring the draw in the face. Kirkland lumps a free kick from deep inside his own half upfield, and Arsenal, hinting at new vulnerabilities in the post-Invincibles era, switch off. Vieira leaves the header and lets the ball bounce beyond him. The centre-back pairing of Kolo Toure and Campbell, so sure of themselves and each other for so long, go for the same header.
The ball bounces off the Englishman and drops invitingly for Mellor, who strains every sinew left in his creaking, aching body to have one final shot on goal. The connection is sweet, the timing perfect. A speculative effort, but one where all the right ingredients come together at once. The ball arrows its way into the bottom corner, past the despairing dive of Lehmann. Mellor’s first Premier League goal. His finest. His purest. His best moment in a red shirt was still to come, 10 days later, with “a lovely cushioned header”.
The camera pans to Campbell and Vieira trudging away with their hands on their hips, beaten and in disbelief. For Benitez, vindication. Irrevocable proof that his first-season pains were taking Liverpool in the right direction, and moulding a style of football that would bring results. More significantly though was the fighting spirit on display, which had not always been apparent until that point, as defeats to Bolton, Birmingham and Middlesbrough had shown. The Alonso-inspired comeback from 2-0 down at Fulham had been an anomaly up to this point.
The way Benitez’s side fought tooth and nail for the victory here, against great physical and technical opponents, sowed the seeds for bigger, more monumental triumphs that year, and in years to come. This was his blueprint; as much a victory for the eleven players on the pitch as the manager on the touchline.
The comeback against Olympiakos doesn’t happen without this. Holding out against Juventus and Chelsea doesn’t happen without this. Believing against AC Milan, not only at 3-0 down but in extra-time too, doesn’t happen without this. This was the beginning of it all for Rafa’s Reds, and Neil Mellor had everything to do with it.
Pic: David Rawcliffe
One of my favorite memories as a reds fan….a classic match. The Viera goal is still the best goal that i’ve seen scored vs Liverpool plus who could forget that Pongolle turn which took out Viera and Pires.
Completely agree. It’s either that or the Aimar goal against Benitez’s Valencia.
This game is a favourite of mine. Feeling old thinking about it being 10 years ago though.
imagine that back four now?! actually that whole team bar a few minor changes
My favourite Anfield match. Was over celebrating my 30th, and what a present!!
My memories of that game are that we were rather fortunate to win. Not because we scored in the 92nd minute, but on the balance of overall play. I think Wenger talked afterwards about being mugged, or something.
You look at that team and there are at least 5 true leaders, or at the very least big characters. That more than anything is what we’re missing right now. But you only get to be that way by going through the tough times and coming out the other end. What doesn’t kill you, and all that.
Rafa the Great: won the CL with Houllier’s side, dragged the club to second by outspending everyone, then down the shitter to 7th.
“Rafa the Great: won the CL with Houllier’s side”
You make it sound so simple. How come Houllier didn’t win the CL with Houllier’s side?
Rafa had a net spend of £68m over 6 years.
In those 6 years, Man City had a net spend of £231m plus wages a lot more than ours. So City spend well over 3 times Rafa did, but Rafa still outspent everyone apparently.
Chelsea in the same time frame had a net spend of £177m. Yes, you’ve read that right. Chelsea spent £109m more on transfers and fuck knows what else on wages during Rafa’s time at Liverpool. Yet Rafa still outspent everyone apparently.
Utd also had a net spend of £86m over Rafa’s first 5 years until they sold Ronaldo for £80m in 2009. Ended up with a net spend over those 6 years of £26m.
Arsenal had a £30m profit over the same time period as they had a stadium to pay for. Shows what a genius Wenger is.
Is the reign of Hicks/Gillette ripped the club apart and the financial reality was slowly being realised, Rafa’s last 18 months went like this:
Players In – None
Players Out – Keane £16m
Net spend -£16m PROFIT
Players In – Johnson £17.5m Aquilani £17m Kyrgiakos £2m Ayala £150,00
Players Out – Leto £3m Arbeloa £3.5 Alonso £30m Anderson £250,000
Net Spend -£100,000 PROFIT
Players In – Raheem Sterling £160,000 Maxi Free
Palyers Out – Dossena £4.6m Voronin £1.8m Mihaylov £1.5m
Net Spend -£7.74m PROFIT
Players In – Shelvey £1.7m
Players Out – San Jose £2.6m
Net Spend -£900,000 PROFIT
Total Net Spend -£24.64M. So Rafa had A PROFIT in last 3 ½ transfer windows. And that isn’t taking into consideration profit from the Shelvey sale or how much Sterling would currently be worth if we sold him today.
Is it any wonder he had a 7th place finish? The club was an omnishambles behind the scenes as it hurtled toward administration.
Won the CL with Houlliers’s side. Funny how Houllier didn’t win it or come anywhere near winning it with Houllier’s side. I don;t seem to recall Alonso and Garcia playing for the Frenchman, who also had Owen up front whereas Rafa had Baros. Suppose getting to semi finals and finals in the next few years doesn’t count either somehow….
Wenger said after this game that we won due to being physically stronger and because just a few days before they played a Champions League game with 10 men for the last 30 minutes, and 9 men for the last 15 minutes.
Squad that day:
Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise,
Gerrard, Alonso, Hamann, Kewell,
Mellor, Sinama Pongolle (Nunez 69).
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Diao, Biscan, Warnock.
What would you give for a Finnan Hyypia and Carra now? Or Xabi? Or Didi?
Kirkland vs Mignolet? Not sure.
At least out bench is stronger these days, eh?
Can’t believe this was 10 years ago. Starting to feel old. When Mellor’s strike went in I near throttled my brother as we jumped up and down for about 5 minutes. He was red as a beetroot, couldn’t breathe but didn’t care. We still laugh about it today.
We had a feeling about that game. Ordinarily against such a good side a we’d have taken a draw but Arsenal’s form had been in and out. They had been the invincibles but Utd kicked them off the park then Rooney cheated to win a penalty to finally end their unbeaten run a few games before. They weren’t the same after that. And at the time we seemed to lose one then win the next over and over. A game before this we had just been abominable in a 2-0 loss away to Middlesbrough.
Love these articles on recent history.
I’d take the defence and midfield like a shot. The forward line and the bench though…..
10 years ago? I seriously hope that’s a misprint.
The 04-05 season representedmy first full season of going the match. On the Kop, being right behind Mellor’s strike and knowing it was going in, is easily in my top 3 moments at Anfield that season. The ball hits the net and…….bedlam. Pure unadulterated bedlam. Magnificent.
Amazing memories and paul your just a wind up merchant or a manc but you cant be a liverpool fan !