Friday, 29 April 2011

Is Gerrard past his best?

Typically Steven Gerrard has been seen as Liverpool's talismanic skipper, the driving force in the engine room who would take games by the scruff of the net and drag the Reds back from the jaws of defeat to clinch historic victories. His passion, determination and commitment to the club make him the most loved player amongst supporters and perfectly summarise the values inherent within the Liverpool Way.

However, although Gerrard has undoubtedly formed the heart and soul of the club alongside fellow scouser Jamie Carragher during their respective careers, the former's influence on proceedings has undeniably diminished this season and his performances have done little to suggest that he is any more special than any other player in that famous Red shirt.

Since scoring a stunning 24 goals in 2008/2009 Gerrard has failed to replicate the fine form that helped Liverpool to a second placed finish during that enthralling year, netting half as many times last season and only managing eight so far this campaign, on a par with the much maligned David Ngog.

This down turn in form coincided with an 18-month spell where Fernando Torres, who had previously linked up excitingly and excellently with Gerrard, suffered from poor form and failed to live up to the world-class status he enjoyed during his first few seasons on Merseyside.

With Spanish ace Xabi Alonso also returning to his homeland during the 2009 summer transfer window, the terrific triumvirate that had been at the heart of the Reds' title challenge was gradually eroding and Gerrard's form has suffered as a result. No longer receiving a constant source of passes from Alonso and unable to trust Torres to finish off any moves he orchestrated, Gerrard's role has steadily reduced and his influence on the pitch has been less tangible.

Another difficult and injury ravaged campaign this season has given Gerrard little chance of recovering his form and, with the 30-year old approaching the twilight of his career, his role in the side must surely be revised in order to accommodate for the burgeoning talent around him in the Reds' midfield.

Despite being without their captain since the beginning of March, Liverpool haven't missed Gerrard, instead embarking on a remarkable run which has seen the Reds comprehensively beat Manchester City, earn a hard fought and dramatic draw at the Emirates and claim their largest margin of victory this season against Carling Cup winners Birmingham.

Perhaps more significantly, conscientious midfielder Jay Spearing has been one of many youngsters to come to the fore during this spell, forming a flourishing relationship alongside Lucas, as the ever improving duo provide crucial support for their attack minded midfield partner Raul Meireles.

With the emergence of Lucas, Spearing and Meireles arrives more competition for Gerrard that, although obviously beneficial for the club, may mean that the Reds’ number 8 has to change his style of play. When in form Gerrard's preferred all action approach usually involves tough tackling, exhaustive running and sensational shooting, leaving his unmistakable imprint on every blade of grass on the famous Anfield turf.

Despite modifications by Benitez, who believed that he occasionally ran unwisely and unnecessarily, a desire to have an impact in every area of the pitch is a fundamental part of Gerrard's makeup. However, with age and injuries now catching up with him, Gerrard may have to move back to a holding midfield role in upcoming campaigns, where he could continue to make strong challenges and ping passes around Anfield, while not having to cope with the demanding role of a box-to-box midfielder.

Although as a Red I am loathe to praise Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, the unquestionably knowledgeable Scot has expertly changed the roles of ageing stars such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. As a result they have contributed to United's continued success, with Scholes' and Giggs' experience proving invaluable in the big games despite Neville's impromptu retirement earlier this season.

If, upon his inevitable permanent appointment, King Kenny can similarly successfully utilise Gerrard's abilities in a slightly different position then he could retain a crucal role in Liverpool's starting eleven for the forseeable future.


Monday, 25 April 2011

Reds rampant as Maxi mauls Birmingham

A Maxi Rodriguez hat-trick, paired with strikes from Dirk Kuyt and late substitute Joe Cole, earned Liverpool an empathic 5-0 victory over Alex McLeish’s relegation threatened Birmingham City, crucially reducing the gap between us and fifth placed Tottenham Hotspur to a mere three points after former Reds’ boss Roy Hodgson helpfully led his Baggies to a 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane.

Although Birmingham were Liverpool's bogey team going into the contest, an encouraging performance and convincing win finally ended a seven-year spell without a league win against the Blues, and continues our recent run of good form, providing hope that we can finish the season positively and possibly sneak into a European position at the last minute.

Jack Robinson made his first senior start at left back while John Flanagan remained at right back after impressing against Manchester City and Arsenal respectively. Jamie Carragher recovered from concussion to join them in our back four, however Andy Carroll missed out altogether after suffering a niggling injury at the Emirates.

A fine start for the hosts was capped off perfectly seven minutes in when Maxi tapped home the opener after Foster failed to hold Spearing's long-range strike. The visitors responded in the right manner though, forcing Flanagan and Robinson to make two important headed clearances within seconds of each other before the latter did brilliantly to divert Jerome's cross behind for a corner. The Reds then survived a scare as Carragher hacked to safety after Ridgewell had threateningly nodded the set piece goalwards.

