BRENDAN RODGERS expressed his pride after watching Liverpool FC come close to completing another remarkable European comeback last night.
On a dramatic evening at Anfield, Rodgers’ men were eliminated from the Europa League at the round of 32 stage on away goals against Zenit St Petersburg.
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, Jamie Carragher’s mistake allowed Hulk to put Liverpool further behind on 19 minutes until two fantastic free-kicks from Luis Suarez and a close-range Joe Allen strike drew the tie level on aggregate at 3-3.
A fourth goal, though, proved elusive, and while saluting his players, Rodgers lamented the late capitulation in Russia seven days earlier that ultimately left his team too large a mountain to climb.
“We are very proud of the club and the players,” said the Liverpool manager. “Even though we lost the tie tonight, the football club and players showed why they are part of the world’s greatest football family.
“The atmosphere, and what the players put into the game to have come back from a three-goal deficit, was phenomenal.
“The level of performance to dominate a team of the ilk of Zenit was incredible.
“I don’t think the players could have done any more and neither could the crowd. It was a fantastic night. To have nearly completed that comeback fills me with great pride in how we performed.
“But we lost the tie over there. We will look back at that game, and we gave away poor goals and that ultimately cost us.”
Carragher, making his 150th and almost certainly last European appearance for Liverpool, was at fault for Hulk’s opener with an underhit backpass.
But Rodgers said: “There’s no blame on Carra. It’s probably the first mistake I’ve seen him make since I have been here, and I’m including every day in training.
“He was brilliant tonight in the way he controlled Hulk, who is a real threat. His mistake was one of those unfortunate things.
“I was disappointed for Carra. He is a brilliant professional and he deserved to go into the next round but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Rodgers admits the experience of his side being roared on by a passionate Anfield crowd has made him more determined to ensure further such nights as Liverpool manager.
“The atmosphere was breathtaking,” he said. “One of the real values of this football club is unity. Everyone came together tonight and we just missed out.
“Hopefully in the future there will be many more great nights to celebrate. And having sampled that as a manager in the home dugout, I want many more occasions like that and bigger prizes.
“We really needed the supporters and they were right behind us all the way. I was disappointed we couldn’t do it for them.”
Rodgers believes Liverpool should have been awarded a spot kick in the second half for handball against Zenit left-back Tomas Hubocan.
“It certainly was a penalty,” he added. “We had momentum throughout game and it looked a clear one – I don’t think there was any debate, especially with fourth or fifth official standing behind goal looking straight at it.”
Liverpool now only have the Premier League on which to concentrate, with the Anfield outfit standing five points adrift on the one guaranteed European qualification berth.
Rodgers, though, believes last night’s stirring performance has given reasons for encouragement.
“Our season was never going to finish until the final whistle against QPR on the final day,” he said. “This is a group that is growing all the time.
“For us going forward we just have to continue as we were working at the beginning of the year. We want to keep that progress going for the rest of the season. You can see the players have the hunger and determination to do that.
“We will be in a much better position come the start of next season, with the framework in place. You’re seeing a flow now and producing performances.”