Sunday, 17 March 2013

Reds sunk by Saints

Liverpool's hopes of achieving European qualification suffered a significant blow yesterday as they fell to a disappointing but admittedly deserved 3-1 defeat away to struggling Southampton. After dominating the first half, the hosts held a two-goal lead thanks to goals from Schneiderlin and Liverpool supporter Rickie Lambert. Coutinho's goal on the stroke of half time gave the visitors hope, but they failed to build on that and Rodriguez's strike ten minutes from time was the final nail in the Merseysiders' coffin.

With Reina still out injured, Brad Jones continued to deputise for him in goal. Meanwhile, Martin Skrtel replaced Jamie Carragher at centre back and Allen started ahead of Lucas alongside Steven Gerrard in the holding midfield role. Those two decisions ultimately proved to be mistakes from Brendan Rodgers, as Liverpool's back four were woefully bad and Lucas' steadying presence in the middle was sorely missed during a first half in which Southampton seemingly ran rampant.

Right from the word go, Mauricio Pochettino's men were in the ascendancy, threatening the Reds' back line and creating notable goalscoring chances. On four minutes, an important block by Skrtel was required to deny Rodriguez before Gaston Ramirez's low effort called Jones into action. Only a minute later, Southampton took the lead thanks to a clever piece of play from the home side and a bit of poor defending from the visitors.

Ramirez sent a cross to the far post, which Rodriguez knocked down for the onrushing Morgan Schneiderlin, who had been allowed to advance unchallenged from within his own half. The 23-year old Frenchman guided the ball beyond the keeper and into the net to give the Saints the all-important first goal as a reward for their early superiority.

Jones and Skrtel after the Saints opened the scoring
They didn't rest on their laurels, though, and neither did Liverpool's dreadful defending improve. After captain Adam Lallana fired over the bar, Agger's terrible decision to try and catch Lambert offside allowed the number seven to race through one-on-one with Jones. Thankfully, the Aussie stopper spared Agger's blushes, standing up well and denying Southampton a second so soon after their first, which would have left the Merseysiders with a mountain to climb.

The Reds continued to lack rhythm, while their opponents were really enjoying themselves and capitalising on their opponents' deficiencies, Rodriguez testing Jones on several occasions. On the half hour mark, Rickie Lambert's free kick took a decisive deflection off the wall, wrong footing Jones and eventually ending up in the back of his net.

It was a massive stroke of fortune for the Saints, but the old adage that you earn your own luck seemed apt. 

Nonetheless, that second goal seemed to provoke some sort of reaction from the Reds, Coutinho unfortunately shooting straight at Boruc after Johnson had played him through. The Brazilian, who played under Saints' boss Pochettino while at Spanish side Espanyol, reduced the deficit on the stroke of half time, picking his spot after a goalmouth scramble had culminated in Sturridge's blocked shot falling to his feet.

Coutinho pulls one back for Rodgers' Reds
Disappointingly, the away side failed to build on that goal after the break. They were expected to come out for the second half determined to right the wrongs of their first half performance, galvanised by a goal they arguably didn't deserve. However, that drive to turn things around that was so evident against Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday was crucially lacking this weekend.

Southampton were less dominant, but they remained relatively untroubled at the back. Sturridge shot wide from an awkward angle and Suarez saw Boruc save his free kick, but the Reds' attack lacked the potency of Lambert and Rodriguez, who had worked so superbly and efficiently to put them in the driving seat heading into the closing stages.

After Gerrard's bobbling effort had been collected by Boruc, Rodriguez scored a sensational goal on 79 minutes to put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt. He dribbled a sizeable distance without being challenged by the Reds' defence. After too easily gliding past half time substitute Lucas, Rodriguez fired past Jones at the second attempt to send the majority of the 32,070 spectators inside St Mary's wild.

Rodgers' men had no response to that and ending up falling to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to their relegation threatened opponents. It was a frustrating afternoon of football all round as well, as Everton unexpectedly beat Manchester City 2-0 at Goodison to go three points ahead of us with a game in hand.

Liverpool are going to have to improve in games like this if they are to end the season on a positive note. They travel to Aston Villa and Reading in coming weeks, who are both in similar situations to Southampton. They will be fighting for their lives and the Reds will have to match their grit and determination and desire to win if they are to pick up points and close the campaign in good form.

If they fail to do so then the recent momentum built up will be lost and they'll have to start from scratch again at the beginning of the new season.


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