The Blues brief spell of pressure was ended on 24 minutes when the in-form Dirk Kuyt doubled our lead after Meireles had flicked on Reina's up field punt. Suarez raced onto the ball and forced Foster to make a save, before the former Manchester United keeper also denied Kuyt. Fortunately the rebound fell for the Dutchman and he comfortably struck into the corner after quick footwork had kept alive the goalscoring opportunity.

From that moment on Liverpool controlled proceedings, peppering Foster's goal and denying the away side any meaningful sight of goal. Mid-way through the first period Spearing's long-range effort was well blocked before his midfield partner Raul Meireles was denied in the area. Maxi then also saw his strike blocked and Robinson crashed one into the Kop as the Reds searched for a third to kill off the game as a contest.

To make matters worse for the Midlanders keeper Ben Foster, who had soldiered on manfully after suffering an injury in the build-up to the second goal, had to be replaced by Colin Doyle shortly before the interval. There was still time for Kuyt to guide Meireles' beautiful cross inches wide of the far post as Liverpool went into the break firmly in the ascendancy.

Reina was called into action within seconds of the restart when Larsson tried his luck with a speculative volley, however apart from that it was a low key start to the second period, with the Merseysiders comfortably retaining the lead while Birmingham stepped up their game slightly.

On the hour mark Keith Fahey fired well wide from 20 yards out before some sublime trickery from Suarez was brought to a halt just as he looked set to pull the trigger. The Uruguayan, who has been in scintillating form since arriving from Ajax in the January transfer window, was inevitably involved in most of our attacking play throughout, and played a crucial role in our third goal. Liverpool's new number 7 clipped an inviting ball to the back post, where Maxi was left unmarked to volley home from close range.

The game was quickly becoming a rout, as Maxi claimed his hat-trick and Liverpool's fourth with just under 20 minutes remaining when he intelligently followed up his first effort to tuck home the rebound after Doyle had initially denied the Argentinean winger.

After that Raul Meireles forced a fine save from Doyle before Suarez audaciously attempted to back flick the rebound home. The Portugese was replaced by Joe Cole moments later and the Londoner made an instant impact, cutting in from the right and firing a low shot goalwards that unexpectedly found the net after Doyle inexplicably fumbled over the line.

Hat-trick hero Maxi Rodriguez received a well-deserved standing ovation as David Ngog replaced him in injury time.

After a long spell on the sidelines both Maxi and Cole have given Dalglish a welcome selection headache. Despite little game time recently the pair were hugely influential, contributing four of the five goals towards our total and demonstrating their ability clearly with lively, forward thinking displays.

Kenny has skilfully crafted a situation where players are hungry to perform and prove their worth to the team and stake a claim for a regular position in the first eleven. This healthy competition for places should produce an ever-improving squad with more depth than previously perceived.

With West Brom holding Spurs on the weekend, Liverpool lie three points behind Harry Redknapp's side and, although they have a game in hand, Tottenham still have to face Chelsea and Manchester City before travelling to Anfield on 15th May. If the Reds can continue in this rich vein of form then a 5th place finish and Europa League football next season are an increasingly realistic prospect.


Thursday, 21 April 2011

Kenny and Henry- Restoring the Liverpool Way

Liverpool are famous worldwide both for their tremendously successful and decorated past and the distinctive, definitive character engendered within the squad and ingrained into the culture of the supporters. The values of respect for the opposition, complete commitment to the cause and supporting the side through thick and thin attract interest as much as the traditional pass and move style of football and trophy winning philosophy.

This aspect of the club, known as the "Liverpool Way", is fundamental to the Reds' makeup, and forms the heart and the soul of the club. Without it the unique appeal and inescapable magnetism of Liverpool Football Club would be lost, and the Merseysiders would become just another run of the mill Premier League outfit.

However, over recent seasons the Liverpool Way has been scandalously disregarded and ignored by warring owners and a clearly inept manager alike, leaving the club on the brink of financial meltdown and footballing mediocrity.

The ill-fated Hicks and Gillett era was characterised by civil war in the boardroom between manager, chief executive and co-owners. Former manager Rafael Benitez faced a constant battle against two owners who clearly cared nothing for Liverpool and only wanted to rape and pillage the club in an unsuccessful attempt to generate an undeserved profit.

Hicks in particular continually aired the club's dirty linen in public, calling for chief executive at the time Rick Parry to resign in a television interview as well as admitting that he and George had approached Jurgen Klinsmann about the job of manager behind Benitez's back.

