Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Liverpool Way in action- Taking back our club

It used to be player power.

Thanks to Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and, even further back, Michael Owen, an evil that has become epidemic in the beautiful game and has led to selfish individuals holding entire football clubs to ransom spread all the way to the footballing fortress of Anfield, a place where the phrase, "Nobody is bigger than the club" has usually rung true.

Now it's fan power that is all the rage on Merseyside as Liverpool supporters finally unite in their passionate opposition to the raping and pillaging of our club by two Americans who scarcely deserve the term "businessmen."

"Conmen" or "cowboys" would no doubt provide a more adequate description of the pair of parasites who have done nothing but harm to one of Britain's most prestigious sporting and cultural institutions.

During the first few years of Tom Hicks' and George Gillett's ownership many fans were either unsure of who to blame for the clubs ills, or were placated by the consistent over-achievement from Rafael Benitez's side.

Don't get me wrong; some fans have been firmly opposed to the Americans presence at the club for the majority of their stay. However, as long as supporters had other people to blame (the manager, the players, injuries, poor refereeing) a unified attack against them was always unlikely.

However, the recent departure of Rafael Benitez has finally led to a cohesive movement and a fierce resilience against the owners in what has been a massive push to take back our club from the cowboys who've stolen it from us.

Although I am a big Benitez fan and was disappointed to see him leave, his removal means that supporters no longer have any excuse in not acting against the Americans.

Nobody can blame Benitez's tactics for the team's performance anymore. The blame must lie solely at the feet of Hicks and Gillett, whose leveraged buy-out and transfer policy has racked the club with debt and severely weakened our squad; to such an extent that finishing in the top seven would constitute success in the eyes of most reasonable supporters.

Of course, you'll always get some armchair fans that won't participate in the email campaigns and the protests that are currently dominating the majority of supporters minds.

These are the "supporters" who are calling for Hodgson's head after only six League matches.

Yes, Hodgson could have displayed more tactial acumen during his opening matches and has failed to prove successful so far. However, you've got to look beyond current results and performances of the players and the manager, and concentrate on the lack of proper investment, which has undermined the team for years now.

Thankfully, those unwillingly to join action groups against the Yanks are now in the insignificant minority and those determined to make their voices heard are making a significant impact on the banks negotiating a re-financing arrangement with Hicks.

The Blackstone Group, a bank believed to have been close to re-financing Hicks, pulled out of discussions with him after a barrage of emails from angry supporters crashed the financial institution's email system.

Similar email campaigns have been targeted at Deutsche Bank, Citi Bank and RBS and they appear to have worked to some extent as well.

It was recently reported in some sections of the media that RBS, who the owners owe £237 million, have placed the Yanks loan into the category of "toxic debt" implying that they are unlikely to consider re-financing the pair.

Amidst the hub of internet forums constantly creating new ideas as to how to oust Hicks and Gillett, there have also been several protests around and inside Anfield with more planned before, after and during Sunday's Premier League match at home to Blackpool.

The determination and togetherness in heading towards one united goal epitomises the legacy of the great Bill Shankly, who surely would have been as vehemently opposed to the current owners as we are.

Shanks said:

“Above all, I would like to be remembered as a man who was selfless, who strove and worried so that others could share the glory, and who built up a family of people who could hold their heads up high and say, 'We're Liverpool'.”

That's what he managed to do. He built up a family of people dedicated and passionate about Liverpool Football Club, who will not let the club we love go to ruin at the hands of two conmen trying to exploit us for their own profit.

This spirit is the main foundation of "The Liverpool Way". For far too long "The Liverpool Way" has been ignored, disrespected and abused by Tom Hicks and George Gillett. They are two individuals with no interest or concern for the club whatsoever.

Now, through the power of unity and purpose of will we, the fans and true custodians of the club, can finally take back our club.

We must use every medium possible to let the owners know that they are not welcome anywhere.

We must inform the banks of our intention to boycott their company if they re-finance Tom Hicks.

We must save Liverpool Football Club.


Sunday, 26 September 2010

Score draw not enough to appease angry fans

Liverpool were held to a 2-2 draw by Steve Bruce's Sunderland yesterday as an entertaining match ended with a stalemate.

A bizarre and controversial goal from the returning Dirk Kuyt after only five minutes set us off to a great start, however our lead was cancelled out by a Darren Bent penalty 20 minutes later as the away side came back into the game.

Sunderland controlled the early stages of the second half, and grabbed the lead with a diving header from the on-form Bent, but an even better guided header from Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard set up a grand finale as Anfield came to life.

Unfortunately, despite late pressure and attacking football from the home side proving easy on the eye, neither side could claim a winner and both teams had to settle for a point.

Sunderland could be pleased with the score draw, however Liverpool were looking for more to console disgruntled supporters after a week of chaos and anarchy both on and off the field.

The desire to turn over a new leaf after the disappointing midweek Carling Cup defeat was made evident by Hodgson's team selection as the star names returned to the first eleven. Gerrard, Meireles, Carragher, Cole, Kuyt and Torres all started as the Reds aimed to collect their second three points of the season.

The home side dominated the opening stages, and could have been two up after just five minutes had been played. Two minutes into the match a dazzling run from Joe Cole earned Liverpool a free kick midway inside the Sunderland half.

Steven Gerrard floated a beautiful ball into the box and to Torres, who controlled it excellently with his chest before firing the ball into the roof of the net from close range. Unfortunately, the Spaniard had been rightly flagged offside. It was close, but the linesman made the correct decision.

