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Kenny Dalglish made an instant impact on the team as his tactical approach proved far more successful than Roy's outdated 4-4-2 set-up.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.


No comments:

Post a Comment