Following four agonising years in which the Liverpool Way had been forgotten by the men in charge and unacceptable lies, crippling debt and repeated broken promises had brought the club to its knees, Hicks and Gillett were eventually ousted by a boardroom rebellion inspired by the legendary Martin Broughton, and new owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) took control of the club.

The collective response of the fans was one of obvious joy and unmistakable relief, however this was later tempered by on-field problems, as Roy Hodgson's time in charge went from bad to worse. Abysmal results left Liverpool floundering in mid-table and, coupled unfavourably with a rigid, ineffective formation and dull, defensive football, eventually earned Hodgson the sack.

The 63-year old former Fulham manager simply never understood or appreciated the Liverpool Way, with his style of play not in keeping with the traditional, attractive brand of football promoted at Anfield.

Perhaps most significantly though, he failed to establish any sort of rapport with the audibly unsatisfied supporters. The link between manager and fans is essential, with any Liverpool boss receiving full backing if they are seen to be acting in the best interests of the club.

However, Hodgson's bizarre media comments marginalized himself from the Kop and his unproductive, unexciting tactics were evidently and inevitably unpopular. Complaining that he hadn't received the legendary support of the Kop after the humiliating home defeat to Wolves was the final straw. There was no way back for Hodgson from that point on and it was only a matter of time before he was fired.

After the arrival of new American owners FSG, fronted by John W Henry and Tom Werner, and Kenny Dalglish’s remarkable homecoming, the club's fortunes have rapidly changed, with the observance of the Liverpool Way a key factor in the Reds' recent on-field resurgence and the return of stability to the boardroom.

Football, rather than debt repayment, has become the top priority once again for everyone concerned, with both Henry and Werner stressing the importance of winning trophies for the club's footballing and commercial development. This change has been reflected in the transfer window, with FSG moving quickly in January to reinvest the considerable sum generated through the sale of Torres and Babel by purchasing the phenomenally talented Suarez and the eminently promising Carroll, as well as pledging further investment in the summer.

A refreshing, logical and traditional desire to keep all important or controversial information private has also returned, as Kenny Dalglish has, in his inimitable style, rebutted journalists who seek to glean headline writing material about either his future or the future of his players.

Crucially, Dalglish has changed our style of play to a free flowing, enterprising brand of football, without eroding the defensive rock upon which every successful side is built. This was demonstrated against Arsenal, where Liverpool's solid back line was only penetrated during the dying stages of injury time via the penalty spot.

That back four consisted of two teenage full backs in the form of John Flanagan and Jack Robinson. With Flanagan also impressing against Manchester City and Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing featuring regularly for the first team, a clear road through to the first team has been established by Dalglish and FSG, who share the Scot's vision for the flourishing Academy starlets.

The players' never-say-die attitude earned the Reds' a well deserved point from that encounter, as they epitomised the commitment and passion displayed so prominently by Dalglish, who hasn't been afraid to ship out players who show anything less than the total dedication demanded by the Liverpool Way.

This was most starkly illustrated when Fernando Torres was sold to Chelsea after 18 months of below par performances and questionable commitment. The King's brave decision has since been proven correct, as Torres has failed to score a goal in 13 games for Abramovich's Blues while the Spaniard's replacements have been on top form for Liverpool.

Most importantly Dalglish and FSG have the support of the Kop, who have never deserted the time-honoured principles of the Liverpool Way despite the complete and utter disregard for them both on and off the field in previous seasons. With the owners, the manager and the Kop now adhering to the Liverpool Way that has helped develop the Reds into Britain's most decorated club, the success we all crave finally appears to be a realistic prospect.


Monday, 18 April 2011

Late drama as Dirk denies Gunners

Dirk Kuyt's penalty in the 12th minute of injury time earned Liverpool a well deserved point yesterday after his fellow Dutchman Robin Van Persie had converted another spot kick at the other end only moments earlier to break the deadlock and seemingly hand the Gunners all three crucial points.

A competitive and keenly fought contest had lacked any real exciting goalmouth action until the closing stages, as the Reds makeshift back four, composing of two teenage full backs, remained impressively firm and restricted the hosts considerable attacking threat admirably. Van Persie's last gasp goal then broke Red hearts, however this team's incredible, never-say-die spirit came to the fore to grasp what felt like a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Kenny Dalglish kept faith with the same side who had disposed of Manchester City so emphatically in our previous Premier League match, with youngsters John Flanagan and Jay Spearing featuring in the first eleven once again, demonstrating the obvious potential within the ranks at the Academy.

Following an impeccably observed minute's silence for the 96 who died at Hillsborough and former Arsenal director Danny Fizsman, the Gunners began the match on top, with Diaby glancing a great chance just wide four minutes in. After that Andy Carroll guided headers over the bar and into the side netting, however from then on the first half was dominated by the home side, with Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny a virtual spectator.

