Thursday, 27 January 2011

Reds edge past Cottagers

Liverpool ground out a 1-0 win against Mark Hughes' Fulham side last night as a determined display helped to secure Kenny Dalglish's first home victory since his recent return to the club, and took the Reds up to the dizzying heights of seventh in the Premier League.

However, a performance devoid of creativity and bereft of goalmouth action did little to get pulses racing on an instantly forgettable night at Anfield. That will mean little to Dalglish and his troops though as the all important three points were secured, alleviating fears of relegation and building up momentum for the rest of the season.

Skipper Steven Gerrard returned from suspension to replace the injured Lucas Leiva in the only change to the team that comprehensively defeated Wolves on the weekend and, with positivity abounding after such a successful away game, many expected Liverpool to ease past a Fulham side enduring a disappointing season and suffering horrific away form. Unfortunately that wasn't the case as Liverpool laboured to a hard fought victory, ultimately sealed thanks to an incredibly scruffy own goal from Pantsil that summed up the match perfectly.

The hosts started the game the better and had the ball in the back of the net after only six minutes when Fernando Torres slotted past Stockdale after he had raced onto Meireles' pass, continuing the flourishing relationship struck up between the dynamic duo over recent weeks. Disappointingly, and contrary to later TV replays, Torres' goal was chalked off for offside.

Meireles was involved again four minutes later when Stockdale tipped his shot around the post after the exciting Kelly had centred the ball for the Portugese. Martin Skrtel headed the resulting corner into the side netting. Kelly, who has earned the admiration of the manager with his robust yet forward thinking performances, swung another ball into the box soon after, only to see Stockdale pull off a good save to stop Steven Gerrard's shot.

Liverpool remained in control of the contest as Fulham refused to come out of their defensive shell, however, unlike previous matches, chances were at a premium as the home side endeavoured fruitlessly in front of a subdued Anfield. The Reds failed to create another opening until midway through the first period when a barn-storming run and dipping drive from Glen Johnson forced Fulham keeper Stockdale into another good save.

The visitors surprisingly had two inviting opportunities to claim the lead on the half hour mark as Dempsey's stinging strike drew a block from Reina following a rare error from Kelly, before Moussa Dembele squandered a fantastic chance as he failed to make proper contact at point blank range after Andy Johnson's cut back had fell perfectly for the Belgian winger. Fortunately this allowed Reina to fend the ball away and to preserve his clean sheet.

Daniel Agger's left footed shot flew wide of goal and Torres headed Kelly's delivery wide of target before the break as the home side went into the interval desperately searching for a moment of inspiration to spark an improved second half display. Meanwhile the Cottagers were just pleased to retain parity and surely must have set their sights on securing their third consecutive goalless draw at Anfield.

That aim was swiftly squashed though as the Londoners self destructed to gift Liverpool the lead only seven minutes into the second period. Kuyt nicked the ball from an opponent and found Torres on the edge of the box. The Spaniard's shot following a quick turn ricocheted off Hangeland and bounced against the post, leaving Stockdale grounded and several Fulham defenders desperately scrambling to clear the danger under pressure from the prowling Raul Meireles. The away side's backline only succeeded in finding the back of their net, as Pantsil sliced the ball comically over the line to give Liverpool a scruffy yet significant lead.

This failed to have the expected galvanising effect on the Merseysiders, as Liverpool struggled to create similar opportunities for the rest of the encounter, with both sides lacking a regular attacking threat to liven up the match. In fact, it was Fulham, and more specifically the rumoured Liverpool transfer target Clint Dempsey, who had the next two sights of goal with Pepe Reina stopping the American's goal bound shot before his second effort missed the target on the hour mark.

It wasn't until the 74th minute that Liverpool tested Stockdale again, this time forcing the 25-year old to divert the ball round the post after a rapid break away from the Reds had culminated in Meireles and Torres combining to test the English keeper.

With little to lose Fulham threw off their defensive shackles and threw everything at Liverpool in the closing stages, with Hughes' effort bringing the best out of Reina before Hangeland ominously headed goalwards only to see Raul Meireles clear off the line to the relief of the vast majority of the 40,446 inside Anfield.

There was still time for Reina to thwart Dembele in the 90th minute, however the final whistle eventually blew, signalling the end of the match and the completion of a second crucial victory in the space of five days. After Liverpool's away form had returned following an emphatic three goal triumph over Wolves, the Reds showed grit and determination to claim all three points last night when they probably only deserved one.

Although Gerrard's influence was minimal, Meireles and Torres were on the same wavelength and showed promising signs that their relationship could develop into a vital aspect of our team in the coming months. Moreover, Liverpool's back four was strong and solid while Johnson and Kelly provided good width at times.

The FA Cup returns on the weekend, granting Liverpool a full week of rest ahead of our next home match against Stoke City. Hopefully, as Kenny continues to imprint his style, method and unique touch into the team, another three points will be collected, preferably with a more expansive showing from the men in red.


Monday, 24 January 2011

Classy Reds leave Wolves howling

Liverpool claimed revenge for the humiliating home defeat suffered at the hands of relegation candidates Wolves earlier this season with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the struggling Midlanders at Molineux on Saturday lunchtime. A vastly improved performance from the Reds exhibited confidence and composure on the ball rarely seen on the road in recent times. Raul Meireles continued his upturn in form by scoring a goal of the season contender and Fernando Torres found the net twice on a thoroughly enjoyable day for Kenny Dalglish's side.

The replacement of Jay Spearing with the much-maligned Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen was the only change made by Dalglish, as the legendary Scot kept faith with those who had performed so well for the majority of the Merseyside derby. Poulsen rewarded his manager's trust by putting in possibly his best display in a Red shirt since his £5 million move in the summer.

The opening stages of the match were scrappy and competitive as the hosts retained some sort of superiority over their opponents but could never really test Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina. Meanwhile, the visitors were happy to restrict Mick McCarthy's men and pounce on any chance to rapidly counter-attack.

This was perfectly demonstrated after 21 minutes, when an unusual mistake from Meireles put our backline under immediate pressure. Fortunately Martin Skrtel intervened and the ball travelled back to the Portugese midfielder, who played a great ball to Torres. The Spaniard cut inside incisively before Wolves goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey did well to stop his goalbound shot.

