Monday, 30 April 2012

Suarez- Proving the critics wrong one goal at a time

Marmite. The famous slogan claims that you either ‘love it or hate it’, although I know at least one person who simply likes the black savoury spread. Similarly, Luis Suarez seems to receive nothing but adoration from Liverpool supporters and solely contempt from rival fans.

Yet, as the boos get louder, the Uruguayan keeps getting better.

On the weekend, Norwich City supporters booed the Reds’ number seven. He responded by taking home the match ball after netting a superb hat trick, his first for the club. It was a prize he fully deserved after tormenting the Canaries defence' and goalkeeper John Ruddy throughout a 90 minutes only memorable for his eye-catching performance in front of 26,819 spectators at Carrow Road.

Liverpool's main problem this season, particularly in the Premier League, has been scoring goals. Title-chasers City and United have amassed double the amount of goals the Reds' have achieved while mid-table teams like Fulham and Norwich, and even strugglers Blackburn Rovers, have found the net on more occasions then Kenny's men.

As a £22 million striker, Suarez must accept his fair share of responsibility for those underwhelming facts. Unfortunately, the number seven hasn't replicated the goalscoring records he achieved at Ajax on Merseyside. During four years in Holland, he scored 81 goals in 110 appearances, managing an impressive 35 strikes in just 33 matches in 2009/2010.

He may be the Reds' top goalscorer, but that says more about Liverpool's other strikers than it does Suarez, as his total of 11 seems insignificant in comparison to the likes of Rooney, Aguero and Van Persie. However, the fact that he missed most of the winter fixtures due to an excessive eight-match ban he received for that incident with Manchester United's Patrice Evra, must be taken into account.

Like the rest of the squad, Suarez has been playing well but simply not scoring enough. He is a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer. His skill and trickery is undoubtedly entertaining and impressive, but often a clinical finish is preferable to fancy footwork that ultimately leads to nothing. Of course, when he combines the two top-quality football results. For example, his curled effort from the edge of the box against Stoke City in the Carling Cup after nutmegging a defender was, up until Saturday, arguably his best goal for the Reds.

Crucially, his main strike partner is also entering a spell of good form. Andy Carroll may have been criticised vehemently in the press and by some supporters for the low return on the £35 million spent to buy him from Newcastle, but, with late winners against Blackburn and Everton proving his ability, the number nine could form a dynamic duo with Suarez in the short and long term.

If Luis Suarez can retain the quality of his goals while, more importantly, increasing their quantity, then Liverpool will have a world-class centre forward to build their attack around for many years to come.


Sunday, 29 April 2012

Reds cruise past the Canaries as Suarez bends it like Beckham

Luis Suarez scored his first hat trick in that famous Red shirt as Liverpool finally returned to winning ways at Norwich City's Carrow Road on Saturday teatime. The controversial Uruguayan brought the game to life with two sensational strikes in quick succession after a quiet opening, before his stunning effort from just inside the Canaries' half rounded off a comfortable victory ten minutes from time for the visitors, who were never seriously tested by their hosts.

Kenny Dalglish made five changes to the side that was humbled by West Bromich Albion at Anfield last time out, as skipper Steven Gerrard returned to the centre of midfield alongside Jonjo Shelvey. Meanwhile, Welshman Craig Bellamy was afforded a rare start alongside Luis Suarez up front and Jamie Carragher replaced Martin Skrtel at the heart of the Reds' defence.

With Norwich comfortably positioned in mid-table and Liverpool's sole aim in the League being overtaking neighbours Everton, the opening stages reflected the fact that neither side had much to play for. A good clearance from Carragher was required at one point, but apart from that there was little to get excited about.

Until 24 minutes in, when Gerrard and Suarez combined to spark the game into life. The former stalked David Fox vigilantly, pouncing on his prey at the perfect moment to steal possession and feed Suarez, whose clinical strike from the edge of the box curled past the helpless Ruddy and into the net.

The pair combined again a minute later, Suarez nutmegging Ward and crossing to Gerrard, who hammered goalwards but saw Elliott Bennett make a crucial block. Nevertheless, it didn't take long for the Reds to double their lead, as talismanic centre forward Luis Suarez found the back of the net for a second time. Another skilful nutmeg took the number seven past Ward and, powering down the right wing; he looked up momentarily before firing emphatically past Ruddy and into the bottom right hand corner.