A rare error from Reina on 15 minutes afforded Arsenal an inviting opportunity, as the Spaniard horribly misjudged his jump at a set piece, allowing Koscielny to crash Van Persie's corner against the cross bar. Van Persie's exquisite effort was then flagged offside and Fabregas sent a shot just wide to almost punish Suarez after he'd sloppily lost possession, as Arsene Wenger's title challengers placed the Merseysiders under sustained pressure.

To worsen the situation for the Reds the injury prone Brazilian Fabio Aurelio had to be replaced by Jack Robinson midway through the half, disrupting our defence and throwing the 17-year old left back in at the deep end against the threatening pace of Theo Walcott. Thankfully, he dealt with Arsenal's number 14 well and contributed to our resilient back four's display significantly.

On the stroke of half time Eboue ghosted into the area and fired a shot goalwards, only for the magnificent Martin Skrtel to deflect his effort across the face of goal and away to safety. Arsenal had been in the ascendancy throughout the first half, and the Reds were relieved to enter the half time interval with the scores level.

Dalglish's troops began the second period the better though, with Suarez curling the Reds' best chance of the match just wide on 50 minutes after he had cleverly evaded two defenders with a drop of the shoulder to create space for himself on the edge of the box.

Liverpool's attacking threat may have improved slightly, but their luck with injuries remained conspicuous in its absence as talismanic vice-captain Jamie Carragher had to be stretchered off following a clash of heads with the equally committed Flanagan.

Fittingly Carra, who had been knocked straight out by the incident, received a standing ovation from the whole of the stadium and, fortunately, his determination wasn't missed, as it was replicated brilliantly by his teammates. Spearing, who was at his conscientious best, epitomised this depth of character and commitment with 20 minutes remaining, when he raced all of 40 yards to regain possession from Wilshere with a brilliant sliding challenge.

After 83 minutes Clichy crossed from deep and Van Persie flicked on a header that was easily stopped by Reina. A sublime move from the London side moments later unlocked our defence and set up the Dutch striker perfectly, however he was denied by a sensational save from the alert Pepe Reina.

Entering the eight minutes of injury time the exasperated and frustrated Gunners were surprisingly not throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the Reds' backline, however their breakthrough eventually arrived in the 97th minute, when Andre Marriner correctly pointed to the spot after the otherwise excellent Spearing had felled Fabregas. Van Persie displayed composure to roll home the penalty and, it appeared, win the game for Arsenal.

However, the Reds, who had scored in every one of their past 14 league games, refused to give up, with Dirk Kuyt smashing an Alonso-esque effort at goal immediately from the re-start. Encouragingly Liverpool threw everybody forward in a desperate attempt to earn something from the match, and they were rewarded when Eboue bundled over Lucas in the penalty area after Suarez's free kick fell for the Brazilian midfielder.

Kuyt, who recently received a contract extension, stood up to hammer home the spot kick with literally the last kick of the game, to send the travelling Kop into delirium.

With the last gasp equaliser arriving so late on in the encounter, Liverpool celebrated as if they had won the game, although the real winner from yesterday's match may just turn out to be bitter rivals Manchester United, who have both the momentum and the all important six-point lead heading into the final few games of the season following yet another Arsenal slip up.

That matters little to Liverpool though, who should rightly be delighted after a battling display and dramatic ending earned them an excellent point at one of their bogey grounds. Diligent defensive work and a hard fought battle in midfield were accompanied by the never-say-die attitude that has been engendered into the squad by temporary manager Kenny Dalglish.

As a result the Reds have collected four points from the six available from fixtures against Manchester City and Arsenal, and a new confidence against the better sides has steadily yet significantly developed, which should see us in good stead next season, when the Merseysiders will look to compete against the likes of these for a top four finish.



Friday, 15 April 2011

In Memory of the 96

On 15th April 1989, 22 years ago today, Liverpool supporters set out to Hillsborough, Sheffield to support their team in the FA Cup semi-final. Tragically, 96 supporters never returned. They had been crushed to death in the pens after fatal over-crowding.

These are the names of the 96 who lost their lives;

John Alfred Anderson (62)

Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)

James Gary Aspinall (18)

Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)

Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)

Simon Bell (17)

Barry Sidney Bennett (26)

David John Benson (22)

David William Birtle (22)

Tony Bland (22)

Paul David Brady (21)

Andrew Mark Brookes (26)

Carl Brown (18)

David Steven Brown (25)

Henry Thomas Burke (47)

Peter Andrew Burkett (24)

Paul William Charlie (19)

Rayond Thomas Chapman (50)

Gary Christopher Church (19)

Joseph Clark (29)

Paul Clark (18)

Gary Collins (22)

Stephen Paul Copoc (20)

Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23)

James Philip Delaney (19)

Christopher Barry Devonside (18)

