The TIA player of the month for December was one of the most unanimous of the season so far, with Liverpool’s rampant number 15, Peter Crouch running out the clear winner.
December heralded the start of the hectic and notoriously unpopular Christmas period; it also heralded the start of Crouch’s remarkable return to scoring form. The reds were hitting a run of great form with a series of victories in previous weeks.
The test now was against the high flying and much respected Wigan at Anfield. This would question just how much Benitez’ men could cope against a side that previous Liverpool sides have been known to slip up against. Liverpool, as expected, started with Benitez trademark high tempo style to the play. It took just 19 minutes for Crouch to claim his first goal in a Liverpool shirt, the goal would be much talked about though due to a wicked deflection from his long range shot which looped over the hapless Mike Pollitt who could only swipe at the ball as it sailed over him. Cue the mass celebrations around Anfield, a huge weight had been lifted it seemed as we saw a beaming smile from both scorer and team mates. If there were any doubt over whether his first was in fact his or an own goal, his second was to be crouch’s and crouch’s only. A delightful ball from Steve Finnan sailed over the Wigan back four and the lofty striker was onto it in a flash and proceeded to lob the ball over Pollitt once more and into the far corner of the net’¦..this one was definitely his! (The first goal would later be attributed to crouch via the FA’s ‘˜dubious goals committee)
The month would also hold the much anticipated visit to Stamford Bridge to face Mourinho’s Chelsea. The champion’s league tie would decide who would finish top of the group but more notably, who would gain bragging rights and possibly the slightly easier tie in the knockout stages of the competition. The match would, however, would end like as many expected, with very little for the front pair to feed from and both exceptional defences cancelling out any positive attacking play. Crouch would be eventually substituted in the 68th minute to make way for Fernando Morientes. With the Game finishing 0-0, it was the reds that would top the group.
Next to visit Anfield was Steve McLarens Middlesbrough. The game would see the red hot home form continue for Liverpool, running out 2-0 winners with a brace from Morientes. Crouch would have the sort of game that Liverpool fans were used to seeing now from Crouch, a tireless, hard working and troublesome performance from the forward. However he would have to wait until the club embarked on their marathon trip to Tokyo for the World Club Championships before finding himself on the score sheet again.
Joining the competition in the privileged semi-final stages of the competition, Liverpool were to face Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica. The fear of Jet Lag in the Liverpool camp was soon dispelled as Crouch found his scoring touch in just the 3rd minute, dispensing a crisp right footed volley into the far corner, showing textbook technique. He would later show a cool head in front of goal in the 58th minute coolly slotting a one on one chance with the Saprissa goal keeper beyond him and into the net following a defensive blunder.
Crouch celebrates his impressive half-volley against Saprissa
Crouch had been terrorising the Saprissa defence in the manner that reds fans were becoming increasingly used to seeing and appreciating. His height seemed to either panic centre backs into making errors or simply conceding free kicks. Liverpool would finish 3-0 winners and progress to the final were they would eventually lose 1-0 to Brazilian champions Sao Paulo, having had 21 shots on their goal, winning 17 corners, hitting the Sao Paulo crossbar 2 times and also having 3 goals disallowed, it was hard to swallow that the reds actually didn’t take the championship honours. Crouch was left out of the final line up but made an appearance from the bench late on and showed just how much trouble he could cause a defence, unused to playing against a tall centre forward who not only would win things in the air but also had such a controlled touch and skill on the ball.
Back to the bread and butter of the English premiership and a high profile encounter with Newcastle united at Anfield on Boxing Day. The game would welcome back Liverpool’s former golden boy Michael Owen, making his first appearance back in opposition colours since his much publicised move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2004. However he was to be overshadowed by the form of Peter Crouch as he pounced on a Harry Kewell cross in the 43rd minute and powered a header to Shay Givens left who could only push it into the corner of the net making the score 2-0 following Steven Gerrard’s earlier strike. In a post match interview it was suggested that it may have been a Shay Given Own-Goal, to which the former Southampton player replied with a huge grin on his face ‘œare you trying to take all my goals off me?!’ . This character and humility is what has endeared Crouch to not only the Liverpool faithful but also many neutrals who admire the way in which he has handled unfair criticism and pressure regarding his previous lack of goals. Crouch was starting to win over many plaudits as his goal ratio began to mirror his always impressive form in the red shirt. He would book his place in Anfield folklore during the first Merseyside derby of the season at Goodison Park, where in the 11th minute; he popped up on the end of some sweet, flowing interplay on the edge of the Everton box and rounded the advancing Nigel Martyn before calmly slotting the ball into the empty net. This display of finishing and instinctive reactions in front of goal is one of the many reasons why Rafael Benitez was adamant that the Â£7million price tag was worth every penny for the former south coast hitman.
Showing his neat touch rounding Martyn in the derby
Liverpool would run out 3-1 winners but it was the continued potency in front of goal and link-up play within the Everton half that would see him the toast of Liverpool fans everywhere.
The last game of a highly memorable 2005 for the reds would welcome Bryan Robson’s West Bromwich Albion to, the fast becoming, fortress Anfield. During a game in which the Reds battered the West Brom goal for most of the match but would find the Polish keeper Tomasz Kuszczak in extraordinary form, it seemed as if the game was heading for a stalemate. That was until the 51st minute when that man Crouch, once again displayed how lethal he can be in the air, latching onto another cross from the left wing and powering a match winning header into the near post corner. His celebrations in front of the ecstatic Kop would be a fitting pictorial end to an incredible year which has witnessed many highs for the boys from Anfield and maybe, just maybe, seen the start of a new Anfield hero coming to fruition.