It was simply a super solo effort from Suarez, who responded to the boos and jeers he received from the natives in the perfect fashion.

After that brief spell of exciting goalmouth action, the match strangely returned to the end of season tempo that had characterised the earlier stages. However, after the interval Norwich came into the game a bit more and threatened Reina's goal on occasion. Five minutes after the restart Bennett's swerving drive from 25 yards out called the Spanish stopper into action, before Bradley Johnson nodded over from Pilkington's resulting corner kick.

In response, Shelvey squandered two gilt-edged goalscoring opportunities. First, he concluded a fantastic free flowing move by disappointingly heading against the cross bar from only a few yards out. Then, Enrique whipped a brilliant ball into the box but the former Charlton midfielder somehow contrived to miss the target altogether when it was easier to score.

Before James Vaughan shot and headed wide of goal, Suarez had his first unsuccessful attempt at completing his hattrick. The Merseysiders' top scorer broke through on goal and tried to dink the ball over the keeper but unfortunately his effort ended up on the roof of Ruddy's net. After the 23-year old former Everton striker had failed to get his new side back into the contest, Suarez netted his third with an effort that will last long in the memory of those who witnessed it.

Spotting Ruddy off his line, Suarez spectacularly lobbed the despairing keeper from all of 40 yards.

It was a unbelievably good goal from Suarez, which was reminiscent of David Beckham's similarly superb strike at Wimbeldon in 1996.

After the match, Suarez inevitable and deservedly received the plaudits for an excellent individual display that lit up an otherwise unremarkable evening of Premier League football. He is now likely to be wrapped up in proverbial cotton wool, ready to be released against Chelsea in next weekend's FA Cup final.

For once, Liverpool didn't pepper the opposition's goal with shots on target. However, the Reds did dominate the game, claiming a sizeable 61% of possession and crucially taking the relatively few chances they created. It is no doubt preferable to create a few goalscoring opportunities and convert them, then craft countless chances yet fail to find the back of the net, as Kenny's men have done far too frequently this season.

If we can replicate this display in our remaining fixtures then we should achieve our twin aims of finishing above Everton and clinching our second domestic cup of the campaign.


Monday, 23 April 2012

WBA punish wasteful Reds

Liverpool were left to rue missed opportunities once again yesterday, as Peter Odemwingie exploited an error from Glen Johnson to grab a winner for Roy Hodgson’s West Brom after the hosts had earlier squandered countless chances. It secured the Midlanders’ first victory at Anfield since 1967 and leaves the Merseysiders with an abysmal total of just seven points from 10 games.

Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt were afforded rare starting places on the wings, while first choice keeper Pepe Reina returned between the sticks after a three-match suspension. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard was left out altogether as Henderson partnered Spearing in the centre of a weak looking midfield four.

With momentum garnered from beating local rivals Everton to reach the FA Cup final last weekend, Liverpool began the brighter and had the better of the early chances. After 10 minutes, Carroll robbed possession from Mulumbu and fed Suarez who, in turn, found Kuyt in space on the right. Unfortunately, the out of form Dutchman saw his right footed shot roll just wide of the left hand upright when the number 18 really should have been more clinical.

Encouraged by claiming two late winners against Blackburn and Everton, Carroll was active and influential in attack. Midway through the first period he nodded over the bar from Maxi’s curled cross, before five minutes later he set up Suarez, only for McAuley to bravely block his effort on goal.

Up until that point Liverpool had been dominant and Reina was a mere spectator. The Spaniard was called into action shortly before the half hour mark, though, as Brunt’s shot from 12 yards out forced the keeper into an impressive save to prevent the visitors from taking an undeserved lead.

The home side, nevertheless, ended the half in the ascendancy, Spearing, who was making his 50th appearance for his hometown team, firing narrowly wide and Agger hitting the side-netting from close range before the break. Although the away side had defended well during the first 45, Liverpool were undoubtedly in complete control of the contest, and that superiority extended into the second half as well.

Frustratingly, our old enemy the woodwork reared its ugly head again yesterday, agonisingly preventing us taking the lead on two separate occasions. First, an intricate and inventive move involving Johnson, Kuyt and Carroll culminated in Henderson’s excellent effort rattling Foster’s cross bar. Then, Kuyt hammered against the post on the hour mark. In between, Suarez excited Kopites by nutmegging Billy Jones but blazed over the bar when teammates were better placed to break the deadlock.