Christopher Edwards (29)

Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34)

Thomas Steven Fox (21)

Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10)

Barry Glover (27)

Ian Thomas Glover (20)

Derrick George Godwin (24)

Roy Harry Hamilton (34)

Philip Hammond (14)

Eric Hankin (33)

Gary Harrison (27)

Stephen Francis Harrison (31)

Peter Andrew Harrison (15)

David Hawley (39)

James Robert Hennessy (29)

Paul Anthony Hewitson (26)

Carl Darren Hewitt (17)

Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16)

Sarah Louise Hicks (19)

Victoria Jane Hicks (15)

Gordon Rodney Horn (20)

Arthur Horrocks (41)

Thomas Howard (39)

Thomas Anthony Howard (14)

Eric George Hughes (42)

Alan Johnston (29)

Christine Anne Jones (27)

Gary Philip Jones (18)

Richard Jones (25)

Nicholas Peter Joynes (27)

Anthony Peter Kelly (29)

Michael David Kelly (38)

Carl David Lewis (18)

David William Mather (19)

Brian Christopher Matthews (38)

Francis Jospeh McAllister (27)

John McBrien (18)

Marion Hazel McCabe (21)

Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21)

Peter McDonnell (21)

Alan McGlone (28)

Keith McGrath (17)

Paul Brian Murray (14)

Lee Nicol (14)

Stephen Francis O'Neill (17)

Jonathon Owens (18)

William Roy Pemberton (23)

Carl William Rimmer (21)

David George Rimmer (38)

Graham John Roberts (24)

Steven Joseph Robinson (17)

Henry Charles Rogers (17)

Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23)

Inger Shah (38)

Paula Ann Smith (26)

Adam Edward Spearritt (14)

Philip John Steele (15)

David Leonard Thomas (23)

Patrik John Thompson (35)

Peter Reuben Thompson (30)

Stuart Paul William Thompson (17)

Peter Francis Tootle (21)

Christopher James Traynor (26)

Martin Kevin Traynor (16)

Kevin Tyrrell (15)

Colin Wafer (19)

Ian David Whelan (19)

Martin Kenneth Wild (29)

Kevin Daniel Williams (15)

Graham John Wright (17)

Justice for the 96. Never Forgotten. You'll Never Walk Alone

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Carroll on the double as Reds run riot

Andy Carroll opened his goalscoring account for the Reds yesterday with two well taken goals as Liverpool claimed a comprehensive and well deserved 3-0 victory over Roberto Mancini's Citizens. A dominant display from Dalglish's side was duly rewarded as a fine finish from Dirk Kuyt, combined with Carroll's powerful drive and trademark header, earned the Reds three crucial points, cementing our place in sixth and keeping alive faint hopes of European qualification.

With injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard depleting our squad significantly, 18-year old right back John Flanagan was thrown in at the deep end as he made his first team debut despite failing to feature in the reserve side. The no-nonsense defender performed well and was solid throughout, providing yet another glimpse of the potential possessed by the Reds' Academy, and demonstrating the notable faith Dalglish has in the youngsters progressing through the system.

After a moving minute's silence to remember the 96 who died at Hillsborough, solider and Reds supporters Mark Burgan and David Fairclough's wife Jan, who tragically passed away this week, Liverpool began in the ascendancy, controlling the contest and putting City, who have failed to win on the road in 2011, immediately under pressure.

Encouragingly, the understanding established between new front pair Carroll and Suarez continued to develop, with the former's incisive through ball sending the latter bearing down on goal six minutes in. Only a world-class stop from Hart prevented the in-form Uruguayan breaking the deadlock as the England keeper excellently nudged his strike onto the base of the post.

The hosts didn't have to wait much longer to claim the all-important first goal though, as Andy Carroll struck just before the quarter of an hour mark to send Anfield into delirium. Liverpool's tall number 9 sent a fantastic first time finish arrowing into the corner of the net after Kompany had deflected Meireles' shot into his path.

It was a simply superb strike from Carroll, who has already gone some way to justifying the gargantuan fee paid for him, with his sheer physical presence and goalscoring threat adding an extra element to our play and providing much needed attacking potency going forward.

To add injury to insult for the visitors, City captain and talisman Carlos Tevez had to be replaced by Mario Balotelli moments later after Carroll has caught the Argentine in the build up to our first goal.

With the away side enduring a torrid opening, Liverpool continued to dominate, playing some neat football in midfield and restricting City to pot shots from range. This was demonstrated on 29 minutes, when Dzeko turned and shot wide of target from the edge of the box. Kolarov's cross then flashed threateningly across the face of Reina's goal, as Balotelli was inches away from converting.