Liverpool did not have to wait long to take the lead though as three minutes later Dirk Kuyt scored one of the most bizarre goals in our club's long and illustrious history.

Sunderland centre back Michael Turner prodded the ball back for goalkeeper Mignolet to take a free kick, however Torres, who thought that the free kick had been taken, reacted quickly to pounce onto the ball before squaring it to Kuyt, who had the simple task of sliding the ball into an unguarded net.

By the letter of the law the goal probably should have stood as Turner touching the ball constituted the taking of a free kick, however it was obvious to everybody inside Anfield that he was passing the ball back to the keeper to take the set-piece from where it was supposed to be taken from.

We profited from a massive mistake from the referee, however who can honestly say that Sunderland did not also benefit from a blatant referring error when Liverpool visited the Stadium of Light last year and conceded the controversial "beach-ball" goal?

I don't believe in Karma, but that was as close to Karma as it is possible to come.

Liverpool went close again soon after the opening goal as England international Joe Cole fed Fernando Torres before the hungry striker's curler went narrowly over the bar.

With 18 minutes played the visitors were gifted an amazing opportunity to level the scoreline as a feeble and illogical headed back pass from Gerrard put Bent through on goal. Thankfully, Reina was quick off his line and managed to clear before the prolific frontman could add to his already impressive goalscoring record.

Minutes later Meireles' ambitious effort from 20 yards out was easily stopped by the keeper, before a blatant handball by Christian Poulsen allowed the away side the chance to equalise from the spot.

Liverpool haven't had much luck from the penalty spot this week, and that bad fortune continued as Darren Bent powered the ball into the net even though Reina managed to get a strong hand to the ball.

Things went from bad to worse for Liverpool as two minutes later left back Paul Konchesky had to be replaced by Daniel Agger as the former Fulham man had been injured in an innocuous tackle with Sunderland's Egyptian loanee Ahmed Elmohamady.

Sunderland were now right back in the match, and went close twice before the break as Malbranque swerved the ball wide from the edge of the box soon after Elmohamady had sidefooted the ball over the bar from a corner kick.

The visitors' momentum carried over into the second half as they started the better of the two sides. A long ball forward after only a minute of the second period had been played was flicked on into the path of Danny Welbeck, who was speeding into the penalty area.

Reina rushed out of his goal and failed to get the ball whilst also barging into the19-year old forward in the process, leading to loud appeals for a second penalty to be awarded from the Sunderland supporters.

Fortunately their cries fell on deaf ears as the much-maligned Stuart Attwell, who has made several high-profile errors in the past and made quite a few mistakes yesterday as well, refused to give what seemed to be a clear penalty.

Undeterred, Sunderland pressed forward and got their reward barely two minutes later as a fantastic cross from Onuoha found Bent at the far post. Sunderland's number 11 rippled the net with a diving header to grab not only a brace for himself, but also a crucial lead for his team.

Liverpool still struggled to get into the game as a mis-hit clearance from Reina fell to Henderson, whose attempt to lob the keeper was foiled as Reina recovered in time to deny the Sunderland midfielder.

A minute later Lee Cattermole tried his luck from range, but it went well wide. Cole's snapshot also went wide on 63 minutes, however Anfield erupted soon after as the home side drew level thanks to a beautiful goal from skipper Steven Gerrard.

Torres' cross from the right was diverted by the tiniest touch from a Sunderland defender, however Stevie managed to re-adjust his run brilliantly so that he could head deftly into the net at the front post.

That goal re-vitalised both the team and the supporters as Anfield came to life in an attempt to urge the team on towards three vital points.

With 15 minutes left Ngog was set up by an excellent touch from the inventive Cole. The Frenchman found a yard in the box before firing a strike at goal, which the keeper could only spill out to Cole, whose rebound was blocked.

The ball then travelled out to the wing, before returning to the box and to Fernando Torres, whose acrobatic effort was stopped by Mignolet.

After that Meireles played Kuyt into a decent position, however the Dutchman's 20-yard blast went just wide as Liverpool began to control the game and create chances, something that has been lacking in our play for the majority of the season.

A massive six minutes of injury time were added, and Liverpool (more specifically Agger) went desperately close to snatching a last gasp winner on two occasions.

Firstly, the Dane was denied by a goalline clearance from Michael Turner as the defender, who Liverpool were interested in signing when he was at former club Hull City, diverted Agger's back post header away from the danger area.

Then, in the dying moments of injury time, Liverpool had another clear cut opportunity as Daniel Agger's free header went agonisingly wide of the post from a few yards out.

That miss meant that we had to settle for a point, which was disappointing because we should always expect to beat teams like Sunderland at home, however Bruce's side did perform well and were fully worth their point.

On 70 minutes Jamie Carragher had to receive treatment off the pitch after a head collision with Martin Skrtel. It echoed of White Hart Lane last season, where Liverpool's miserable campaign got off to a terrible start in North London after a similar collision had left Liverpool's backline depleted and vulnerable.

Although the analogy isn't quite complete due to the fact that this was not the first game of the season, I am beginning to worry that the turbulent season that ensued after that same situation last year might just unfold again this time out.

Six points from six games is not acceptable whatever way you look at it, and both the players and the manager must improve rapidly if we are to even compete for that crucial Champions League place.

I must conclude by saying a huge well done to all who attended the protest against the American ownership after the match. It was a clear message to Christian Purslow and Martin Broughton, who were both present at the game, and one which also reverberated around some parts of the media, gaining vital publicity in our campaign to oust the Yanks.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

Cobblers Claim Carling Cup Coup in Anfield Horror Show

Liverpool crashed out of the Carling Cup last night after a pathetic performance from the home side ended with a depressingly inevitable 4-2 penalty shootout loss to League Two strugglers Northampton Town.