On 62 minutes, Johnson raced towards the by-line and cut the ball back for Carroll but regrettably the tall Geordie striker couldn’t keep his header down. After that, the mother of all goalmouth scrambles remarkably failed to produce an opener for the Reds. Carroll was denied at first, before Spearing’s shot was blocked and McAuley managed to beat Maxi to the ball. West Brom gained temporary relief but the hosts were relentless and Henderson fired inches wide as Liverpool desperately looked for the opening goal their performance merited.

Dalglish brought on Bellamy and Downing with 23 minutes remaining in an attempt to prise open the structured and determined defence crafted by Roy Hodgson. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful, and West Brom counter-attacked effectively to deal the Reds a devastating blow.

After 75 minutes, Mulumbu stole possession from Johnson all too easily and, after sliding in Odemwingie, the Nigerian eased past Enrique to fire past the helpless Reina. It was a fatal error from Johnson, whose indecisiveness cost Liverpool dearly.

The Reds reacted, but by that stage it became obvious it just wasn’t going to be their day. Foster fumbled Bellamy’s shot but Olsson blocked Carroll’s rebound and soon after referee Neil Swarbrick brought an extremely frustrating afternoon to an end.

Comparisons with the 2-1 defeat at home to Arsenal after lifting the Carling Cup have understandably been drawn. In both League games immediately after winning at Wembley, Liverpool have absolutely dominated the match but failed to convert the gilt-edged opportunities created and consequently suffered exasperating defeats.

On this occasion, the Reds enjoyed 61% of possession and had 28 shots, 12 of which were on target, and 15 corners. However, the simple fact is that football is about scoring goals and West Brom managed that yesterday while Liverpool inexplicably didn’t.

Until our problems in front of goal are rectified, progress in the Premier League is impossible.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

In Memory of the 96

On 15th April 1989, 23 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

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Carroll heads Reds into the FA Cup Final

Much-maligned Liverpool striker Andy Carroll bagged his second late winner of the week today, as he headed the Reds to victory over Merseyside rivals Everton at Wembley and a place in the 2012 FA Cup final, where they will face either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur.

In a game characterised by defensive mistakes, Nikica Jelavic took advantage of some disastrous defending from Carragher and Agger to give the Toffees a first half lead. However, Suarez exploited an error from Distin to equalise for Dalglish's side, before Carroll netted a deserved winner with only three minutes left on the clock.

With the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster only a day away, both teams united to remember the 96 before kick-off. Club captains Steven Gerrard and Phil Neville handed flowers to representatives of the Hillsborough Family Support Group and everyone inside of Wembley impeccably observed a minute’s silence. The life of the late Gary Ablett, who played for both Liverpool and Everton during a distinguished career, was also commemorated before play commenced.

The main team news of note saw Daniel Agger make his first start since the Carling Cup final, replacing Jose Enrique at left back and looking uncomfortable in an unfamiliar position throughout. Moreover, third choice keeper Brad Jones benefited from Reina and Doni's suspensions to start in goal while Gulasci occupied the bench after being rapidly recalled from a loan spell at Hull City.

Liverpool began the brighter and almost exploited Everton's unnecessarily high defensive line to take the lead after only three minutes. Johnson played Carroll through and the tall number nine laid the ball back to Spearing, who failed to keep his head over the bar and thus saw his shot fly just over the cross bar. Carroll was also involved on the quarter of an hour mark, as he headed the ball back to Skrtel, whose bobbled shot was easily dealt with by Howard.

Moyes' men responded, though, as Baines' free kick went just over the bar and Jones comfortably caught Jelavic’s overhead kick, before the Croatian forward, who has been prolific for the Blues since joining in January, opened the scoring. Agger and Carragher were hesitant as the ball fell in the penalty area and they failed to communicate with each other. When the latter eventually attempted a clearance, the ball hit Cahill and he slipped over, leaving Jelavic free to finish calmly past Jones.

Although Jelavic was arguably marginally offside, it was absolutely suicidal defending from Carragher and Agger and they, rather than the linesman, should be blamed for conceding the opener.