Ten minutes before the break Kuyt doubled the Reds' lead with a fine finish beyond Hart after a flurry of goalmouth activity had seen Meireles, Suarez, Aurelio and Carroll denied by desperate blocks from the City defence. The conscientious Dutchman is our top goalscorer this season, and has been an ever present throughout the campaign, putting in 100% and finding the net regularly, to the delight of the Kop. Incredibly, only a minute later Carroll increased our lead further, as he rose to nod Meireles' left wing cross beyond Hart's despairing dive in typical fashion.

After such a thrilling first half, in which Liverpool had secured an emphatic three goal lead, the second half was inevitably and understandably less eventful, with the visitors showing little sign of pulling off a remarkable, Istanbul-esque comeback and the Reds happy to contain City and shut up shop.

Nevertheless, Liverpool looked the more likely to score, with Kuyt glancing Meireles' corner inches wide from close range and Spearing lashing a volley high into the Kop during the opening exchanges of the second period. Hart then swiped Meireles' effort away before Barry blocked Kuyt's strike from the edge of the box as the Reds searched for a fourth to place a metaphorical cherry on top of the mouth-watering cake that was this performance.

After 68 minutes the enigmatic Italian Mario Balotelli curled a shot high and wide from 25 yards, as Reina remained a virtual spectator in the Reds' goal. In fact, the Spaniard wasn't called into action until seven minutes from time, when he punched Yaya Toure's powerful 30-yard drive away to safety.

Carroll almost grabbed a hat-trick with two minutes remaining when the Geordie striker looped a header onto the roof of the net after sensational skill from Suarez had allowed him to skip to the touchline and dig out a cross to the back post. In injury time the 22-year old received a raucous reception from the grateful Anfield faithful, as he was replaced by young French striker David Ngog, to cap a great game off perfectly for both Carroll and his team-mates.

In many ways this victory should have been anticipated, with City's terrible recent away record coupling favourably with our good form against the big teams. However, considering the Reds' injury list and the massive amount spent by the visitors to accumulate a formidable squad, this victory is a pleasant surprise, demonstrating both our youngsters' ability and the quality within our first eleven.

Unfazed by the occasion John Flanagan put in a steady, solid and impressive performance, while fellow youngster Jay Spearing worked efficiently, enthusiastically and productively alongside Lucas Leiva to patrol the midfield and constrain City's attack. Suarez was at the centre of most of our attacks, buzzing around purposefully and creating many chances, while Carroll scored two excellent goals and remained a constant threat to the Citizens' defence, both in the air and on the ground.

Most importantly, this victory demonstrates that we can compete with the likes of Manchester City and Spurs, despite the financial handcuffs enforced by our former owners creating a massive chasm in squad depth between the Reds' and their nearest rivals.

This provides renewed hope and optimism that we can seriously challenge for a top four finish next season, particularly if new American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) invest heavily in the playing squad during the summer transfer window.



Saturday, 9 April 2011

The shadow of Hillsborough

264 months of pain. 22 years of heartache. Over two decades of lies and injustice.

The dark shadow of Hillsborough lies over Liverpool just as prominently and poignantly as on that fateful April day in 1989, when 96 innocent Liverpool fans died supporting the team they loved. It is woven into the very fabric of the club, lurking ominously in the background, reminding us of our fellow fans taken so cruelly and pre-maturely that day and providing a sobering backdrop of much needed perspective to all footballing activities.

Football is important. For many it is a fundamental part of their lives, with countless hours spent watching, playing and talking about the beautiful game and its intriguing intricacies. However, Hillsborough horrifically confirmed that it most certainly isn’t “more important than life and death”, as the late great Bill Shankly once, admittedly jokingly, claimed.

When 96 families are told of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers crushed to death painfully and needlessly football is forgotten and the suffering endured by so many on Merseyside takes prominence. The lives lost, families broken and the inevitably resulting anguish have served to foster a spirit of unity in disaster and togetherness in tragedy, the likes of which are rarely seen within any other group of supporters across the face of the globe.

It is this spirit of unity that sets Liverpool out as unique, and defines the Liverpool Way at the heart of the club. The progress made towards gaining justice for the 96 following our 22-year long battle against the anxious authorities would not be possible without the strength of feeling and depth of character ingrained within and permeating throughout the Reds’ global fan base after enduring such a terrible disaster.

With the early release of top-secret documents regarding the Hillsborough tragedy a significant step towards justice has been made, but the fight and struggle will not stop until all our questions receive honest answers and those responsible for the horrific deaths of 96 Reds and the disgraceful following cover-up, namely South Yorkshire police, are held to account.

The boycott of the S*n newspaper also demonstrates both the passion amongst Liverpool fans and the nous possessed in order to hit the paper where it most hurts; their metaphorical pocket.

