BABEL BOOST FOR RAFA; Power of Babel: Liverpool Break the Deadlock through Ryan Babel on the 500th Appearance for the Reds of Jamie Carragher, Who Was Applauded on before the Game (below Left) and Saw Fellow Anfield Legend Steven Gerrard (below Right) Grab a Hat-Trick
Byline: JOHN EDWARDS
LIVERPOOL 5 LUTON TOWN 0
RYAN BABEL took some of the heat off Rafa Benitez with the goal that finallyended Luton's brave resistance at Anfield last night.
But it was skipper Steven Gerrard, with a timely hat-trick, who provided theperfect Cup tonic for his beleaguered manager.
Public backing for Benitez, in his stand-off with American owners Tom Hicks andGeorge Gillett, was as emphatic as the Liverpool manager could have hoped for,with his name ringing round the ground before kick-off and throughout this FACup third-round replay.
Worryingly for Benitez, defiance from a Luton side with threadbare resources onand off the pitch was just as pronounced as Kevin Blackwell's League One sideheld out until first-half injury time.
Frustration was growing in the home ranks when Babel finally found the level ofaccuracy that had been conspicuously absent, controlling a pass from FernandoTorres before drilling an unerring shot beyond the reach of keeper Dean Brill.
The reassuring sight of skipper Gerrard adding to his tally with a close-rangeheader in the 52nd minute meant Benitez was at last able to breathe easily onthe bench.
For all their resistance, Luton were beginning to crumble as Sami Hyypia addeda third from a Gerrard corner five minutes later.
Then Gerrard made it four after a John Arne Riise cross from the left causedchaos in the Luton ranks.
And the skipper saved his best for the 72nd minute, swerving in a sensationalshot from 30 yards.
Benitez was clearly in no mood to hand owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett anyfurther ammunition after seeing his hold on power eroded even more by theiradmission that they had met Jurgen Klinsmann to discuss the possibility ofinstalling him as Liverpool's next manager.
Losing to League One Luton may just have led to the Americans resuming theirsearch for potential successors to the under-pressure Benitez, and the47-year-old Spaniard was taking no chances as he recalled skipper Gerrard anddanger man Torres after leaving them out at Kenilworth Road.
With both his only central defenders missingone sold, one injuredmanager Blackwell had little option but to pair right back Alan Goodall with36-year-old former Liverpool midfielder Don Hutchison at the heart of amakeshift back line.
They were soon put to the test, too, as Liverpool set about dispersing some ofthe storm clouds that had been gathering in recent weeks.
It was all about survival for Lutonon the pitch, this timebut Hutchison at least showed he has lost none of his guile as he readGerrard's intentions to perfection to nick the ball away as the Liverpoolmidfielder cut in from the left. …