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.)

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