Before the break the only Red reaction came when Gerrard's 30-yard effort swerved wide of goal. After the interval, though, Andy Carroll missed a gilt-edged opportunity. Downing's excellent right wing cross reached the back post, where the 23-year old Geordie met the ball with his head. Unbelievably, he somehow contrived to miss the target from close range when it looked easier to score than miss.

The fact that he then buried his head in his shirt said it all.

On the hour mark, Carroll's striking partner Luis Suarez equalised for the Reds. A poor pass back from Distin put the Uruguayan clean through on goal and the number seven kept his cool to finish with the outside of his right boot beyond the helpless Howard.

Watching in the pub, which had radio commentary seven seconds ahead of the TV, was hilarious as "Suarez has equalised for Liverpool" was greeted with cheers while he was still running through on goal!

With 15 minutes remaining, Maxi Rodriguez, who found the net twice last time out at Blackburn, replaced Jordan Henderson. He was involved soon after, flicking the ball on to Carroll, who stretched effort was weak and ineffectual. Moments before, his shot from the edge of the box had gone inches wide of the post, as his frustration in front of goal continued.

His labour soon bore fruit though. Soon after replacing Downing, Bellamy made a game-changing impact. The Welshman whipped an exquisite free kick into the danger area where Carroll, despite having his shirt pulled by Fellaini, rose highest to glance a header past Howard and into the net.

There was still time for Maxi Rodriguez to astonishingly hit the woodwork unmarked from yards out after Suarez had glided into space in the area and squared to the Argentine.

The Reds played out injury time superbly, controlling possession and sensibly keeping the ball in the corner as much as possible. Everton failed to fight back and, in fact, rarely tested Brad Jones. On the balance of play, Liverpool were the better side and deserved to clinch victory and a place in the FA Cup final. Special praise should be reserved for Carroll and Suarez, who worked excellently in tandem and demonstrated that there is plenty of potential in their partnership.

For the third time this season, the Red side of Merseyside is celebrating after defeating the Blues in the derby. Now, Liverpool will be looking to redeem their season by winning the world's most famous domestic cup competition in May.


Friday, 13 April 2012

Holy Comolli! What's happening at Liverpool?

John W Henry emerged from the frosted glass windows and took his customary seat next to his aides, chairman Tom Werner and vice-chairman David Ginsberg, who looked in disdain at those on the opposite side of the sizeable table. In front of him sat Damien Comolli, Dr. Peter Brukner and John Achterberg. After cracking wise for the cameras, the stern-faced Henry asked the trio, in no uncertain terms, to explain themselves.

Comolli mumbled something about Henderson being half decent on the right wing and Andy Carroll coming good soon; Brukner boldly extolled the virtues of the changes he'd made to the fitness training that had supposedly reduced injuries suffered by Reds players and goalkeeping coach Achterberg complained that it wasn't his fault that Reina and Doni recently received red cards.

Henry brought their protestations to a halt. He began to speak, explaining his thinking process. When it became evident that Comolli was set for the sack, the Frenchman attempted to intervene but the American simply put his hand up and affirmed, "I'm speaking now- I don't want to hear any more from you."

Next came Henry's favourite part. He lent menacingly forward and, pointing at Comolli, said, "You're fired!" in that strangely comfortingly familiar way. The other two breathed sighs of relief and began talking among themselves. Unimpressed, Henry resolved to make an example of them. Looking at the pair, he told them he just didn't believe they have what it takes and, one after the other, delivered those legendary yet lethal words.

Whether or not head of FSG and principal owner of Liverpool FC John W Henry actually fired Damien Comolli, Dr Peter Brukner and John Achterberg in the unique style of Apprentice star Sir Alan Sugar is a matter for debate. What is undeniable, though, is that Henry's ruthlessness in culling so many of the Reds' backroom staff in a single day resembled the 65-year old former Tottenham Hotspur chairman. The fact that that he did so only two days before Liverpool's biggest match of the season makes him either very brave or incredibly foolish.

The most high profile dismissal of the day saw Director of Football Damien Comolli leave Anfield to return to his homeland of France for "family reasons". Comolli was originally appointed as Director of Football Strategy while Roy Hodgson was in the Anfield dugout but received a promotion a year ago after an upturn in form inspired by the return of King Kenny. As Director of Football, Comolli oversaw the style of football and strategy of play from the Academy all the way to the first team. He also had significant influence over player recruitment, and was instrumental in the club's summer signings.