On Merseyside, newsagents struggle to sell a single copy of the newspaper now considered to be a cuss word by most Reds fans. Throughout the country Liverpool supporters won’t touch Murdoch’s rag, with many ‘out-of-towners’ reprimanding fellow fans for lining the pockets of those who printed vile and abhorrent lies only days after the Hillsborough disaster, pouring scorn on the memory of the 96, causing yet more grief for their families and provoking a fiery backlash from outraged Liverpool supporters.

Hillsborough has not only made an impact on both the city of Liverpool and the football club within, it has also affected the national game, with all-seater stadia now rightly a legal requirement for top-level clubs. The Football Supporters’ Federation’s campaign for “safe-standing” sections within stadia seems to be gathering momentum, however it has been condemned by Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) and, with the memory of Hillsborough still fresh in the minds of Liverpool fans, it is unlikely to receive much support on Merseyside.

Even the remote possibility of another footballing disaster comparable to Hillsborough should be enough to dispel any arguments in favour of allowing standing to return.

With the 22nd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster arriving next Friday the 96 will be commemorated in another highly emotional service at Anfield. The tragic effect of their untimely deaths will be mourned and the wider ramifications of the horrific events of that day will be remembered.

The fight for justice will also continue, the S*n will still be boycotted and the all-seater stadia that fans enter every weekend will serve as a stark reminder of 15th April 1989, when football fans where killed watching their team play in an FA Cup semi final.

The long, dark shadow of Hillsborough remains over Liverpool FC.



Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Lucas- From scapegoat to Samba star

A week ago today Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva put pen to paper on a new 'long term' contract, rewarding the talented Brazilian for his impressive performances this season and recognising his increasingly influential role at the heart of the team, while also signifying possibly the biggest u-turn in supporter opinion in recent history.

Signed from Gremio for £5 million in July 2007, the diminutive midfield man was initially seen as a real capture and an exciting prospect, particularly considering the relatively small fee paid and the intense interest shown in him by many other top European clubs.

However, the 2006 Bola de Ouro winner unfairly bore the brunt of heavy criticism from supporters and pundits alike, as he struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League and the enormous weight of expectation placed upon anyone who pulls on the famous Red shirt. The much-maligned Lucas was seen to be slowing down the game unnecessarily and lacking the foresight to play incisive forward passes, instead preferring to pass square and backwards.

With pass-master Xabi Alonso and midfield hardman Javier Mascherano providing formidable competition for a place in Benitez's midfield many believed Lucas' role in the side should have been minimal. However, the reverse proved to be the case as he featured regularly, making over 30 appearances in his debut season despite failing to convince many spectators.

As a result Rafa was vehemently criticised for stubbornly refusing to drop Lucas, who was perceived to have received excessive leeway from his under-fire boss. Although this view has some justification, those calling for Lucas to be dropped crucially failed to appreciate the key role Lucas played in the side, keeping the engine room ticking over quietly yet efficiently.

This was most blatantly demonstrated by former Reds midfielder and current Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp after our 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford last season, when Redknapp blamed the loss on the sale of Xabi Alonso, claiming that the Spaniard had been pivotal to our 4-1 victory against United during the previous campaign.

In fact, Lucas had started in place of the injured Alonso on that day and was central in our comprehensive victory, proving the Brazilian's importance and starkly showing the widespread ignorance of his contribution to the side, as well as demonstrating the research (or lack of) done by the red-faced Redknapp.

Nevertheless, with Alonso joining Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 Lucas' role in the side became more pronounced and increased in importance, as he partnered fellow South American Javier Mascherano in the centre of midfield. Although he was mainly utilised as a defensive midfielder, Benitez began to afford the number 21 more licence to foray forward, particularly in the Europa League, where he impressed frequently.

Following years of derision Lucas has finally proved the doubters wrong this season and won over the majority of supporters, putting in some top quality performances, displaying determination and dedication to the cause and developing composure and comfort with the ball at his feet, allowing him to spread the play and start attacks while also breaking up opposition attacks with crunching challenges when necessary.

With want-away midfielder Mascherano leaving a significant hole in our midfield Lucas has exceptionally stepped up to the plate and filled the Argentine's boots brilliantly, forming a blossoming relationship with £11 million summer signing Raul Meireles. As Meireles' attacking prowess continues to grow, so the stability afforded to him by the conscientious Lucas persistently provides a platform for the Portugese international to support fellow new arrivals Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

On top of his promising club form, Lucas has slowly become a regular fixture in the Brazilian national side; with head coach Mano Menezes picking him to patrol their midfield on numerous occasions. He hasn't disappointed either, performing diligently in the background in order to allow his more talented attacking team-mates to shine, in a similar fashion to his role at Liverpool.

Most importantly Lucas has earned a near permanent spot in Dalglish's midfield, with the legendary Scot rewarding him with both regular first team football and a new, long term contract. Lucas can now look forward to a prolonged and, should our recent resurgence persist, successful spell on Merseyside.