A limp and lifeless display from the Reds combined with a good effort from the visitors led to the game finishing all square after 120 minutes of Carling Cup football. With the score at 2-2 a penalty shootout was needed to determine who would progress to the fourth round.

Guinan and David Ngog missed the first penalty for their respective sides, however these misses were followed by five successful spot-kicks. Nathan Eccleston then smashed his shot onto the cross bar from the Reds fourth penalty, meaning that Osman could send the away supporters into delirium if he converted his spot-kick.

He stepped up and confidently placed the ball past Jones to win the penalty shootout for his Northampton side and condemn us to yet another embarrassing early exit in a domestic cup competition.

Roy Hodgson's team selection only became controversial after the match as many people (myself included) originally supported his decision to rest those who had played on Sunday against Manchester United, and to allow youngsters such as Martin Kelly, Daniel Pacheco and Jay Spearing the chance to shine against what were considered inferior opposition.

Although the starting eleven was questioned after the match I stand by Hodgson's decision to play a youthful side as even our Academy starlets should have had enough quality to comfortably beat the opposition in front of us.

We simply played nowhere near our potential, and the visitors exploited this with a great performance of their own to claim victory.

Ironically, a nightmare night for the Reds started positively as Daniel Agger split the backline with a fantastic through ball for the on-rushing Milan Jovanovic. The Serbian international made no mistake with a powerful finish into the far corner to secure his first Liverpool goal.

However, despite that ominous beginning for the away side Liverpool failed to establish any sort of control throughout the tie and disappointingly couldn't develop a substantial lead at any point.

In fact, Northampton began to dominate the game from mid-way through the first half onwards, and certainly created a greater number of goalscoring opportunities as Liverpool's reserves unsuccessfully attempted to gel into a side that looked like winning a football match.

After 25 minutes Johnson's deep cross from the right was headed high over the debutant Brad Jones' bar and into the Kop by Michael Jacobs. Then, only three minutes later Kevin Thornton motored towards goal and shot goalwards from all of 20 yards. Thankfully, Jones was nowhere near being troubled.

Northampton continued to create the better chances as McKay's curler from the left corner of the box seemed destined to nestle in the back of the net. Fortunately it glided just beyond the post and behind for a goalkick. Town then went close again as Gilligan slashed a volley wide when well placed after 37 minutes.

Somehow in just over 10 minutes Liverpool had scarcely managed to craft a single opportunity, with Lucas' shot straight into the arms of the keeper being the only half-chance created. Conversely, the team from three divisions lower had frightened the home side's defence on four occasions.

It was simply unacceptable and, despite the one goal lead that they possessed, I am sure that the youngsters would have received a stern word or two from Hodgson during the half time interval.

Nevertheless, the Northampton attackers continued to persistently ask questions of the Reds defence during the second half as Liverpool posed no sort of attacking threat despite their below-par first half display.

Northampton's pressure eventually told three minutes before the hour mark as Billy McKay smashed Thornton's header across goal and past Jones from close range.

You would have thought that actually conceding an equalising goal at home to the team ranked 85th in English football would spark a reaction from the country's most successful team and that we would inevitably regain superiority.

However, that was not the case as the away side dominated and threatened for the rest of the half. After 62 minutes Jacobs' cross deflected off Ngog and spun perilously across the face of the Liverpool goal.

Then, Gilligan shot wide of target before Liverpool's Ryan Babel tried to turn the tide in favour of the Anfield club.

With 18 minutes left to find a winner the Dutch forward turned and shot but his strike was blocked. Four minutes later he powered down the left wing before cutting back onto his right foot and crossing to Pacheco. Unfortunately the little Spaniard, who was disappointingly quiet throughout, struck his first time volley off target.

Following that Liverpool had another let off as Ben Tozer headed straight at Jones after reaching a corner kick. It was a massive chance for the away side and, at the time, he must have contemplated the possibility that he had just forfeited an historic victory for his side.

The home side then foraged forward themselves as Martin Kelly's shot deflected off Holt and behind for a corner after the England Under-21 International had played a one-two with Jovanovic.

Pacheco's set piece was only cleared as far as Spearing, however his shot was annoyingly blocked. Pacheco had a go himself inside injury time however he couldn't grab a winner as the game progressed into 30 minutes of extra time after his shot had rolled wide.

Liverpool huffed and puffed during the opening stages of extra time but they couldn't manage to seriously trouble Northampton. Ngog's shot cannoned off a defender and Eccleston's attempted curler went wide as the home side still lacked penetration and imagination.

And, after 100 minutes of League Cup football, Liverpool fell behind to Thornton's side-footed strike following yet another dangerous attack from the away side. Their players celebrated with bravado in front of a stunned Kop whilst their supporters went hysterical.

It was no more then they deserved though as they had dominated the majority of the match making us look very ordinary in the process.

Liverpool finally showed signs of purpose in their play during the second half of extra time as they realised that they were staring down the barrel of an embarrassing and humiliating defeat that would tar their careers for the duration of their professional lives.

Two minutes into the final period of play Ngog chested Kelly's cross down before his shot was blocked. The resulting corner was flicked goalwards by captain for the night Sotirios Kyrgiakos however keeper Dunn reached the ball before Agger to deny the Dane a chance to draw the home side level.

