Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Feline fun lightens up dull Spurs stalemate

Liverpool played out a rather dull 0-0 draw at home to high-flying Spurs last night. A tight and competitive game produced few goalscoring opportunities of note as the two teams, who were both in good form heading into the contest, effectively cancelled each other out. The fact that the main talking point after the match was a pitch invasion from a stray cat spoke volumes.

The statistics before the game painted an unclear picture. Liverpool had won just once and lost four of their last five Premier League clashes with Spurs and were thrashed 4-0 at White Hart Lane earlier this season. However, Tottenham's 2-0 win in the corresponding fixture last season was their only Premier League victory in 17 visits to Anfield.

Luis Suarez was available for selection for the first time since Boxing Day after missing nine games due to suspension and many expected him to start. Somewhat surprisingly, though, Dalglish decided to leave him on the bench at the beginning, with Carroll supported by Kuyt and Bellamy up front. Meanwhile, Gerrard, Adam and Spearing formed a triumvirate in the centre of midfield.

The night started under a blanket of fog and there were worries that the fixture would be cancelled as a result. After referee Michael Oliver had confirmed that the match was going ahead, the first noteworthy event occurred on five minutes, when Gerrard played Carroll through after surging forward from deep. The number nine was brought down by a challenge from Dawson but he wasn't penalised as he won the ball fairly.

When a cat ran across the pitch after 12 minutes the Kop took full advantage of an opportunity to display their famed quick wit. The traditional chant of "attack, attack, attack, attack, attack!" was converted into "a cat, a cat, a cat, a cat, a cat!" in response to the rude interruption from the pacy pussycat.

Stewards eventually ushered the cat away and many spectators discussed the possible avenues the feline may have taken to end up on the Anfield pitch. The fact that those discussions took place for such a prolonged period indicated the scarcity of entertainment offered from the humans on the pitch.

Supporters had to wait until the half hour mark for any half decent sight of goal and even then there was little to get excited about. Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Niko Kranjcar saw shots blocked and saved respectively, while Kuyt headed Adam's free kick wide. The best chance of the half fell to Spearing when his fantastic strike flew inches wide from 20 yards after Gerrard had laid the ball into his path.

Moments before the break Bale attempted an audacious flick through his legs from Walker's cross but he failed to trouble Reina. The latter then burst threateningly into the Reds' box but Agger deflected his shot behind. The former, meanwhile, was involved in a confrontation with the Dane soon after the restart. The well-respected Welsh winger infuriated Agger with one of the most blatant dives I've ever witnessed.

As a result, the 27-year old yelled at Bale and a mass melee ensued. Thankfully, neither player marked their 100th Premier League outing with a red card, as the referee only booked Bale for simulation. He therefore has the shame of being the only player to see yellow twice for simulation in the Premier League this season.

Frustratingly, there was still little goalmouth activity at either end until the hour mark, when Liverpool started to look the better of the two teams and appeared more likely to sneak a winner. Kelly's rasping shot was turned behind by ex-Red Brad Friedel just before the hour mark and the unmarked Agger headed agonisingly wide from Adam's resulting corner.

The substitution that the majority in the crowd had been waiting impatiently for occurred mid-way through the second half, as iconic Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez replaced Dirk Kuyt.

His arrival noticeably lifted the atmosphere around Anfield, however it was his strike partner who had the next sight of goal. Andy Carroll met yet another corner with his head but unfortunately the ball went straight at Friedel and the American made a relatively easy save.

With 20 minutes remaining Suarez nearly courted even more controversy, as he accidentally kicked Parker in the stomach when contesting a loose ball in the penalty area. At first sight, it looked like a nasty and deliberate foul that could have earned him a red card and put him in the headlines once again. On closer inspection, though, it was evidently an honest mistake and the fact that he attended the 31-year Englishman to check if he was OK immediately after perhaps convinced the referee to simply book the returning number seven.

Carroll then squandered a great chance by firing aimlessly over when well placed in the area. It was a poor finish but it thankfully wasn't representative of his performance, as Carroll played well and demonstrated his aerial prowess regularly last night.

The closing stages saw the game open up and a few gilt edged chances created. The first and best goalscoring opportunity fell to Gareth Bale, as he went clean through one-on-one with Reina after evading the Reds' offside trap. The Spaniard was at his best though and made an impressive stop with his legs to deny the visitors the opener and probable winner. Suarez then headed Gerrard's set piece straight at Friedel from close range, before Downing drilled into the Kop and Suarez was denied again by the Spurs stopper.

The mood after the match was mostly negative. This was Liverpool's eighth Anfield draw of the campaign, which is simply nowhere near good enough. Moreover, the Reds now have the lowest chance conversion rate (9%) in the League, which, whatever Dalglish may say, is a worrying statistic. On a positive note, Tottenham were denied a goal for the first time in 23 Premier League games by the hosts' backline.

Ultimately, drawing at home to title-contenders Spurs won't cost us fourth place. Failing to beat the likes of Swansea, Norwich and Blackburn at Anfield will more seriously affect our chances of qualifying for the Champions League.

Simply put, draws against sides we should beat must be cut out if we are to have any chance of a top four finish.


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