Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt may have lost their previously untouchable status as Liverpool's first-choice strike force, but last night the pair provided boss Rafa Benitez with proof of their enduring value.
With new signings Fernando Torres and Andriy Voronin now Benitez's preferred front pairing after only a handful of games, Crouch and Kuyt were handed the chance to prove they deserve to be more than mere understudies this season. Crouch may not be able to get a look-in when it comes to the Premier League, but last night he provided a timely reminder of why the Champions League stage still manages to bring out the best in him. And Kuyt, who has fared marginally better than Crouch in terms of minutes on the pitch this season, produced a tireless performance which was capped by two deserved goals in the final few minutes. If Benitez really does want serious competition for places between all four of his strikers, then he was provided with it last night as the strength in depth of his front line was confirmed. Toulouse may have provided little in the way of resistance, but there was further evidence in this display of Liverpool's range of options in every position. Restricted to just seven minutes of Premier League action this season and not even included in the 16-man squads for the trips to Aston Villa and Sunderland, Crouch felt sufficiently aggrieved to voice his concern to Benitez. But his performance was the most eloquent protest he could have produced against his prolonged omission, although the England striker knows he still cannot be guaranteed a place in the line-up for Saturday's visit of Derby. Yet with Crouch and Kuyt combining well, Yossi Benayoun providing flair and penetration and Javier Mascherano excelling as the fulcrum of the team, Liverpool coasted into Friday's draw for the group stage and a guaranteed £12million pay out. But the quest for riches and glory in Europe's elite competition was put into stark perspective minutes before kick-off with the playing of the theme tune from Z-Cars, the Everton anthem, in memory of the murdered 11-year-old Rhys Jones. Traditional Merseyside football hostilities were forgotten as the impeccable Liverpool crowd paid a sombre but moving tribute to Rhys with a minute's applause as his mother, father and brother stood on the Anfield touchline. After such an emotional and raw reality check, there seemed little appetite for a game of football, and the usually vociferous Anfield crowd were uncharacteristically flat early on. But their team soon stirred them into action. And it was Crouch who made the breakthrough in the 19th minute, stretching out his lanky right leg at the far post to steer the ball over the line from Kuyt's perfect delivery. Liverpool were allowed to play within themselves throughout, simply because their opponents were so lacking in quality. The home side went 2-0 up in the 49th minute when stand-in skipper Sami Hyypia rose unmarked to head home Benayoun's corner. Despite his impressive display, Crouch showed he still has the capacity to enthral and frustrate in equal measure. With 10 minutes to go, he chested the ball down, took another touch and shaped up for what would have been a superbly taken volley. But he blazed the ball over from close range, when he had already done all the hard work. Kuyt went close when a deflected shot hit the bar but his industry was to be rewarded with two late goals. The first came in the 87th minute, a fine shot from an acute angle. The second came in stoppage time, Kuyt lifting the ball over the keeper after Benayoun put him clear. And all this achieved without the presence of inspirational duo Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in a line-up for the first time in a European match in 10 years.