On 111 minutes Lucas was inches away from equalising as his strike from the edge of the box beat Dunn but went just wide of the post as Liverpool started to feel like it just wasn't going to happen for them.

Kelly volleyed wide before Spearing shot off target as Liverpool pressed the tiring away side. The hosts eventually took one of their chances as Nathan Eccleston won a corner with time running out.

Jonjo Shelvey, who was the only player who displayed any sort of potential on the night, centred the ball into the area where it was flicked on by Kyrgiakos to Ngog. The Frenchman turned it home with his head to earn a penalty shootout for the relieved Redmen.

Ngog's goal may have earned Liverpool a chance from the spot, however Hodgson also had some goalline heroics from Martin Kelly to thank as the young right back did tremendously well to clear on the line with only minutes remaining after the ball had been fired goalwards following a dreadful error from Brad Jones.

The penalty shootout gave the players a chance to save our blushes and, considering our almost German like efficiency from the spot, most supporters were confident of victory.

However, the Reds youngsters called upon to take the kicks had never experienced this level of pressure before, and that pressure eventually led to Nathan Eccleston smashing his spot kick against the bar, handing the visitors match point.

Northampton Town's Abdul Osman coolly converted the last penalty to grab an extraordinary victory for the League Two outfit and submit Liverpool to our worst defeat since the 2-1 loss away to Worcester City (my hometown!) 52 years ago.

I found a quote on Mark Brown's Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/MarkBrown.page?ref=ts) today that, despite Mark having no affinity to Liverpool or affection for the beautiful game, summed up our defeat perfectly.

"Ambition without talent is tragic, but talent without ambition is obscene."

There is no doubt that some talented footballers took to the Anfield turf last night.

Ryan Babel, Milan Jovanovic, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger all went to the World Cup and all started last night's match.

Daniel Pacheco set the 2010 European Under-19 Championships alight as he scored four goals to claim the tournament's golden boot award in the process of helping Spain to reach the final of the competition.

Lucas Leiva has represented Brazil, Martin Kelly has scored for England's Under-21s and Danny Wilson won the SPL with Rangers at the tender age of 18.

There was definitely sufficient quality for us to be able to comfortably beat Northampton.

However, infuriatingly the heart, the passion, the purpose and the ambition that usually characterises this football club wasn't there last night.

And that, as Mark Brown so eloquently put it, is obscene.


Monday, 20 September 2010

Berba and Webb Deny Disappointing Reds

I was right.

"I'm sure we'll be on the receiving end of a terrible refereeing decision later in the season (most probably on Sunday when self confessed Manc Howard Webb takes charge at the theatre of screams.)"

This is what I said in my last article only three days ago.

And I was proven 100% correct as a terrible refereeing decision by Howard Webb cost us dearly. With 70 minutes gone John O’Shea hauled down Fernando Torres on the edge of the box after Raul Meireles had played the Spanish striker in on goal.

The Irishman only received a yellow card, when he should have been sent off because he'd clearly denied Torres a goalscoring opportunity. Although Gerrard went on to level the scores from the resulting free kick, the fact that the home side still possessed a full compliment of players left the game in the balance.

Had O'Shea seen red not only would we have had a numerical advantage over our rivals, we would also have claimed all of the momentum thanks to recovering from a two-goal deficit so dramatically.

United would have had little to no chance of staging their own spectacular comeback.

Do not get me wrong, we certainly didn't deserve a single point from this match, let alone all three, it's just frustrating when a refereeing decision denies us points.

Even though Roy Hodgson's team selection suggested a more attacking approach (Meireles, Cole and Torres all started) it was the home side who started the better, dominating the first half and restricting the visitors to a single strike on goal.

The first real chance came after four minutes as Nani's long-range strike was deflected high over the bar for the game's first corner. Ryan Giggs floated the ball towards Vidic, who headed well over.

United continued to dominate possession and stretch the Reds defence until the best opportunity of the first half fell to Nani. The Portugese midfielder was free in the box, and had only the keeper to beat, however he failed to complete the simple task of slotting home from close range and dragged his shot well wide.

Five minutes later Paul Scholes blasted a first time shot over the bar from 25 yards out before Liverpool finally fashioned their first chance of the game after more than half of the first period had been played.

A short corner went to the advancing Glen Johnson. The England right back cut inside and fired a left-footed effort just past the far post. It was a good attempt, however it was the only real chance we created throughout the entire first 45 minutes.

We had managed to ride the storm of United attacks and retain the ball for spells of play, however once again we lacked the attacking potency needed to penetrate stubborn defences.

We passed the ball square too many times even though the unfairly criticised Lucas Leiva was left on the bench, and Torres barely got a touch as the midfield appeared unwilling to get the ball to his feet quickly, preferring instead to pointlessly pass the ball across the back and middle whilst failing to pose any sort of attacking threat.

The Mancs pressure and control eventually came to fruition three minutes before the break as Berbatov easily beat Torres in the air to reach Ryan Giggs' corner and head past both Pepe Reina and Paul Konchesky.

Frustratingly the former Fulham player failed to patrol the post properly. If he had then the Bulgarian's header would have hit him and the team's would have gone in on level terms at the break.

Instead, the ball sneaked into the corner and Liverpool were left with the daunting prospect of reversing a one-goal deficit at Old Trafford.

The beginning of the second half continued in the same pattern as the first 45 minutes had done, with Manchester United controlling and creating chances whilst Liverpool struggled to dent their impenetrable backline.

After 48 minutes Wayne Rooney found Nani who cut inside onto his left foot before his shot was blocked by Martin Skrtel, who, for reasons unknown to me, was selected ahead of Daniel Agger in the centre of defence.