Consequently, the club seemingly intended to keep the 39-year old in his current role for the foreseeable future. His presence would guarantee a consistent strategy and retain a long-term vision. This was articulated when Henry said, "(we) believe Damien will be a key contributor for many, many years."

The reasons for his departure are therefore shrouded in mystery. Few believe the official story of Comolli returning to France for family reasons, but arguably even fewer know the truth behind the unexpected firing. It is reasonable to assume that Comolli took at least some responsibility for the failings in the transfer window. Large amounts of FSG's money were spent on Adam, Carroll, Henderson and Downing yet none of them have come anywhere near approaching top form.

Moreover, Liverpool have lacked a clear system of play this season, often reverting between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. Manager Kenny Dalglish obviously must take some responsibility for that, however, it was Comolli's job to instil a way of playing that would be successful from the under 18s to the first team. Benitez promoted a 4-2-3-1 formation and worked at perfecting that style of play but it seems as if Comolli had failed to even draw up any serious blueprints on how the team should play for Dalglish to consider.

Chairman Tom Werner also indicated that Comolli disagreed with other senior staff regarding transfer policy for the summer, perhaps shedding light on the reasoning behind hastily removing him from his position.

The rumour mill has gone into overload since the news broke of Comolli's departure yesterday morning, with many media outlets suggesting that Johan Cruyff or Louis van Gaal could be hearing the words "You're hired!" from John Henry soon. Whoever gets appointed as the next Director of Football, the priority must be finding a long-term replacement for Comolli who can work alongside Dalglish effectively and help reverse the club's on-field fortunes through shrewd signings in the summer and policies that help develop youngsters for the future.

The firing of Dr Peter Brukner and goalkeeping coach John Achterberg was also surprising. After all, Brukner does seem to have successfully reduced the number of injuries Liverpool players have suffered this season, with Lucas the only major long-term absentee.

Moreover, Achterberg can hardly be blamed for Reina's act of stupidity in head-butting Newcastle player Perch, which earned him a red card, and Doni's poor tackle that saw him sent off versus Blackburn. Although, admittedly, the form of Spanish first choice stopper Reina has been below par and Achterberg can be at least partly blamed for that.

The overwhelming message from these dismissals is that FSG are serious about changing Liverpool's short and long-term future for the better and that they demand world-class performance from those in a managerial capacity as well as those out on the pitch. They perhaps should have waited until after the FA Cup semi-final against Everton to make these dismissals, but the off-field turmoil at Anfield currently arguably puts Liverpool in the position of underdogs heading into the contest tomorrow.

And Liverpool always seem to thrive when labelled as the underdogs.


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Carroll the hero in Ewood epic

A last gasp winner from Andy Carroll secured a thrilling 3-2 victory for Liverpool over relegation threatened Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park last night. An action-packed match saw Maxi net a double to give the visitors an early lead, before Doni conceded a penalty and saw red for fouling Junior Hoilett in the box.

Remarkably, replacement keeper Brad Jones saved Yakubu's resulting spot kick, but the Aussie was powerless to prevent his header drawing one back for Blackburn before the break. After the interval, Jones made a hash of a clearance and ended up conceding another spot kick, and Yakubu made no mistake this time around. Not to be denied, Liverpool pushed on and Carroll's injury time header clinched a rare League win for the Reds; only their third in 2012.

Club captain Steven Gerrard was rested ahead of Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final match against local rivals Everton on Saturday, as manager Kenny Dalglish made six changes to the starting line-up. Johnson returned from injury to start at left back while Maxi Rodriguez made a rare start ahead of him on the left wing. Craig Bellamy, meanwhile, partnered Andy Carroll up front while Alexander Doni started between the sticks in place of the suspended Pepe Reina, who was an interested spectator.

After a quiet opening 10 minutes, Liverpool sprang into life in emphatic fashion, scoring twice in three minutes to stun their hosts. First, Skrtel's excellent long ball picked out Bellamy in space. The Welshman squared across the face of the goal to Maxi, who, unlike Dirk Kuyt versus Villa, tapped home from three yards out.

