Rising to the occasion

The injury-enforced absence of Steven Gerrard meant a chance for other players to seize their opportunities and manager Kenny Dalglish has praised midfielder Jay Spearing for stepping into the void. By Carl Markham.

Liverpool have been perhaps unfairly seen as something of a two-man team in recent seasons due to their reliance on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

The departure of star striker Torres to Chelsea has ended that, and injuries to Gerrard mean he has not been as influential this season.

Their recent revival under Kenny Dalglish has proved that the Reds can cope without the duo, and their supporters will go into next season with a renewed sense of optimism that they can again start thinking of winning silverware.

Dalglish understandably has received much of the credit for Liverpool's turnaround, and one of his best decisions appears to have been to put faith in the club's younger players.

The injury-enforced absence of Gerrard meant a chance for somebody to seize their opportunity and Dalglish has praised midfielder Jay Spearing for stepping into the void.

With the Reds captain ruled out for the remainder of the season after undergoing a groin operation, 22-year-old academy graduate Spearing has been given a chance in central midfield alongside Lucas.

Spearing probably had the best game of his short first-team career in the win at Sunderland recently, the first English Premier League match after Gerrard was sidelined.

Having not started under former boss Roy Hodgson, the former FA Youth Cup-winning captain has been a regular in the starting line-up since, putting in assured performances against Manchester City and Arsenal.

“Any team in the world would be a better team with Steven Gerrard playing in midfield and we're no different,” said Dalglish.

“You feel for players when they're injured but when they are injured someone else steps up to the plate. It's to their credit that they've all stepped up to the plate; not just Jay, all of them. He's always been a good passer but maybe now he's got a bit more confidence and belief in himself and he's encouraged more to do it. The games he's had and the performances he's put in will give him confidence but he still does that (the snapping around people's ankles) and we wouldn't want to take that away from him. Jay's been fantastic in the games he's played for us, and that's a great lift for everyone at the club — to see someone like that coming through.”

Dalglish has not been afraid to give younger, less experienced players a run in the team — although some of his selections have been down to necessity.

Merseyside-born Spearing is ahead of Christian Poulsen, who has won more than 80 caps for Denmark, in the midfield pecking order while the likes of teenage defenders John Flanagan and Jack Robinson have been pressed into action because of injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio.

“We've got a few injuries and it's how we react to that that's most important to us and they've done fantastically well in adversity,” added Dalglish.

“Jonjo Shelvey was doing really well as well until he got injured but now he's coming back in; Danny Wilson is the same and Martin Kelly too — they've all been really good for us this year. But Jay has been the one who's done as much as anyone.”

The performances that the likes of Spearing and the other youngsters have produced have left veteran Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher in no doubt that his club's future is in safe hands.

“Having all these young players is great testament to them and the work done down at the Academy as well as the manager for giving them a chance,” said Carragher, who has made more than 600 appearances for the club.

“To achieve what we have in the past two games with all the injuries and having to play the young lads bodes really well for the future this season and next. Over the past few years our academy has had a bit of criticism, but if you look at the last 15 or 20 years, there can't be many clubs who have produced more quality players than Liverpool.”

Carragher added: “The main thing is the players are good enough, it is not where they come from. But of course I think supporters would like to see local players coming through, but the main thing is the quality and those lads have shown that they certainly have the quality and hopefully a few more will come through. It is great to have them in the side, and it also saves the club money.”

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