Soon after Fletcher's deflected drive went dangerously into the air. Pepe Reina did well to gather at the feet of Dimitar Berbatov, who was the only United player to respond and attempt to get to the loose ball.

The home side were searching for a second to confirm their dominance, and it very nearly arrived when Nani's stunning strike smashed against the woodwork with Reina well and truly beaten.

It was a wonderful effort from Nani, however the 23-year old ruined his game with some pathetic play-acting and unacceptable time wasting.

Only three minutes later United managed to double their lead, as some loose defending from Konchesky, who was disappointing yesterday, allowed Nani to cross into the danger area.

His cross evaded Rooney, however it fell perfectly for Berbatov. The Bulgarian used his thigh to expertly control the ball before brilliantly directing his overhead kick past the helpless Reina and into the top corner.

Whilst as a Liverpool supporter I was gutted to concede that goal, as a fan of fantastic football I could only watch in amazement. It was simply a sensational goal, and a reward for his side's performance.

That goal sparked an immediate response from Liverpool, who, up to that point, hadn't forced Van der Sar to make a single save. Minutes past the hour mark Evans sliced Torres down in the box after Cole had found the Spaniard with a good pass.

There was no argument that it was a penalty. It was a stonewaller, which Gerrard confidently converted to bring us right back into the tie.

Seven minutes later the remarkable turn-around had been completed, as Gerrard cleverly slotted home a low and well-worked free kick into the back of the net before celebrating with his trademark kiss of the Sky camera.

It was a fantastic goal to complete a wonderful comeback and Liverpool fans were finally enjoying the afternoon's action. With 13 minutes left Ngog, who provided crucial support for Torres following his introduction on the hour mark, blazed high and wide from 30 yards out.

The match was finely balanced as the game opened up and both sides started playing some really good football. However, unfortunately with only six minutes left United re-claimed the lead as Berbatov beat Carra in the air before heading into the top corner to complete his hattrick and leave Liverpool defeated and demoralised.

It was the worst way to lose. At 2-0 down I was starting to get used to the idea of defeat, however my hopes were raised when Gerrard responded with an excellent double. To eventually lose out to a third goal from Berbatov was gutting, and hard to take.

While five points from five matches is certainly not good enough, we should retain a healthy sense of perspective. We've already played Arsenal at home and both Manchester clubs away. We've also had to travel to St Andrews, which is never an easy place to go to even when we're playing well.

This, alongside the off-field fiasco(s), must be taken into account when assessing our performance so far this campaign.

Liverpool must now respond positively by taking maximum points from the next two matches, at home to Sunderland then Blackpool. Before then we have a Carling Cup match against Northampton at Anfield to contend with, and sandwiched in between those Premier League contests is a trip to the Netherlands to face Utrecht in the Europa League.

Anything less than six League points, a place in the 4th round of the Carling Cup and at least a point in Europe would be disappointing.

However, whatever happens on the field, off-field issues are far more important at the moment, and should not be forgotten regardless of any successes or failures that the team may have over the coming weeks.


Friday, 17 September 2010

Steaua Hit for Four as Reds Reserves Impress

Liverpool eased to a 4-1 victory over Romanian side Steaua Bucharest last night to provide a positive start to our Europa League campaign. Goals from Joe Cole, David Ngog (2) and Lucas sealed the win and sent Liverpool to the top of Group K, two points ahead of Napoli and Utrecht, who played out a goalless draw in Italy.

Roy Hodgson used this Thursday night match to rest senior players such as Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher whilst also allowing youngsters Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly, Daniel Pacheco and Nathan Eccleston some crucial game-time.

The game had barely begun when Joe Cole pounced onto a poorly attempted back pass before coolly striking into the far corner to score Liverpool's fastest ever European goal after only 27 seconds.

It was a fantastic opening goal, and one that set the tone for the first 10 minutes of the match, which were dominated by the buoyant home side. With five minutes played Kyrgiakos' header goalwards was blocked by a defender, before Spearing smashed a good shot just over the bar from 20 yards out only two minutes later.

However, Steaua sneaked an equaliser after 15 minutes as Jay Spearing was dispossessed in the middle of the park, and the away side flooded forward. Eventually captain Tanase outpaced Kyrgiakos to reach a through ball and delicately dink the ball over the out-rushing Pepe Reina.

It was a disappointing goal to concede, although to be fair to the visitors it was a well-taken effort. Also, it was the only mistake that Jay Spearing made throughout the 90 minutes, showing the talent that he displayed on the night.

Liverpool had been in complete control up to that point, but now Steaua were right back in it. They threatened once again shortly before the 20-minute mark, as Reina had to produce more heroics to expertly push away Kopetano's close range effort.

He had been flagged offside, however Reina wasn't to know. After that Agger had to be on his toes to cut out Nicolita's dangerous cross at the near post.

Then, as the game progressed towards the half time interval, Liverpool had three almost identical efforts on goal, revealing the "shoot-on-sight" policy that Hodgson had obviously implemented to test the keeper.

First, Spearing sent Cole scampering towards the edge of the Steaua box, however his driven strike from 25 yards out was comfortably dealt with by Tatarusanu in the Bucharest goal.

Shortly after Babel had a similar strike easily saved by the keeper after a neat move from the home side had opened up space for the Dutchman. Maxi tried the trick for a third time with five minutes left of the half, however the outcome was the same as the keeper wasn't troubled by the easy saves he was forced to make.