Then, after Shelvey was denied and Carroll's shot had been blocked, the ball fell for Maxi, who clinically volleyed home his and Liverpool's second with his left foot. The two goals proved once again that Maxi, a prolific goalscorer with 11 League goals in just 10 starts, deserves far more game time and shouldn't be confined to the substitutes' bench as often as he unfortunately has been.

Referee Anthony Taylor then had a stern word with Jon Flanagan after he committed another potentially bookable offence soon after receiving a yellow card for a foul on Marcus Olsson. The 19-year old was not having a good evening, as mid-way through the first period his shocking back pass sold Doni short and allowed Hoilett to go one-on-one with the second choice stopper. Unceremoniously, Doni brought Blackburn's number 23 down inside the area and the referee had no choice but to send the Brazilian off and award Rovers a penalty.

To spare his blushes, Flanagan was replaced by Brad Jones, who made his Premier League debut for the Reds in the week that he became a father again. Undaunted, Jones managed to save Yakubu's dire penalty, which went straight at his former Middlesbrough teammate. In fact, it was the second worst back pass of the evening!

In the immediate aftermath Jones pointed to the sky in recognition of his son Luca, who tragically lost his battle with leukaemia last November.

Despite that temporary reprieve, the fact that Liverpool had only 10 men became evident rather rapidly and Yakubu soon compensated for his missed spot-kick. The Nigerian centre forward was left completely unmarked by Johnson and Carroll and consequently connected with Dunn's clipped free kick, guiding the ball past a statuesque Jones.

The target now for the Reds was to enter the interval with their lead intact and, thankfully, they managed to do so, despite Olsson firing a threatening ball across the face of the goal. Surprisingly, Liverpool began the second half brightly, with Carroll's diving header missing the target and Skrtel's powerful headed effort forcing Robinson into a good save, although it wouldn't have counted anyway as the Slovakian skipper for the night was offside.

On the hour mark, though, an error from Brad Jones cost the Merseysiders dearly. The number 1's attempted clearance smashed into Yakubu and then he hesitantly tried to catch the ball on his line but ended up embarrassingly spilling it and pushing over Yakubu in the box. It was clearly a penalty and the only consolation was that Jones only saw yellow, rather than red. Yakubu's resulting penalty was little different to his first missed effort but this time Jones dived too soon instead of standing his ground and therefore Blackburn equalised.

With the momentum and confidence garnered from recovering a two-goal deficit, many expected Blackburn to push on and Liverpool to capitulate in a similar fashion to against QPR in March.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case, as Liverpool summoned up a response. On 66 minutes a good move involving Maxi and Bellamy playing passes in neat, intricate triangles came to an end when Carroll was flagged for offside when put in on goal. Henderson, who had performed terrifically on the right, defending well and also marauding forward when possible, did brilliantly with five minutes remaining to break down the right and fire an inviting cross into the centre but frustratingly nobody in red was there to finish. In between, Hanley beat Carroll to a deep cross and nodded over Jones' bar from an awkward angle and Coates was forced to make an excellent last ditch challenge to deny Hoilett after he'd wriggled free in the box.

The last act of the match saw Liverpool steal all three points. Coates hoofed the ball back into the box after a corner had been cleared, and Agger flicked it on to Carroll, who headed past Robinson emphatically before wheeling off in ecstatic celebration in front of the visiting supporters.

Goals, red cards for goalkeepers, missed penalties, converted penalties and late drama; this game had absolutely everything and demonstrated why we love Liverpool FC and the Barclays Premier League. The excitement was tangible and the action engaging.

Most importantly, Liverpool performed well and got the win they deserved, which should provide a crucial confidence boost heading into that all-important FA Cup semi-final clash with Everton on the weekend.


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Suarez secures a point versus Villa

Luis Suarez ended the Reds' recent run of League defeats and secured a point for Liverpool at home to fellow strugglers Aston Villa yesterday. Chris Herd exploited a goalkeeping error from stand-in stopper Alexander Doni to hand the Villains an early lead, but the hosts dominated the rest of the match, creating numerous chances and having several legitimate penalty appeals ignored by referee Michael Oliver. With 10 minutes left on the clock, Suarez nodded home to grab an equaliser but there wasn't enough time for Dalglish's men to clinch the winner their performance arguably merited.

The main team news was that Pepe Reina's impressive run of 183 consecutive League appearances came to an end due to suspension, with former AS Roma keeper Doni handed his competitive debut for the first team. Meanwhile, Andy Carroll dropped to the bench as Dirk Kuyt partnered Luis Suarez up front for the Merseysiders.