Milijas' highly anticipated free kick flew over the bar five minutes later before positive football from the Reds led to the creation of yet another opportunity for the away side. The move began with a good ball from Christian Poulsen and ended when the influential Meireles hooked a strike inches wide of the far post from the edge of the box.

That missed chance left Kenny with his head in his hands, however he didn't have to remain despondent as soon after Poulsen, Meireles and Torres combined to secure the crucial first goal 10 minutes before the interval. An exquisite and excellent, defence splitting through ball by Poulsen released Raul Meireles, who had cleverly evaded Wolves' offside trap. Unselfishly Meireles squared the ball to the well-placed Fernando Torres, giving Liverpool's number nine the simple task of side footing home from close range, which he completed competently.

Liverpool were revitalized and continued to probe the host's backline with the aim of developing a greater advantage over their shaken opponents. On 40 minutes Torres' shot was beaten away by Hennessey after Maxi had flicked the ball through for him. It was a good save from the Englishman however it wouldn't have counted anyway as the female linesman, who later bore the brunt of sexist criticism from the particularly dim-witted Evertonian Andy Gray, had correctly flagged Torres offside.

Wolves responded and applied some pressure of their own in the dying moments of the first period, as Reina was forced to make an excellent save to thwart Milijas on the stroke of half time. However, Liverpool went into the interval with the lead and the momentum following an encouraging end to a tough first 45.

Crucially this impetus was carried into the second half with the Reds creating numerous opportunities before claiming an emphatic second goal, leaving Liverpool in the driving seat and in charge of the contest. Only three minutes into the half a superb ball forward from Reina found Kuyt, who pulled the ball back to Meireles but unfortunately the clean-shaven midfielder could only drag his effort wide of target.

Liverpool persistently put pressure on the home side though, with a sublime ball from Maxi setting Kuyt through one-on-one with the keeper. Disappointingly, although he attempted to dink the ball over Hennessey and into the net, the Dutchman only succeeded in hitting the out rushing keeper.

With the Merseysiders playing the ball comfortably and assuredly on the ground thanks to Dalglish's attractive style of football it was with a degree of irony that the build up play to our second goal was simply a long punt from Daniel Agger.

Nevertheless, the away fans were delighted to see Meireles' sensational first time volley scream into the net from all of 30 yards. It was his second world-class goal in two games following his excellent opening strike against Everton at Anfield a week previously, and yet more proof that he can thrive when played in his preferred central role.

For the remainder of the match Liverpool were happy to absorb Wolves pressure and threaten menacingly on the break when the opportunity arose. This was demonstrated on the hour mark when only a last ditch tackle from Stearman prevented the seemingly ever-present Meireles entering another one-on-one situation with Hennessey. After that Reina spilt a swerving effort from Fletcher however the Spanish keeper managed to recover and collect the loose ball.

With Torres and Meireles continuing to terrorise the Wolves backline Liverpool always had an escape route, and this was nearly utilised with just over 20 minutes remaining when the Reds broke and Torres dinked the ball over to Meireles, whose first time strike was comfortably saved by Hennessey.

18-year old Londoner Jonjo Shelvey was the next to go close to extending our lead after 74 minutes as Meireles was involved again as he switched the play over to the left, where Shelvey, alongside several other midfielders, streamed forward virtually unchallenged by the host's stranded defence. Frustratingly Shelvey struck over when he appeared destined to burst the net with essentially his first touch of the match after he'd replaced Poulsen moments earlier.

Another substitute to make an instant impact on the match was former Liverpool youth player Adam Hammill, who replaced Stephen Hunt for the home side shortly before he squandered a great chance to get his side back into the match when his scuffed shot from seven yards failed to test Pepe Reina. Hammill attempted to make up for his embarrassing miss soon after when he whipped an inviting cross into the danger area, however Doyle's header brushed the bar and went over to the relief of the Reds.

As the clock began to run down Liverpool became increasingly confident of securing their first away victory in the League since our 1-0 triumph over Bolton Wanderers at the end of October, nearly three months ago, while Wolves' patience wore thin as their best efforts were not enough to break our firm and secure rearguard action.

To put the cherry on the top of the cake that was this fantastic win Fernando Torres rounded off a sublime thirty pass move in perfect fashion as he smashed the ball into the roof of the net from close range in the 90th minute. It was another example of the brilliant football that characterised our play, and epitomised Kenny Dalglish's entertaining style as he secured his first vital three points as the club's new temporary manager.

With the Liverpool legend at the helm belief and confidence were finally restored to the line-up, leading Raul Meireles and Fernando Torres to run the show. Also, Christian Poulsen performed superbly throughout, demonstrating Dalglish's ability to get the best out of poor players, an expectation that Hodgson failed to fulfil during his brief reign.

To see such a composed, logical and attractive style of play away from home was incredibly pleasing, and it bodes well for our future because our main problem during both Rafa's final year and Roy's six-month spell was an atrocious and unacceptable away record, which was hampering our efforts significantly.

Midweek home matches versus both Fulham and Stoke City over the next fortnight now offer Liverpool a chance to rack up some crucial points at home, and should hopefully boost confidence further ahead of our next away match on 6th February, when we travel to Stamford Bridge to face Champions Chelsea.


(Thanks to Katherine Morris from Red and Proud's Facebook page for providing the title to this piece.)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Slow start but shoots of promise sprout

When Kenny Dalglish replaced the much-maligned former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson in the Anfield dugout the acclamation he received was phenomenal. The instant lift to the mood at the club was tangible, and many expected an immediate upturn in our fortunes as a result. However, Dalglish's first three matches have yielded one draw and two defeats, hardly an impressive record even factoring in a derby match and an FA Cup clash at Old Trafford.

Nevertheless, despite disappointing results the performances have dramatically improved under the Liverpool legend's management, with various key elements of his football philosophy evident in each match we have played so far.

Heading into our FA Cup third round match against Manchester United many supporters, including myself, expected another embarrassing defeat at the hands of our fiercest rivals. We had no faith in Hodgson or his tactics. An immediate boost in confidence crucially arrived though the day before the match in the form of Kenny Dalglish, as the Scot cut short a family holiday to take charge for the United game and for the rest of the season.