Meireles then pounced on the ball midway inside the Steaua half before threading a pass into the path of Ryan Babel. Unfortunately, his scuffed shot lacked power and was easy for the keeper.

Konchesky's poor free kick from the edge of the box on the stroke of half time sailed wide, meaning that the teams went in even-stevens at the break. It could be argued that the away side had had the better of the game so far, however Liverpool also applied pressure and fashioned far more opportunities than the visitors.

This pressure was multiplied many times over in the second half as the Reds controlled proceedings. Early on, Ngog's flick sent Cole towards goal. The Englishman then squared to Maxi, whose curled effort was stopped with ease by the keeper.

On 54 minutes Liverpool received a fortuitous spot-kick when Kyrgiakos collapsed in the box after a slight push from Geraldo Aves. It was a harsh decision to award a penalty, and I would have been furious if it had been given against us, however these things happen in football.

I'm sure we'll be on the receiving end of a terrible refereeing decision later in the season (most probably on Sunday when self confessed Manc Howard Webb takes charge at the theatre of screams.)

David Ngog stepped up to take the spot-kick and superbly slotted the ball into the bottom left hand corner as the keeper dived in the opposite direction.

10 minutes later Raul Meireles, who was making his Anfield debut in front of a depleted crowd of just over 25,000, stung the palms of the keeper with a powerful, low strike which Tatarusanu did well to turn behind the post for a corner.

After that Steaua had their first chance of the second half on 70 minutes. Stancu's scuffed shot was weak and failed to stretch Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina, who made a simple stop.

Liverpool were now searching for a third goal to finally kill off the opposition, and it nearly arrived with 18 minutes left to play. Ryan Babel, who was employed in a free attacking role, slowed down whilst counter-attacking down the right wing, giving the impression that the move had broke down.

However, a neat piece of skill from the 23-year old gave him an extra yard of space before his deep and dangerous cross forced Bonfim to clear under pressure from Ngog at the back post.

Bucharest captain Tanase, who was the away side's main threat throughout the match, then nutmegged the lunging Kyrgiakos, allowing him a free shot at goal from a good position on the edge of the box. Thankfully, he struck the ball wide of the post when he should have at least forced the keeper to make a save.

When Lucas Leiva, who had been rested (or dropped?) after Sunday's performance, replaced Ryan Babel most supporters were confused. The situation surrounding who was leaving the action didn’t puzzle them.

No, they were confused as to why the under-performing Brazilian defensive midfielder was being brought on when Liverpool needed an extra goal to confirm the win. However, Lucas proved his critics wrong after 81 minutes when his wonderful, thumped strike from the edge of the area screamed past the helpless keeper.

It was a magnificent goal from Lucas, who could have been mistaken for Steven Gerrard; such was the quality with which he excellently took his goal.

The remaining minutes were used as an exhibition for the home side, as Hodgson gave youngsters Daniel Pacheco and Nathan Eccleston a run-out. The icing on the cake was provided in the first minute of injury time as Ngog grabbed his second and our fourth with a fine finish from 8 yards out.

It was another good night for the Frenchmen, who claimed another two goals to take his total to an impressive five goals in five Europa League matches.

Despite the satisfaction and enjoyment that will inevitably result after a convincing European victory, the mood was negated by the fact that this victory came in Europe's second tier competition, rather than in the more illustrious and lucrative Champions League.

After an hour of Europa League group stage action the Kop resurrected the long dormant chant, "We've won it five times." Although this is one of my favourite chants, last night it was certainly sung in an extremely sombre mood, in comparison to the joyful celebration that is normally associated with it.

It was a timely reminder of our failure to live up to our impressive European pedigree last season, and a call to prevent that same disappointment this time out.


Monday, 13 September 2010

Brummy Bore Draw

We should have expected it.

Liverpool had drawn their last six matches against Birmingham, and this game showed no signs of breaking that depressing trend as Hodgson's Reds played out a dull draw at St Andrews.

With Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United all drawing on Saturday it was the perfect opportunity to make a statement of intent to the rest of the top four challengers, however a limp and lifeless Liverpool churned out another below-par performance and were fortunate to escape with a point.

They had the heroic Pepe Reina to thank for that. The Spanish keeper pulled off a string of world class saves to keep the home side out, atoning for his error on the opening day of the season against Arsene Wenger's Arsenal.

We suffered from the same problems that have plagued us for many seasons now. The full backs were a liability defensively, the wingers failed to get involved in the match, Torres was isolated up front and, most infuriatingly, the midfield lacked creativity, with Lucas and Poulsen obviously lacking the passing range needed to swiftly and effectively turn defence into attack.

This lack of imagination and attacking purpose was reflected in the slow first 20 minutes, in which neither side saw any significant goalmouth action. The first real opening came after 23 minutes when a quick free kick caught the Reds defence off guard, leaving Jerome with a free header on goal.

Jerome's angled downward header seemed destined to hit the back of the net, however Reina made a world class save to turn the ball around the post. It was a fantastic stop from the keeper because the angle of the header meant it was almost impossible to reach in the split second that he had.

Four minutes later James McFadden curled a free kick over from a very dangerous position, before Steven Gerrard blasted wastefully over the bar from 35 yards out on the half hour mark.

Gardner then attempted, and failed, to lob Reina from 10 yards out before the keeper had to make another world class save to keep the scores level. An accurate cross arrived in the box from the right wing, forcing Reina to steal the ball off the head of Larsson, who was setting himself to head home from close range. It was a magnificent interception from the keeper, which kept the visitors in the game.

