REDS DENIED AT THE DEATH
By Ciaran Baynes
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Two minutes after the allotted ninety minutes Alexios Alexandris netted with a cool finish at the back post for his second goal in a game that the English side dominated.
Steven Gerrard's header 23 minutes from time, two minutes after Alexandris had initially cancelled out Nick Barmby's opener, seemed to have sealed the tie and The Reds went on to hit the woodwork twice through Steve Staunton and Vladmir Smicer.
Barmby also hit the bar from close range when the score was 1-0 and Gerard Houllier will rue his side not sealing the tie in this first leg.
In a dreary first half of few opportunities, Barmby volleyed home after Heskey had flicked on Jamie Carragher's long throw seven minutes before the break.
Surprisingly for a team that has only lost one out of its last 21 home games, against Juventus in the Champions League last season, the Greek side rarely threatened in the first half and the much-criticised Liverpool defence held up well against the pressure.
The few chances that did go the way of Olympiakos in the opening period fell to Alexandris, but he failed to convert these.
In the opening stages he was put through on the right hand side of the penalty area by Christos Patsatzoglou, but hit a weak effort that Westerveld collected easily.
Then, under a minute before Liverpool broke the deadlock, Christos Kontis flicked on a set piece and Alexandris beat Westerveld to the ball but saw his header go wide of the target.
The chance would not have counted anyway as the linesman adjudged Alexandris was offside - although the television cameras suggested otherwise.
Two minutes after Barmby's goal, Liverpool had a chance to double their lead as Michael Owen was fouled on the edge of the area, but Danny Murphy's low curling set piece was parried away by Dmitrios Elefteropoulos at full stretch.
In the second half Liverpool took more command of the game and six minutes after the break Barmby should have doubled their lead when the impressive Emile Heskey found him with a low cross after a powerful run, but the England international smashed the ball against the bar on the half-volley when he perhaps should have opted for placement rather than power.
Indeed, the Greek side hardly threatened Liverpool's goal until Alexandris scored a goal from nothing twenty minutes after the break.
Brazilian flanker Giovanni flighted a ball into the Liverpool area but the danger looked minimal until Alexandris launched himself at the ball and struck the ball fiercely over his shoulder leaving Westerveld with no chance.
Liverpool restored their lead within sixty seconds when Barmby's corner was met by Gerrard at the front post and headed into the far corner.
Fifteen minutes from time, from a similar range to where he scored for the Republic of Ireland against Finland last week, Steve Staunton almost netted with a free kick as his effort clipped the bar with the keeper beaten at the near post.
Seven minutes from time, substitute Vladmir Smicer had a golden opportunity to seal victory as the Greek side piled everything forward and left him to run a full fifty yards unchallenged before hitting an effort that the keeper tipped onto the post.
Although an irritation, at the time Smicer's miss did not seem to be a crucial one, but with Alexandris' last-minute heroics the tie is certainly open ahead of the return leg in a fortnight's time at Anfield.