With the new manager instated the players finally appeared to show pride in the shirt and passion for the cause. After half a season of complacency they suddenly realised that they could no longer rely on the manager taking the flak for a poor performance, and that they would have to shoulder the wrath of the fans should results remain unacceptable.

Combine that realisation with the great respect for the man widely regarded to be the best Liverpool player ever and the desire, determination and defensive solidity, which had been conspicuous in its absence during Hodgson's brief reign, returned to a significantly improved Liverpool side.

Even with only 10 men for the majority of the match and a ludicrous penalty decision hampering our efforts we still displayed strong defensive metal as Liverpool's dogged defence and combative midfield restricted and frustrated Ferguson's United side, who failed to seriously threaten our goal despite their man advantage.

The Reds rarely tested the United defence themselves, however that was understandable given the harsh dismissal of Steven Gerrard, a vital component of our attacking force, after half an hour. The significant positive to take from that match was a renewed vigour in our play and a massive improvement at the back, with Skrtel, Agger, Kelly and Aurelio displaying their true ability for the first time this season.

Unfortunately that defensive stability quickly deteriorated during our subsequent midweek visit to high-flying Blackpool, when two major errors at the back cost us dearly. First, a misplaced pass from Meireles gave possession to boyhood Liverpool supporter Taylor-Fletcher, who easily fired beyond Reina after twisting and turning our unorganised defence. Then DJ Campbell was given the freedom of Blackpool in the six-yard box to head home the winner with several inactive defenders staring on helpless.

Despite that a few shoots of promise and potential emerged, as we began the match excellently, displaying a clear desire to push men forward and grabbing an early lead through a fantastic goal from Fernando Torres. Perhaps most poignantly Torres' opening strike and changed attitude demonstrated the effect Kenny has had on him in such a short space of time and, although the performance was largely below par for the remainder of the game, there were a few positives to take.

The problem of a parasitic lack of confidence and belief produced following a season and a half of turmoil was particularly obvious though after the Blackpool defeat, and it remains Kenny's main task to restore this vital factor to our team. However, with the Anfield return of King Kenny and a local derby to boot, the vociferous support of the Anfield faithful restored some sort of confidence to our play in our latest match at home to local rivals Everton on Sunday.

With the full backing of the vocal Kop Liverpool dominated the first period in what was quite simply our best half of football this season. A midfield consisting of Lucas, Meireles, Spearing, Kuyt and Maxi provided crucial support for lone striker Fernando Torres, who was relieved to be freed from the isolation he has suffered for far too long.

We pushed up the field rapidly, controlled possession and created numerous chances. In fact, we should have gone in at the interval with a far greater lead than the slender one-goal advantage we had earned thanks to a wonderful strike from Raul Meireles.

Unfortunately that brilliant first half was reversed by a traumatic start to the second as, although the two goals conceded were controversial, disjointed defending led to Everton claiming a 2-1 lead at Anfield. It was yet another example of the haphazard defending that Kenny will be looking to rectify during his time in the Liverpool hot seat.

Encouragingly the Reds responded and, whereas in previous games this season heads would have dropped and we may have even gone on to suffer a heavier defeat, Kenny's troops remained calm and improved rapidly after that shaky 10 minute spell at the start of the second period, eventually reclaiming parity through a Dirk Kuyt spot kick. Although we couldn't then proceed to take all three points, it was still a significantly promising sign that we managed to get back into the contest at all after such a devastatingly awful beginning to the second half.

Now, with a run of winnable matches ahead King Kenny can look forward to accelerating the rebuilding process and nourishing the shoots of promise that have emerged following a slow start.

If the defensive solidity and determination displayed against Manchester United and the attacking excellence shown at the start of the Blackpool match and the first half of the derby can be combined with the resilience demonstrated during our second half comeback versus Everton, then expect a period of progression and steady improvement under Dalglish to result.


Monday, 17 January 2011

Derby draw on Dalglish’s Anfield return

King Kenny Dalglish received a rapturous reception yesterday as he returned to his Anfield home to witness an enthralling encounter between two Merseyside sides desperate to revitalize their floundering fortunes.

Raul Meireles' fantastic first goal in a Red shirt gave the hosts a fully deserved lead at the break, however two controversial goals in seven second half minutes from Distin and Beckford swung the game in favour of the Toffees. Thankfully Liverpool battled back to earn a hard-fought point as Dirk Kuyt slotted home coolly from the penalty spot to level the scores at 2-2.

With Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard missing through injury and suspension respectively, Martin Kelly and the surprisingly selected Jay Spearing provided the vital local heart beat of the side in what was a typically competitive yet thoroughly entertaining 215th Merseyside derby.

An incredible and stirring rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" greeted both Dalglish and his determined troops and this proved the inspiration to a fantastic first half of free-flowing football from the home side. Everton's Seamus Coleman may have had the first sight of goal when he shot wide after two minutes, however it was the Reds who controlled the opening stages and remained in the ascendancy for the rest of an absorbing first period.

Martin Kelly continued at right back and displayed yet more signs of promise and potential on 11 minutes when his sensational run down the right wing with pace and determination took him easily past two men and Everton then had to clear his dangerous cross under pressure from Dalglish's forward thinking team.

Torres turned and shot into the Anfield road end a minute later before the Spaniard went even closer to breaking the deadlock when he took advantage of a mistake from Distin and raced through on goal. The Liverpool number 9 dummied and cut inside before smashing a great strike agonisingly against the inside of the post. Kuyt's poor follow up attempt then flew over the bar and the chance was squandered.

It was Liverpool who were asking all the questions though as they continued to probe the Everton backline in search of the crucial first goal, with Agger's flicked header drifting just wide midway through the half. Meanwhile the visitors were left to pump long balls forward for Fellaini, who was winning the ball regularly in the air. In fact Liverpool almost fell behind when Beckford was inches away from reaching one of Fellaini's knockdowns in the box, only for Reina to fortunately gather.