Only a minute later Liverpool had a good claim for a penalty. Carragher's incisive pass appeared to have played Torres through on goal, however he was taken out by a scathing tackle from a desperate Roger Johnson.

Replays showed that the defender got both the ball and the man, however the excessive force used unfairly denied Torres a shot on goal, and should have been sufficient enough for referee Mark Halsey to point to the spot.

The game had finally sparked into life, as City went close once again immediately after. A searching ball into the Liverpool box gave Gardner a free header, but Reina made a third incredible save to stop the ball, before Carragher scrambled it clear.

Liverpool went into the break relieved to be on level terms. After a terrible first half dominated by the home side we could have been 3-0 down, however, thanks to some great goalkeeping, we had managed to retain parity.

We opened the second half the better side, with Steven Gerrard testing Ben Foster with a snapshot from the edge of the box, however it wasn't long before Birmingham regained the ascendancy.

The influential Craig Gardner dragged a shot wide from 30 yards before Scott Dann's header bounced into the ground and just over the bar. It was a lucky escape for Liverpool, who had somehow let yet another player have a free header on goal.

That close escape provoked a response, as Liverpool controlled the last half hour, and looked more likely to grab a late, and undeserved, winner. After 64 minutes Gerrard threaded the ball through for the unusually quiet Fernando Torres, who smashed a shot at goal from a ridiculous angle. He managed to test the keeper, however the resultant corner was wasted.

After that Konchesky failed to clear properly in the left hand corner, messing around with the ball and only causing more danger for the defence to deal with as Birmingham stole possession and centred the ball in the area. The cross evaded everyone except for Jerome, who fortunately headed wide when well placed.

Liverpool put Birmingham under pressure during the dying moments of the game, however shots from Gerrard, Poulsen and Johnson failed to break the deadlock, as Birmingham's defence remained resolute.

Considering recent results in this fixture, and Birmingham's incredible ability to test any top side that visits St Andrews, we should be satisfied with a draw. It should be seen as a point gained, rather than two dropped.

However, with a visit down the M62 to the theatre of screams coming up next week, I am very worried that we could be given a thrashing. The mancs may have thrown away a two-goal lead at Goodison Park over the weekend, but their performances during the first few games have certainly displayed more potential than Liverpool's.

We must dramatically improve ahead of next Sunday. Joe Cole will be back from suspension, and Raul Meireles surely must start, meaning that the midfield will have more imagination and attacking threat.

However we must also improve defensively, and hope that Torres is on top form, which seems unlikely as he is still nowhere near top fitness.

If not, then I wouldn't be surprised to see Manchester United not only beat us, but humiliate us as well next weekend, leaving Liverpool to play catch-up already.


Sunday, 5 September 2010

Carra- A True Liverpool Legend

When the Kop dreams of a "Team of Carragher's" they aren't dreaming of a team full of 32 year-old centre backs with a goalscoring record of five goals in 636 appearances starting for the Reds every week.

No, they are dreaming of eleven men pulling on the Red shirt with the same pride, passion and commitment that Jamie Carragher does.

They are dreaming of eleven men who care about the club and the city of Liverpool representing them every time they touch the Anfield turf.

They are dreaming of a team full of players devoting their entire careers to the club, and remaining with the mighty Reds through thick and thin.

This attitude of whole-hearted commitment to the Liverpool cause is epitomised by club legend Jamie Carragher. Although he was raised an Evertonian, and followed the Toffees home and away and even across Europe during his formative years, Carragher is now known as Mr Liverpool.

He's a player who fans can proudly point to and say, "That's the Liverpool Way."

The Liverpool Way that was instituted by the great Bill Shankly. The Liverpool Way that demands a passion for the club, the city and the supporters. The Liverpool Way that, even now, separates us as a different and special club.

Carragher may not be the perfectly polished modern centre back, able to comfortably start attacks from the back, carry the ball out of defence and even contribute regularly in the goals department.

However, he is exactly what sums up everything good about Liverpool Football Club and English football in general. Gritty, determined, honest, hard-working and passionate you will never see Carra shirk a challenge or give anything less than 100%.

After 15 years of wearing the Liverpool shirt Carragher's love for the club has never waned. He has always remained enthusiastic and positive, and yet refreshingly honest about all aspects of the club.

He is not the type of modern footballer who has had long, tedious sessions of media training in which they are taught how to give stock answers to every question thrown in their direction that leave the supporters none the wiser as to the true situation at the club.

Carra's honesty in his interviews endears him to supporters instantly, and provides a welcome change for fans. When he has had a bad game, he tells us about it. When he is disappointed, he tells us about it. When the men at the top of the club are bleeding us dry he hasn't remained silent. He has spoken of the desperate need for change if we are to move forward and progress to a brighter future.

Ultimately, that is why the fans love Carragher so much. He is one of us.

He cares about the club just as much, if not even more, then the supporters. He knows what Liverpool Football Club means to so many people around the world, and realises how fortunate he is to have been given the opportunity to play for the best and most successful football club in British history for so many years.

And, in an age where the Premier League is saturated with foreign players, many of whom have no connection to their clubs, the values of loyalty and commitment that are inherent in Carragher are highly valued amongst supporters and manager's alike.

That's why Jamie Carragher is a true Liverpool legend, and why we will forever dream of a team of Carragher's.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

More lies and unfulfilled promises from Hicks as transfer window closes

Another lie from the mouth of Tom Hicks was as inevitable as the over-hyped Sky Sports News Bonanza on transfer deadline day. It seems to have been an age since Tom Hicks promised a "big" summer for Liverpool back in January of this year and, with all of the media attention focusing on the managerial (and ownership) merry go-round at Anfield, most supporters had forgotten all about yet another unfulfilled promise from the Texan cowboy.