After a minute's silence for the 96 Liverpool supporters who tragically lost their lives at the Hillsborough disaster 23 years ago, Aston Villa began the match the better and took the lead after only 10 minutes had been played. Doni flapped at a cross under pressure from Heskey and the ball fell for Chris Herd to hit a fine strike into the top left hand corner from the edge of the area.

Doni was culpable for failing to deal with the cross but there was nothing he could do to prevent Herd's beautiful shot finding the back of the net.

It was simply a top-quality strike from the 23-year old Aussie, who was involved in a controversial incident at the other end of the pitch only moments later. Shelvey slipped Suarez through and the number 7 attempted to cut the ball back from the by-line but his pullback was blocked by Herd's arm. The penalty appeals were loud and justified yet unfortunately they fell on deaf ears.

Liverpool continued their positive response to falling behind, as Skrtel nodded Gerrard's cross wide of goal after the skipper had fired wide of target himself. Five minutes before the break Suarez had another penalty shout unfairly dismissed by the referee. The influential Uruguayan cut in from the left hand side and exchanged passes cleverly with Kuyt before going down under a challenge from Hutton. The former Spurs full back missed the ball and clearly connected with Suarez yet no spot kick was awarded, perhaps due to Suarez's reputation as a play-actor.

The officials certainly weren't helping Liverpool's cause, but they weren't helping themselves at points either. On the stroke of half time, Gerrard's drilled shot flashed across the face of goal and found Kuyt at the far post. Astonishingly, the Dutchman somehow contrived to miss an open goal from three yards out. It was an embarrassing miss and one that betrayed Kuyt's lack of confidence and form, largely due to long spells on the bench.

Frustration was the overwhelming emotion inside Anfield at the interval, as has been the case far too many times this campaign. Nevertheless, the home side came out for the second period and persistently attacked their opponent's goal, carving out two gilt-edged opportunities soon after the restart.

First, Gerrard's superb whipped right wing cross was headed goalwards by Suarez. The Reds' arch enemy the woodwork denied them an equaliser at first before their other old foe, on-form goalkeepers, kept them out as Given made an amazing acrobatic save to clear off the line. Captain fantastic Steven Gerrard, who did everything bar score for the hosts yesterday, then back heeled the ball to Kuyt but the number 18's poor form in front of goal continued as he shot wide when well placed.

After the legend that is Emile Heskey was replaced by Gary Gardner, Kenny Dalglish made a double substitution in an attempt to stimulate a sustained push for an equaliser and possible winner as well. Carroll replaced Downing and Shelvey was swapped for Bellamy, and the Welsh striker was instantly involved in the action, dragging a shot wide and then seeing Eric Lichaj handle the ball in the box after Kuyt had chested down his cross. Unfortunately the referee was giving us nothing and refused to award a spot kick yet again.

Not to be denied, the Reds continued to search for that elusive equaliser and, after Bellamy's shot had clipped the cross bar, Suarez finally found the back of the net. There was a goalmouth scramble after Agger's header had hit the bar, which ended in Suarez nodding home his thirteenth goal of the season from point blank range.

With what little time there was left to press for a winner, Liverpool bombarded Given's goal. Carroll headed straight at the former Newcastle keeper when had he directed the ball either side of him he would have been the hero.

In injury time, Villa held on by the skin of their proverbial teeth, somehow scrambling the ball clear after several shots inside the box in front of Kopites desperate to witness a long awaited victory. Unfortunately, the win didn't materialise and the hosts had to settle for an ultimately disappointing point.

I can't help thinking that had we grabbed an equaliser earlier on then, with the momentum garnered and confidence growing, we would have gone on to secure all three much-needed points. It was a familiar story, though, as the Reds pushed hard for the win and performed well but were denied by a combination of the woodwork, the opposition's keeper and poor finishing in front of goal.

As supporters, all we can do is be patient and keep on backing the team to the hilt and, hopefully, our form and luck will turn and we'll hit the winning trail once again.

Happy Easter!