Liverpool claimed the lead in empathic fashion on the half hour mark as encouraging attacking play from the Reds was rewarded with a well-worked goal. Glen Johnson, who persisted at left back despite another below-par display at Blackpool during midweek, combined with Torres to maraud down the wing before beautifully crossing to Dirk Kuyt at the back post. The Dutchman was denied twice by excellent goalkeeping as Tim Howard kept out his close range header and shot in quick succession. Fortunately the ball eventually fell to Meireles, who fiercely and magnificently struck home from 12 yards.

It was an excellent goal from the hosts as persistent and positive attack minded football paid off handsomely with both an entertaining match to enjoy and the all-important lead. Fernando Torres was also clearly enjoying an increased level of support from the midfield, as he thundered a great strike goalwards only two minutes after Meireles had given us the lead. The on-form Howard made an excellent save and Maxi smashed the resultant loose ball over the bar to the relief of Everton, who were struggling to cope with the intensity of our attack.

After that Torres' shot was blocked before Meireles saw his effort parried away by Howard and Maxi drilled a shot straight down the American keeper's throat as Liverpool ended the half on top and threatening to extend their advantage.

Dalglish must have been delighted after such a brilliant first half, and would have expected more of the same during the second half, however Liverpool inexplicably reverted to the type of play that blighted and ultimately defined Hodgson's spell at the club and, although two crucial decisions went against us, we could have no complaints as Everton were far superior in the opening moments of the second half.

Only seconds after the interval a left wing corner evaded the Reds' defence and travelled to Distin, who climbed above Skrtel to reach the ball and head beyond the flailing Reina and into the net despite the best efforts of Johnson on the goalline. Replays later showed that a corner should not have been awarded in the first place because the ball had clearly came off an Evertonian last, however shocking defensive play, particularly from Skrtel and Reina, was mainly to blame for Everton's easy route back into the tie.

With the hosts still reeling from losing their lead so quickly Everton struck the sucker punch on 52 minutes when Beckford held off Kyrgiakos' challenge to steer a low strike past Reina from eight yards after the former Leeds striker had been cleverly teed up by Osman.

It was an admittedly good goal from the visitors however Kelly had landed awkwardly following an aerial clash with Anichebe in the build up and lay motionless whilst Everton proceeded to score. Although there was evidently no malicious intent in the challenge, the simple fact that Kelly was suffering from a head injury should have been enough to stop play and allow the young right back to receive treatment.

Following such an encouraging first half where Liverpool played some of their best football of the season, this dramatic turnaround was devastating for Dalglish's men. In recent weeks setbacks such as these would have resulted in heads dropping and a parasitic lack of confidence infecting the team and leading to a lethargic end of the game.

However, due to both the magnitude of the occasion and the supporters' passion, Liverpool responded and found a way back into the match after 66 minutes when Tim Howard brought down Maxi in the box and referee Phil Dowd pointed to the penalty spot. With regular penalty taker and skipper Steven Gerrard suspended Dirk Kuyt stepped up to slot the ball confidently and coolly into the net after he had sent Howard the wrong way.

Anichebe then headed off target before Torres' backwards header was comfortably stopped by Howard as the game began to develop an end-to-end feeling as Everton searched for their first double over Liverpool since their 1984/1985 title winning season, while the Reds were desperate to mark the return of club legend Kenny Dalglish with a winner to round off a pulsating contest.

A late but correct offside flag from the linesman frustratingly denied Torres after Maxi had played him in on goal with only six minutes remaining, as Liverpool looked the more likely to grab an exciting late winner. However, it was the Toffees who had the final chance of the match when an Everton corner led to a frantic goalmouth scramble before the ball eventually trickled mercifully wide.

Although one point is not really enough to significantly alter either sides' fortunes, the first half performance and the way we recovered following a massive setback at the start of the second period demonstrate the quality our squad possesses and offer hope for an improved second half to the campaign under a manager fully backed by the Kop, who were loud in their support as usual yesterday.

Praise must be reserved particularly for Raul Meireles, who displayed his attacking potential by providing support for Torres throughout and scored a wonderful goal to open the scoring. Also, Jay Spearing was committed and conscientious and Fernando Torres improved further under the guidance of a former forward even he would aspire to play like.

Liverpool now have a week to prepare for the trip to Wolverhampton next Saturday, where the Merseysiders must look to take both revenge and the three points in order to begin our journey on the long road to reclaiming a semblance of away form.


Thursday, 13 January 2011

Liverpool sunk by Seasiders

Liverpool suffered their eighth away defeat of the season last night as they were swept away by promoted side Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. It was another miserable away day for Liverpool as, although a stunning goal from Fernando Torres set us off to the perfect start, Blackpool dominated the rest of this end-to-end encounter, eventually emerging victorious thanks to goals from boyhood Red Taylor-Fletcher and the diminutive DJ Campbell.

With Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish returning to the dugout for a Premier League match for the first time in 20 years many expected the Reds to be revitalised by his very presence. However, apart from the inspiration Torres clearly derived from the King, the players appeared to lack confidence and belief in their own ability as a Blackpool side costing a fraction of the price of Liverpool's comfortably controlled the match.

Kenny didn't impress with his team selection either as he picked a baffling side that Hodgson would have been absolutely slaughtered for picking. Poulsen and Jovanovic returned to the midfield and did very little of note while Dalglish started Meireles on the right wing, something which Hodgson was regularly criticised for doing.

Johnson returned from the birth of his son and reverted to left back as Kelly continued at right back after impressing against Manchester United. This move backfired though as Johnson not only failed to defend well, but also proved ineffectual going forward on his weaker side. Surely placing Kelly at left back and Johnson right back would have been a more sensible solution.

Despite this Liverpool started the brighter and grabbed the vital first goal with only three minutes on the clock when Torres fired the ball beyond Blackpool keeper Kingson after Kelly had slid the Spanish striker through on goal. It was an awesome finish and a pleasure to see Torres score a world-class goal again, however we failed to build on the momentum gained and Blackpool quickly levelled as sloppy defending cost us dearly yet again.

Only nine minutes after Torres had given us the lead in sensational style he displayed the other side of his game, as his poor lay off on the half way line caused Meireles to misplace his pass, allowing Taylor-Fletcher to steal possession and turn Agger inside and out before slotting the ball into the net.