Stories of Joe Cole, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Huang splashed across the back-pages of most national newspapers distracted supporters and media-men alike as Liverpool once again failed to properly invest and build up a thin-looking squad during what could prove to be a pivotal transfer window.

Whilst the overall picture should only worsen fears that we are going backwards and not forwards, there remain a few positives to take from the summer period.

Firstly, whilst I, along with many other supporters, was disappointed to see Rafa Benitez leave Liverpool, I believe that Roy Hodgson is an adequate replacement for the Spaniard.

The vastly experienced Hodgson has managed to steady the ship by ensuring that our star players, with the notable exception of Javier Mascherano, remained at the club.

Gerrard, Torres, Reina and Kuyt were all heavily linked with moves away from the Merseysiders, however new manager Hodgson has impressed the quartet enough for them to commit their long-term futures to the club, providing everyone connected with the club a clear and obvious lift.

Moreover, as an Englishman coaching one of the best teams in the country, Hodgson clearly has the backing of the media. Whilst this period of grace will eventually end if results deteriorate, the lack of media pressure is certainly a pleasant change to the hype that surrounded every fixture last season.

In fact, Liverpool have even received support from some sections of the media, which was unheard of under former manager Rafael Benitez.

In relation to specific purchases, I am incredibly impressed by the hard-working Milan Jovanovic, who could prove to be a valuable asset down the left hand side.

Also, despite a disappointing start, which included a sending off, a missed penalty and a driving ban, I am delighted at the signing of Joe Cole. He is a wonderful player, who can unlock tight defences and thrill the Kop with moments of magic to savour.

Promising youngsters Danny Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey have also arrived at Anfield over the summer, which has helped provide more real potential for the future, complementing the healthy amount of youngsters already at the club.

Raul Meireles is another quality player who I cannot wait to see in a Red shirt, and Christian Poulsen appears to be a steady presence in the midfield, however the failure to sign a top-quality back up for Fernando Torres could come back to haunt us yet again this season.

Liverpool were linked with almost every forward this side of the moon, and yet the window slammed shut with no new striker arriving. Carlton Cole was the most likely to be signed, however I am glad that he hasn't as Cole clearly doesn't have the ability needed to survive, let alone thrive at a top club.

Ryan Babel hasn't exactly impressed during his time at Anfield either, but I would much prefer to have the relatively young Dutchman at the club with time to develop in his favourite position then England's sixth choice 26 year old front-man.

While we may have dodged a bullet by avoiding the purchase of Carlton Cole, the failure to sign another recognised striker really leaves us short up front. Babel and Ngog are both good players on their day, however they are not able to fill Torres' admittedly considerable boots on a regular basis.

Hodgson has not only spent his summer attempting to buy quality "home-grown" players. He has also successfully offloaded several players who had no future at Anfield. Albert Riera, Philip Degen and Diego Cavalieri all departed this summer, removing some of the deadwood, however talented players like Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun, Emiliano Insua and Alberto Aquilani were also allowed to leave.

Both Insua and Aquilani have only left on loan, however it is clear that they have little to no chance of featuring in the new boss' plans at any point in the future.

This is disappointing as Insua has bags full of potential, despite him having a nightmare campaign last season, where he was over-worked and suffering from the enormous pressure that comes from playing in a struggling Liverpool side.

The signing of Fabio Aurelio and Paul Konchesky compensates for the loss of Insua in the short term, however neither player has the same amount of potential as the young Argentine full-back.

Aquilani also deserved an extra year to prove himself after an injury-ravaged season last time out, however, with the arrival of both Christian Poulsen and Raul Meireles, we have more than enough cover in the central midfield positions.

The sale of Yossi Benayoun also disappointed me at the time, however we now have sufficient cover on the wings in the shape of Milan Jovanovic and Joe Cole. If Yossi wants to sit on the bench for ridiculous money at Stamford Bridge then so be it.

He clearly didn't have the heart to play for Liverpool any longer.

The same applies to South American mercenary Mascherano, who somewhat strangely left for Barcelona in order to be "closer to home" for his wife and kids. Mascherano is a brilliant footballer but I am glad to see the back of him. No individual is bigger than the club, and we will cope without the discontented Argentine dampening the mood in the dressing room.

This summer could be seen as a period of progress. Although some top players have left, other relatively inexpensive quality performers have arrived. We have also managed to get rid of some of the deadwood that was reducing the overall quality of the squad.

However, this worrying fact remains. Liverpool have made a profit for the fourth successive transfer window. Yes, the country's most successful football side has made money on transfer dealings once again and the reality is that you cannot compete in the Premier League unless you have buckets of cash to spend.

Look at Chelsea, Tottenham and City. None of them were even considered to be title contenders until they spent unreal amounts of money. Unfortunately, neither will Liverpool until the parasites ruining our club have left.

Perhaps more frighteningly, we have failed to fill all 25 places in our Premier League squad for this season. Whilst Manchester City fret about which world class player to leave in the stands for a season, we are left four players short of a complete squad.

The root cause of this mess that we are in are the liars in the boardroom. We should not be surprised at another "small" transfer period at Liverpool. We should not be surprised at the lack of world-class players in our team, and we should not be surprised at our paper-thin squad.

Nothing's going to change until we run the liars out of the boardroom, and we start being run like the fantastic football club that we are, not the under-achieving sports "franchise" that the yanks have made us.