It's been a long journey back from the wilderness for the scapegoat, but now he's gradually becoming a Samba star and, more importantly, an Anfield hero.


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Baggies beat Reds as Roy wreaks revenge

Former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson led his current employers West Bromich Albion to a well deserved 2-1 victory over the Reds yesterday, as the Merseysiders' faint hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League were all but crushed in a disappointing day in the Midlands.

Martin Skrtel's 50th minute header had given the visitors the lead against the run of play, however two well taken and correctly awarded penalties from Baggies captain Chris Brunt after fatal mistakes from substitute Sotirios Kyrgiakos earned the hosts three crucial points in their fight against relegation, and subjected Liverpool to a frustrating setback.

Prior to kick off the media attention focused on the two managers, as the hugely unpopular Hodgson took on his celebrated and successful successor Kenny Dalglish, in a clash that pitted the legendary Scot's enterprising brand of football against the defensive doggedness of the Londoner’s outfit.

With both Liverpool and West Brom enjoying much improved form under their new bosses a competitive, keenly contested encounter ensued, however the hosts were in the ascendancy, threatening Reina's goal frequently and calling the Spaniard, who was clearly Liverpool's man of the match, into action on regular occasions.

Despite this the first chance fell to the Reds, when Carson blocked Kuyt's header and the Dutchman hit the rebound high over the bar after Carroll had reached Meireles' corner and headed towards Liverpool's number 18 at the back post.

Within the first 25 minutes the away side were forced to make two substitutions, as our already injury ravaged back line suffered further, with Kyrgiakos and Wilson replacing Johnson and Agger respectively. This disrupted our flow and allowed the home side to control proceedings, with Brunt and Cox testing Reina with efforts from range.

Ten minutes before the break Odemwingie went past Lucas and Carragher on the right with ease, but his arrowed drive was fortunately straight at Reina. Moments later Skrtel inadvertently headed towards his own goal after the hosts had whipped the ball into the box, causing Reina to make another good stop in order to retain parity.

After an unwelcome defensive re-shuffle the Reds were struggling to claim control of the match, and the interval provided a much needed break for Dalglish's troops to re-organise and attempt to assert their dominance over their relegation threatened opposition.

West Brom had the first chance of the second period though, with Reina making a fine stop to thwart Cox after the Baggies' striker had sprung the Reds' offside trap on 46 minutes. Liverpool quickly responded as Carson deflected Carroll's strike inches over the bar. Skrtel powered home Meireles' resultant corner with his head to give the visitors the unwarranted yet critical first goal.

Kuyt then saw his shot saved by the legs of Carson, however the Reds remained under pressure for the rest of the second half, and failed to seriously pressurise the hosts' goal until the dying moments, when the proverbial kitchen sink was thrown at the Midlanders.

A timely intervention at the back post from Wilson was needed to deny Odemwingie a near-certain goal on 58 minutes, however that pressure eventually told as Kyrgiakos' clumsy tackle from behind on the hour mark gifted West Brom a route match into the match from the penalty spot. Brunt stood up and coolly slotted straight down the centre of the goal to equalise and set up a grand finale.

Peter Odemwingie continued to terrorise our defence, as he cut inside Soto and forced Reina to repel his powerful drive before only a sensational block by Carra thwarted the Baggies' number 24 from point-blank range. After that the Nigerian international flashed a shot threateningly across the face of goal, before he beat the back peddling Kyrgiakos far too easily with three minutes remaining to go one-on-one with Reina.

The exposed Spaniard brought down Odemwingie and Brunt held his nerve to fire the resulting spot kick confidently beyond Reina's despairing dive and into the left hand corner.

In the closing stages Liverpool went close to grabbing a late equaliser, with Skrtel heading agonisingly wide from Meireles' corner after Carson had turned the Portuguese’s shot behind, before Suarez expertly lobbed the ball over the mass of bodies in the box, only to see Jara clear off the line to deny the Uruguayan and condemn the Reds to their first League defeat in just over a month.

This below par performance should be rightly criticised for lacking attacking potency and defensive mettle, however the loss of Johnson and Agger early on through injury understandably hampered our chances of securing points. Perhaps more importantly West Bromich Albion played forward-thinking football without fear, the likes of which was never witnessed during Hodgson’s dire six-month spell in charge of Liverpool.

The former Fulham manager is an expert at taking teams from the brink of relegation into mid table mediocrity, and should receive credit for changing West Brom's recent fortunes and claiming some revenge over his former employers. However, his departure from the Anfield managerial hot seat was much needed, and the revenge won yesterday should prove to be little more than a minor pothole on Liverpool's long road back to domestic and European success.