It was a case of heart in mouth time for the Reds soon after when DJ Campbell headed inches wide from close range after Charlie Adam's short free kick had eventually travelled to the unmarked Englishman at the back post. With defensive lessons still not learnt Liverpool remained on the back foot as their energetic and enthusiastic hosts grew in confidence following their equalising goal and their earlier triumph over the Merseysiders at Anfield.

After half an hour Liverpool almost gifted the home side a second goal when Reina, who is normally flawless with his feet, panicked under pressure and poorly cleared straight to an orange shirt. Thankfully Grandin failed to take advantage of the Spaniard's error as his lob cleared the keeper but slowly curled away from the goal to the relief of Reina. Liverpool meanwhile failed to test the fragile Blackpool backline, with Torres' off-target shot on 37 minutes our only sight of goal before the break.

The second half started in the same vein as the first as Blackpool were still on top and still causing our typically shaky defence numerous problems. Charlie Adam, who has been linked with a move to Anfield, drove a strong strike goalwards 10 minutes in that Reina did well to beat away, before Taylor-Fletcher ripped Johnson to shreds on the right wing and crossed to Vaughan, who forced Reina to brilliantly tip his goalbound effort over.

Thankfully that seemed to spark some sort of reaction from the previously poor Liverpool attack and the match adopted an eventful end-to-end style. Jovanovic and Torres combined after 57 minutes when the Serbian's floated cross found Torres free at the back post, but disappointingly Torres flashed a first time volley over the bar when well positioned.

Torres' shot was then well saved on the hour mark after he had managed to control Kelly's over hit cross before Kuyt tested Kingson with a good shot from 25-yards that the Ghanaian keeper had to sharply turn around the post. Our period of positivity came to an abrupt end with just over 20 minutes to play though as terrible defending allowed DJ Campbell to send the majority of supporters in the stadium crazy with a second goal.

The ball was pumped into the box where Ian Evatt beat Skrtel in the air embarrassingly easily to head across to Campbell, who nodded home remarkably unchallenged from a few yards out. It was another case of nightmare defending from Liverpool as Campbell was afforded far too much time as several surrounding defenders acted as spectators while he condemned us to another de-moralising defeat.

Meireles glanced a header just over the bar immediately after we had fell behind and we could have had a penalty when a blatant handball was ignored due to a supposed push from Torres, however Liverpool failed to show any real desire to get forward and pursue an equaliser.

After one and a half seasons of poor football and lack of creativity on the road it was hardly surprised to see us lack the confidence, poise and invention needed to rescue late points away from home. However, this match doesn't reveal a new problem for Dalglish to deal with, it just demonstrates the magnitude of the daunting task ahead of him.

To instil belief and hope into our confidence-stricken side is an uphill task and will require an influx of new signings to add impetus to the team, however the Merseyside derby on Sunday is the perfect opportunity for the players to prove their worth and to welcome Kenny back in proper style. Although two defeats in two games have burst the bubble of optimism engulfing his comeback, King Kenny is surely the right man to motivate the players and get the best out of what is admittedly a bad bunch.

If he can't then we should really start worrying.


Monday, 10 January 2011

Berba and Webb deny Reds (again!)

When I penned that title on 20th September following our 3-2 League defeat at Old Trafford I didn't expect to be using it once again only 112 days later. However, it provides an apt summary of Kenny Dalglish's frustrating first game in charge since returning to the Liverpool dugout.

Referee Howard Webb's blatant incompetence and painfully obvious Manc bias remained constant since our last meeting, but, whereas Berbatov's impressive hattrick stole the headlines in September, his acting skills were noted upon after yesterday's game as his dive earned Manchester United an undeserved early penalty. Thankfully another vital difference from our League meeting was the vast improvement in our performance level.

Kenny Dalglish made an instant impact on the team as his tactical approach proved far more successful than Roy's outdated 4-4-2 set-up. Glen Johnson missed out as his partner went into labour and Joe Cole was absent through injury. Martin Kelly filled in superbly at right back while the five men in midfield remained solid even after Steven Gerrard had wrongly been sent off.

With optimism rife and morale at a season high many amongst the vocal 9,000 Liverpool fans in Old Trafford expected a quick start from the Merseysiders. Instead, the match began in the worst possible fashion as a shocking refereeing decision cost us dearly. Only 30 seconds in Berbatov fell to the floor theatrically after minimal contact from the returning Daniel Agger. Ridiculously, but hardly surprisingly, Howard Webb pointed to the spot and Giggs stepped up to fire the penalty past Pepe Reina.

The Oscar winning performance from Dimitar Berbatov was insulting not only to Liverpool, but also to the rest of our footballing nation who remain vehemently opposed to the dishonesty and diving that taints the modern game.

Liverpool responded positively though and went on to have the better of a tight first half. After four minutes Gerrard played Kuyt into space in a promising position before the Dutchman squared to Fernando Torres. When well-placed Torres scuffed a shot towards goal that dribbled wide as the Spaniard was crowded out by the United defence.

Torres then headed well over 10 minutes later, before captain Steven Gerrard slotted a superb ball through for the on-rushing Kelly, who flashed a dangerous ball across the six-yard box that the hosts did well to clear under pressure from lurking Liverpool forwards ready to pounce. Maxi's powerful drive from the right hand side of the area forced Kuszczak to palm the ball away mid-way through the half and Kelly's shot was hacked clear by Ferdinand a minute later as the visitors displayed notable composure when in possession.

However, the game swung significantly in the home side's direction on the half hour mark as referee Howard Webb made his second fatal error when he dismissed Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard after his strong and slightly late two-footed challenge on Carrick. Inexplicably Gerrard was sent off when a yellow card would have been far more appropriate.

Not only was it Gerrard's first foul, he also got a bit of the ball and Carrick wasn't harmed. The argument supporting Webb's baffling decision is that in the modern game any two-footed tackle is a sending off offence. Although I would disagree with that, if that is the case then surely Rafael should have also seen red for jumping into a two-footed tackle on Raul Meireles, who pulled out of the 50-50 at the last moment.