Monday, 2 April 2012

Carroll and Reina make April fools of themselves in Newcastle nightmare

Liverpool were the laughing stock of the Premier League yesterday after they fell to a humiliating 2-0 defeat at the Sports Direct Arena. A double strike from Newcastle's new signing Papiss Cisse condemned the Reds to their sixth defeat in seven League games. Former Magpie Andy Carroll also stormed straight down the tunnel after being substituted while goalkeeper Pepe Reina saw red for head butting James Perch, as the day went from bad to worse for the Merseysiders.

Under-fire boss Kenny Dalglish, who managed the Barcodes between 1997-1998, selected several ex-Newcastle players in his starting line-up. Jose Enrique, Craig Bellamy and, most notoriously, Andy Carroll began for the visitors and were widely booed throughout. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing formed a three-man midfield that fatally lacked width.

The Reds were the better side during the opening exchanges, with Jonjo Shelvey's deflected effort dipping just over the bar three minutes in. The turning point that perhaps determined the entire direction of the rest of the match arrived after nine minutes. Carroll rounded Newcastle keeper Krul and, with the goal at his mercy, appeared set to give Liverpool a crucial early lead and silence those jeering him in the stands. Ridiculously, the number 9 instead decided to dive in an attempt to win a spot kick. Referee Martin Atkinson called his bluff though and rightly booked him.

Soon after Bellamy's effort was touched onto the bar and behind for a corner by Krul. The set piece was almost deflected into his own net by Cabaye but his teammate Danny Simpson cleared from the line using his arm. Stood with one hand against the post, the 25-year old had time to realise the ball was bound to hit his arm if he didn't move it. Yet, he chose to keep his arm in the direction of the ball and hence a penalty should have been given but frustratingly was not.

To make matters worse, Newcastle went up the other end and broke the deadlock moments later. Ben Arfa was given far too much time to ping a cross to the far post, where Cisse had evaded Skrtel. The Senegal striker guided a header past Reina that rebounded off the post and into the net to give the home side the lead, arguably against the run of play.

From that point on, the hosts dominated possession, passing in neat triangles and forcing Liverpool to labour to win the ball back. Alan Pardew’s men were simply keeping the ball much better then their opposition, who looked understandably deflated and dejected.

Mid-way through the first period Carroll got his head to a deflected cross from Bellamy but it went a yard over the bar, before Ba bursted forward and saw his strike from 30 yards take a deflection off Skrtel that almost wrong-footed Reina and had the Spaniard scrambling across his goal. The final piece of play before the break saw ex-Red Danny Guthrie whip a cross in for Cisse, who connected well and headed only half a yard wide.

The second half was perhaps even worse than the first. It began with Papiss Cisse doubling Newcastle's lead and ended with Jose Enrique in goal following Pepe Reina's sending off. After Williamson's towering header had tarnished the woodwork, Cisse beat Reina in the box and, maintaining his composure, fired past Skrtel on the line and into the corner to effectively hammer the final nail into the Reds' coffin.

Skrtel then blocked a rasping effort from Ba, before Dalglish made three changes close to the conclusion in a desperate attempt to claim something from the contest. Downing, Kuyt and Henderson replaced Shelvey, Carroll and Bellamy respectively.

Frustrated with his performance and the reception he received from the crowd, Carroll disrespectfully stormed straight down the tunnel. His display was once again lacking yesterday and the pressure from both Newcastle fans angry at his departure and Liverpool fans annoyed at his form told.

Reina, who you can usually rely upon to keep his cool, was sent off with 10 minutes remaining after an altercation with James Perch. The former Nottingham Forest player had stupidly tripped the Spaniard up and, as a result, Reina responded by confronting him. Unfortunately, the situation escalated and ended with the number 25 seeing red after clashing heads with Perch.

It was an idiotic thing for Reina to do and, because all three substitutions had already been made, Jose Enrique was forced to don his jersey and stand between the sticks for the remainder of the match. More significantly, Reina's three-match ban now means he will miss the only match of any real worth left in Liverpool's fixture calendar; namely the FA Cup semi-final against local rivals Everton.

Liverpool were embarrassingly outplayed by Newcastle, a team who were in the Championship last season. It could have been so different had Carroll netted instead of dived and had a penalty been awarded and Simpson sent off for handball, all of which occurred before Cisse's opener. However, Newcastle were undeniably the better side and Liverpool deserved nothing more than what they got.

Fittingly for April Fools Day, Liverpool were a joke. But nobody in Red was laughing.