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Peter Crouch hits new heights

Peter Crouch disappeared under a pile of bodies, perhaps consumed by mixed emotions. Having put Liverpool ahead in last night's must-win Champions League tussle with Besiktas and, having capped a sensational team effort with the eighth goal, his obvious delight might not only have been tinged with a sense of relief, having played so little football over the last few months, but also with a hint of sadness.

Might Crouch be leaving all this behind in January? Might he be saying goodbye to this grand old arena and to the famous Kop that still sings his name? In short, might he be forced to leave Anfield after seemingly failing to convince his manager that he can still do a job on a regular basis? After all, nobody wants to be sitting on the bench all the time, even if it is at England's most successful club.

Peter Crouch sets the ball rolling
Tall order: Peter Crouch would be in demand during trasnfer window

On this occasion, however, Rafael Benitez decided that the time was right to give his unhappy centre-forward a rare start, on a night when the team simply had to win to have a chance of remaining at Europe's top table.

Actually, I wonder how that felt - getting the nod for such a crucial match while knowing, deep down, that your manager isn't too fussed; that three other strikers now stand ahead in the pecking order, when last season you could do little wrong.

Benitez, however, has always known that Crouch could create a different set of problems to the other cards in his pack, especially on a night when a more direct style seemed the best way, initially, to disturb the composure of vulnerable Turkish visitors.

As a result, Benitez dispensed with the services of Dirk Kuyt, who had been enduring a tough time in front of goal anyway. And with Fernando Torres not quite ready to play from the start after returning from injury, the Spanish coach turned to his 6ft 7in centre-forward to help the team out of this sticky situation.

And help out Crouch did with that precious opening goal, a testament to the big man's persistence, determination and cool head at the end. Latching on to a half-hearted interception by Edouard Cisse, Crouch's first effort cannoned off the goalkeeper but he gamely kept going to slot home the rebound.

Cue the celebration, a joyous run and dive down by the corner flag. Crouch's team-mates looked genuinely pleased to see the change of fortune. That first cut, what's more, would prove the deepest, for Besiktas never recovered from that moment on. Just over an hour later, Crouch jumped unchallenged to set the scoring record.

In fairness, Crouch could have kicked off the deluge earlier than he did. Meeting John Arne Riise's whipped cross inside the first 10 minutes, his downward header thumped into the advertising hoardings instead of bulging the net. Then, for some reason, he tried to get his head to Andrei Voronin's low cutback instead of sticking out one of his long legs. Such misjudgments on another night might have proved costly. Not this time. Crouch had happened on a match when everything went right.

You might say that the 26-year-old stood in the shop window, if it is indeed true that Benitez wants rid. They say, after all, that the pair have fallen out, that the manager doesn't approve of the player's so-called celebrity lifestyle. Model girlfriend, autobiography, personal appearances - perhaps Benitez thinks his man has taken his eye off the ball.

If so, quite a few Premier League clubs will be waiting with Aston Villa thought to beheading the queue. Martin O'Neill is known to like that type of player and, come January, the Irishman could confirm his admiration with an attractive offer.

For now, however, Crouch could still play a big part in Liverpool's efforts to qualify from Group A. ''He's big, he's red, his feet stick out the bed." The Kop's tribute to their hero can still be heard. For how much longer, only Benitez can say.

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