That momentum shifting moment shaped the rest of the game, as the away side remained resolute in defence yet understandably lacked attacking potency with their talismanic captain having an early bath. Manchester United failed to seriously test our defence though as Nani's weak shot was their only effort in the rest of the allotted first 45 minutes. However, the Reds had a massive let off in the first minute of injury time when Evans escaped the attention of Maxi to reach a left wing corner and thump a header against the near post.

With the odds now firmly stacked against us, the Reds re-emerged for the second half looking to hold tight to the current scoreline and throw men forward in the final few minutes in an attempt to grab an equaliser to secure a replay. Manchester United had other plans though and began the second half positively as they went on to demonstrate their remarkable ability to see out games by keeping possession and dominating yet never reaching top gear.

Three minutes into the second period Hernandez headed wide from a good opportunity in the area before his striking partner Dimitar Berbatov fired high over the bar under pressure from the vastly improved Martin Skrtel, who defended determinedly and decisively alongside Daniel Agger.

Temporary manager Kenny Dalglish made a double substitution on the hour mark in an attempt to liven up our attack, and he displayed his faith in Liverpool's youth as 18-year old Jonjo Shelvey and 24-year old Ryan Babel replaced Meireles and Maxi respectively. Babel, who earned fan acclaim for both his encouraging display and for posting a picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt on Twitter, made an instant impact when his low strike from 25 yards forced the keeper into a good save.

After 65 minutes Liverpool had their best chance of the game when Aurelio curled a beautiful free kick towards the top right hand corner in a similar fashion to his brilliant goal in our 4-1 victory against the Mancs two seasons ago. Unfortunately Kuszczak denied the Brazilian left back as United's stand-in keeper dived full stretch to keep the net from bulging.

It was his Liverpool counterpart who impressed only two minutes later when Reina made a succession of sensational saves as the Reds' defence scrambled to block United's numerous attempts on goal from inside the penalty area. Reina was called into action soon after when Berbatov drove the ball low across the face of goal, before Anderson tried to feed the ball through on goal for the Bulgarian forward but our Spanish keeper denied him as he rushed out quickly and confidently to claim the ball.

With time dwindling Liverpool tried to grab a late equaliser as Babel glanced a header wide from an impossible angle, before Agger's firm header goalwards from a corner was well saved by the keeper. However our legs had gone by that stage as United's supreme passing ability had exhausted our conscientious midfield, and it was the home side who ended on top, former Liverpool star Michael Owen swerving a strike wide from distance and Evra acrobatically missing the target in the last few minutes.

Overall we can be pleased with this performance even though it is always disappointing to exit the Cup at the hands of your fiercest rivals. The commitment, passion and determination so clearly demonstrated by every player provide significant hope for a much improved second half of the season.

We can honestly say that two terrible refereeing decisions cost us the tie. Not our performance, not our manager, not our tactics, not our formation, not our players.

That's the first time we can say that this season.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Long live the King!

The long-awaited and highly anticipated return of Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish finally happened today as the 59-year old Scot returned to the Anfield managerial hot seat, replacing beleaguered former manager Roy Hodgson, who left the club by "mutual consent" this morning.

Dalglish, widely regarded to be the best player ever to wear a Red shirt, will take charge of team duties for tomorrow's massive FA Cup match against Manchester United at Old Trafford and will remain in charge for the rest of the season as new American owners NESV sensibly take their time over their first permanent managerial appointment in the sport.

Following our worst start to the season in 57 years the time had certainly come for Hodgson to leave the club. Despite one particularly hopeless journalist claiming that Liverpool fans were demanding his departure due to his London birth-place, Reds fans had instead ran out of patience with Hodgson because of terrible performances, awful results, poor signings, illogical media comments and an awful away record that extended across his whole managerial career.

The final straw came when he criticised supporters after the humiliating home defeat to Wolves. From then on it was simply a case of when, and not if the former Fulham manager would leave Liverpool and, although a late win against an injury ravaged Bolton side earned him one more game to save his job, NESV decided to take action to remove Hodgson when we went on to lose in abysmal fashion at Ewood Park this Wednesday.

With the arrival of Kenny Dalglish Liverpool have swapped a mid-table manager who developed no connection with the fans for a successful manager who is loved by supporters across the globe. As a player Kenny graced the Anfield turf with sublime skill and archetypal excellence that thrilled the Kop endlessly.

Although the £440,000 paid to Celtic for his capture was a British record, Kenny was worth every single penny as he went on to claim a sensational 31 goals in his first season at the club, ending the campaign with an iconic winner against Bruges in the 1978 European Cup final at Wembley. He then went on to claim a further two European Cups, five League titles and four successive League cups as Dalglish played a pivotal role in an era of complete dominance for Liverpool.

His role at the club changed surprisingly and significantly though when he was appointed as player/manager in place of Joe Fagan following the Heysel stadium tragedy in 1985. Although the backdrop to his appointment was distressing, his reign as player/manager certainly wasn't as Liverpool won a historic League and Cup double in his first season in charge, with Dalglish scoring the title-clinching goal at Stamford Bridge.

During his time the Merseysiders went on to secure a total of three League titles and two FA Cups, with only an unexpected defeat in the 1988 FA Cup final against Wimbledon blotting Kenny's immaculate managerial record. However, after the horrors of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 the pressure became too much for Dalglish and, although Liverpool fittingly won the FA Cup that season, Kenny eventually announced his resignation in 1991 after two years patiently supporting and comforting the families of the 96 victims claimed that fateful April day.

Only four years later Kenny Dalglish was back at Anfield, this time as opposition manager as he led Blackburn Rovers to the title in 1995, with the Lancashire club eventually sealing their first Premier League title on a dramatic final day of the season at Anfield.

A strange atmosphere surrounded the stadium on that day because Reds fans knew that a Liverpool victory could deny Kenny the title and hand it instead to bitter rivals Manchester United. Thankfully it was a perfect day for everybody as Liverpool won 2-1 and Blackburn still claimed the title as United failed to take advantage of Rovers' slip up.

Dalglish then spent time as manager of both Celtic and Newcastle before returning to Anfield as both an ambassador and a key figure in the Academy set up in 2009. He now marks possibly the final moment of his time at Liverpool by taking temporary charge of the first team following the departure of Roy Hodgson.

The effect this will have on the team cannot be underestimated. Dalglish's love for Liverpool combined with his deep understanding of the tradition, heritage and culture of the club will provide him with the necessary knowledge to revive the fortunes of our struggling side. Also, his expertise on the playing field and encyclopaedic understanding of the game will earn him instant respect from the players, who should receive a significant morale boost following this appointment, which could spur us on to a remarkable Cup victory tomorrow.

Perhaps most importantly Kenny's appointment will unite the club once again. Under Hodgson the manager and the fans had no connection and the resulting division proved problematic for all concerned. With the legendary status of King Kenny already guaranteed both the manager and the players will receive full and vocal backing from the Kop for the rest of the season, which could prove crucial in pushing us back up the Premier League table.

This move will also provide crucial time for NESV to thoroughly investigate the possible options for the next permanent manager. By their own admission they are still learning about football so this extra time can only be a good thing. However, I expect this to mean little funding will be made available in the January transfer window. Giving a temporary manager significant cash to spend on players the permanent replacement of Roy Hodgson may not want wouldn't be logical, even with Kenny Dalglish being that stop-gap solution.

Nevertheless, the removal of Roy Hodgson as manager and the arrival of Kenny Dalglish is the right move for Liverpool at this stage of the season. For all Hodgson's flaws he was an incredibly polite, well-spoken man who will surely prove successful with team's of lower statute that are more accustomed to his methods should he decide to stay in the game.

Now, with the right man in temporary charge Liverpool can look forward to a much-improved second half of the season, starting tomorrow on Sunday at Old Trafford.


Thursday, 6 January 2011

Rovers ravage Roy's rugged Reds

Roy Hodgson's job was hanging by a thread last night as his Liverpool side fell to yet another wretched away defeat, this time a 3-1 loss at former club Blackburn Rovers, where Roy was sacked halfway through his second season as one of the League's most expensive squads at the time went on to finish second bottom, condemning the Reds to their seventh defeat on the road and Hodgson to another barrage of fully deserved criticism from outraged supporters and media outlets alike.

A heartless, gutless and woeful display from a team completely devoid of confidence added to the pain already afflicted upon the fans following what has been one of the worst seasons in my living memory. Goals in quick succession from Olsson and Benjani left Liverpool with a mountain that they failed to climb in the second period as Benjani netted his second to seal the points for Steve Kean's side. A late fightback was almost inspired by Steven Gerrard when he scored with nine minutes left however he then squandered a great chance to lead a remarkable comeback as he fired a spot kick over the bar.

With a massive match at Old Trafford looming on the weekend it was quite surprising to see that neither Gerrard nor Torres had been rested as they both appeared in the starting line up. However, Hodgson must have considered an away victory as crucial to prolonging his stay at the club, hence the use of star players who he thought he could rely on.

Unfortunately this belief was utterly misguided. Torres headed wide from Konchesky's whipped cross after seven minutes however that was our only sight of goal during the opening stages as the hosts dominated. Pedersen fizzed a right wing free kick across the danger area before David Dunn volleyed over from 25 yards as Blackburn began to create chances comfortably.

Rovers then wasted the best opportunity of the match when Mama Biram Diouf failed to seriously test Reina when well placed only six yards from goal after Olsson's driven cross had evaded the Reds' defence and found Blackburn's number 41 in space. Liverpool responded by creating their best opening of the half as well when Johnson ran into the opposition half and slipped a pass through for Cole in the area. The Londoner's goal bound stab was deflected agonisingly wide of goal before a rapid counter attack from the home side almost caught the visitors out.

Benjani and Diouf staged a two-man breakaway that ended when the latter volleyed wastefully over the top to the relief of the Reds' retreating backline. Rovers didn't have to wait much longer to punish the flailing Liverpool defence though as Samba played Olsson in behind the hopelessly out of position Glen Johnson and in on goal after our centre backs had been caught stranded high up the pitch. The Swedish left-sided player made no mistake as he coolly eased the ball beyond Pepe Reina with just over half an hour played.

Blackburn almost doubled their advantage two minutes later when Reina was forced to gather Hoilett's low and dangerous cross before yet more terrible defending cost us dearly seven minutes prior to the interval. Pedersen clipped a pass into Benjani who turned the slipping Sotirios Kyrgiakos with unacceptable ease before firing a venomous strike superbly past the helpless Reina.

After a half bereft of goalmouth action and attacking intent from Liverpool, we had a great chance to half the arrears on the stroke of halftime when a corner dropped for Skrtel in the box. Disappointingly the Slovakian international hammered well over the bar to squander a brilliant chance to reduce the magnitude of our uphill task.

The supporters expected an immediate reaction after such a desperately dreadful first half, however this failed to materialise, as Gerrard's strike into the side netting was the only note-worthy moment prior to Blackburn's decisive third goal. After 57 minutes poor defending, this time from Martin Skrtel, combined with skilful movement and impressive determination from Hoilett allowed him to square for Benjani to tap home from close range.

With nothing left to lose Liverpool feebly tried to recover but an Istanbul-esque comeback was never on the cards. Cole scooped an inventive pass over the Blackburn defence for Torres on 66 minutes however Torres' lacklustre finish landed in the stands as the visitors frustration grew.

Cole then forced Blackburn's second choice keeper Mark Bunn into a good save with a shot from 25 yards before Gerrard lashed a stunning strike into the far corner to salvage what appeared to be a consolation goal with just under ten minutes remaining.

That goal nearly took on greater significance though when Salgado brought down the skipper in the penalty area. Although he had seemingly single-handedly dragged us back into contention for a point, Gerrard failed to set up a dramatic conclusion as he slammed his spot kick over the top of the bar to sum our miserable evening up perfectly.

Despite this the supporters were typically whole-hearted in their backing of the team, even defiantly singing our famous anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" with time slipping away. One man who certainly isn't receiving the backing of the fans though is manager Roy Hodgson, whose rocky tenure surely must be nearing a close.

NESV must have watched on with disgust last night as both the manager and the team displayed shocking incompetence in a dreadful night for the Merseysiders, however Liverpool's new American owners will also worryingly note that, for the first time in Premier League history, Liverpool failed to fill the away end at Ewood Park.

For the first time in my lifetime tickets for an away match, usually reserved for season ticket holders with a vast record of attending away fixtures, were available to the general public on matchday, reflecting the comprehensive strength of feeling against current boss Roy Hodgson.

With an FA Cup clash versus fierce rivals Manchester United next up surely the morale boosting return of Kenny Dalglish to the Liverpool dugout must be implemented immediately.


Sunday, 2 January 2011

Last gasp Cole goal seals crucial win

An injury time tap in from Joe Cole sealed a vital 2-1 victory for Liverpool over Owen Coyle's Bolton Wanderers yesterday, which moves us six points away from the relegation zone and into the top half of the table. A nervous first half for the Reds ended in nightmare fashion as Bolton claimed the lead only two minutes before the interval thanks to a Kevin Davies header. However, Liverpool responded early in the second half with a fantastic goal from Fernando Torres before Cole stole the headlines at the death.

Following a disastrous defeat at home to relegation candidates Wolves in midweek Roy Hodgson made three changes to the starting line up, with Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio and Maxi Rodriguez replacing Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Paul Konchesky and Steven Gerrard respectively. There was some initial surprise at the absence of the skipper, however "extreme tiredness" was cited as the reason for his exemption.

With Wednesday's result still firmly lodged in the team's collective consciousness the first half was a tentative and scrappy affair as the pressure currently surrounding both the manager and the players gripped the team with fear of another embarrassing home defeat that could've spelt the end of Roy Hodgson's dreadful reign as Reds boss.

As a result the opening stages were bereft of goalscoring opportunities. Skrtel flicked a header wide of goal from Meireles' free kick and Johnson was unfortunately flagged offside after a defence splitting pass from the Portugese had opened Bolton up, however Liverpool never really seriously threatened Juusi Jaaskelainen's goal until the 17th minute, when Maxi's close-range strike was cleared off the line by Taylor after Torres' effort had looped into the air and into the path of the Argentine.

Having failed to test Pepe Reina so far Bolton's fans celebrated pre-maturely when their team finally had a sight of goal as Matty Taylor fizzed a low free kick into the near post side netting. More significantly, only moments earlier inspirational Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard replaced the injured Raul Meireles and instantly gave both the crowd and the players a noticeable lift.

This was reflected in our attacking play as we started to create a few more chances. After 25 minutes Martin Skrtel connected with Stevie's corner but it was deflected wide off a Bolton defender, before Maxi was cruelly denied by the crossbar just past the half-hour mark as his looping header left the keeper rooted to the spot.

The Merseysiders were now firmly on the front foot however it wasn't quite happening for us in the final third, as has been the case so frequently this season. Bolton then punished the Reds by taking the lead only two minutes prior to the break. A late challenge from behind by Fabio Aurelio earned the Brazilian left back a yellow card and the visitors a free kick in a good area. Taylor whipped an inviting cross into the danger area where the unchallenged Davies took advantage of some lackadaisical defending to head home from close range.

Despite the crushing disappointment caused by conceding Liverpool had a great chance to level the scoreline before the break, however Lucas squandered a fantastic opportunity when he somehow managed to miss the target from three yards out after Kuyt's side-footed cross had found him unmarked at the back post.

After an average first half the Reds had a disappointing deficit to recover from, and they started in perfect fashion as Fernando Torres re-discovered his goalscoring ability to grab an equaliser four minutes into the second period. David Ngog chested Johnson's pass down into the path of Steven Gerrard, who clipped a wonderful ball through for Torres on the half volley. The Spanish striker then sensationally side-footed the ball into the roof of the net as Anfield erupted in a mixture of jubilation and relief.

The rejuvenated Torres went close again on 55 minutes when he cut inside and flashed a shot just past the far post after a rapid counter-attack had been instrumented by Reina and Gerrard. Liverpool then had a penalty shout turned down with just over 20 minutes left to play when Mark Davies appeared to handle on the ground after Maxi and Gerrard scrambled for the ball.

It would have been harsh to give a penalty though as the grounded Bolton player couldn't really move his arm away from the ball. The visitors then had a similar appeal turned down when the ball struck Lucas' arm in the penalty area moments later. Gerrard and Torres combined once again after 73 minutes and almost scored in an identical fashion to the first goal as Gerrard's cross reached the Spaniard only for him to volley just wide of the target.

Liverpool had controlled proceedings for the majority of the second half and looked the more likely to break the deadlock, however Bolton reminded the hosts of the threat posed when a sloppy and short pass from Glen Johnson was easily intercepted by Klasnic. There was a notable sense of relief when the Croatian’s firm strike from the edge of the box was well held by Reina in the Liverpool goal.

When a 20-yard effort from Steven Gerrard went agonisingly wide on 90 minutes most felt that the Reds were consigned to yet more dropped points at Anfield. However, the determined, never-say-die attitude of the captain rescued the points for Liverpool for the umpteenth time two minutes into injury time. Gerrard's well struck cross travelled to the back post where Maxi competed with a Bolton defender to pull the back across goal to Cole, who had the simple task of tapping home from a yard out to claim both his first League goal for Liverpool and a crucial three points for Hodgson's side.

There were appeals for offside from the away side however they were rightly ignored because, although the London lad was in an offside position, the final touch of the ball before it reached Cole appeared to be from a Bolton player, meaning the Englishman couldn't be flagged offside.

A dramatic late victory like this will always lift spirits, however the vociferous celebrations following the match characterised the Reds under Hodgson. We were delighted to enter the top half of the table after claiming what ordinarily would be considered a routine three points at home to Bolton.

Although this win certainly doesn't change my opinion of Hodgson, it will earn him a bit more time to try and save his job and, while some supporters may have wished to see us lose in order to hasten his departure, I could never desire a defeat whatever the circumstances may be.

Liverpool must now take the little momentum gleaned from this match and carry that into their next three crucial matches, away to Blackburn and Blackpool with the small matter of a trip to Old Trafford in the Third Round of the FA Cup sandwiched inbetween.