Sunday, 28 April 2013

Stunning Reds hit Newcastle for six

Liverpool ended a difficult week excellently yesterday, hitting Newcastle United for six at St James' Park to inflict their biggest home defeat since 1925 on the Geordies and send an emphatic message to the rest of the Premier League: Liverpool are not a one man team.

Braces from Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, as well as an early header from Agger and Borini's first goal in the Premier League, earned the Reds a victory their performance deserved. Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho was also immense in midfield, although he failed to cap a wonderful display with a goal of his own, despite being instrumental in the build up to his teammates' strikes.

After an energetic and positive start, Daniel Agger gave the Merseysiders the lead after only three minutes, exploiting poor defending from the Barcodes to glance a header beyond Elliot and into the net to give the visitors the ideal start to the match.

A stunning team move then made it two just past the quarter of an hour mark. The hosts foolishly allowed Coutinho space in the middle to slide a sumptuous through ball into Sturridge, who unselfishly squared to the supporting Henderson. The former Sunderland player sent a simple finish into the net and then celebrated in front of the Geordie faithful with relish.

Henderson nets a second 17 minutes in
Daniel Sturridge and the fantastically named Mathieu Debuchy were then both booked by referee Marriner for squaring up to each other over something of nothing. Thankfully, Sturridge kept his cool because we'd really be struggling if he was suspended as well.

Soon after the half hour mark Newcastle squandered a great chance to get back into the contest. Haidara whipped the ball into the box from the left wing and found Perch, who fortunately headed wide when he really should have at least tested Pepe Reina.

Despite making a double substitution at the break to try and revive his floundering troops, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew remained frustrated with his team, who could only muster a blasted shot by Tiote, which sparked unreasonable appeals for handball against Lucas, before the Reds struck again.

The diminutive Coutinho amazingly out-muscled Ben Afra in the middle of the pitch and then embarked on a run forward that culminated in his delightful dinked pass setting in Sturridge, who finished with aplomb. Six minutes later, Henderson returned the favour Sturridge had given him in the first half, squaring to the former Chelsea player to give him a simple tap in, which he netted with ease to round off yet another outstanding team move.

On 72 minutes Steven Gerrard's ever present record in the league came to an end as he was replaced by Fabio Borini. The Italian striker, who has been blighted by injuries and hence struggled to find form, justified the substitution only a minute later, as he poked home after good build-up work by Stewart Downing.

Borini celebrates in his traditional manner
The home side were still finding it impossible to deal with Coutinho, with Debuchy earning a second yellow fifteen minutes from time after a poor challenge on the number ten. The resulting free kick was whipped into the far corner by Henderson to send the travelling Kop into party mood, as a conga quickly formed in the away section. They almost had even more reason to celebrate, but unfortunately Coutinho's excellent effort was tipped onto the crossbar by Elliot.

It was the perfect way to round off a weak of controversy and scandal. Liverpool FC is about winning football matches and Brendan Rodgers' side proved that yesterday with a classy performance and well deserved 6-0 win that silenced the critics.


Monday, 22 April 2013

"Bite-gate" overshadows Benitez's return

Luis Suarez grabbed all the headlines for all the wrong reasons yesterday despite netting a last gasp equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw for Liverpool at home to Chelsea. The always controversial Uruguyuan bizarrely bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in an embarrassing and disgraceful off the ball incident that will surely cast a shadow over not just this game but the rest of his career, just as another enigmatic player, Eric Cantona, is always remembered for his infamous kung-fu kick.

It was the low point of an eventful game for the number seven who, after setting up Sturridge to net an equaliser, conceded the penalty from which Liverpool fell behind and then, after his irrational attack of Ivanovic, bagged an equaliser in the sixth minute of injury time. His antics diverted attention away from Chelsea's interim manager Rafael Benitez, who returned to Anfield for the first time since departing in 2010, receiving a warmer reception from the Kop than he has ever received from Chelsea supporters.

After a minute's applause for Anne Williams, a mother of a victim of the Hillsborough disaster who died this week after tirelessly campaigning for justice, and the events in Boston, FSG's hometown, Liverpool arguably started the contest the better, Glen Johnson poking wide when one-on-one with Cech to end a promising attack after five minutes.

Chelsea quickly came back into the match, though, Oscar and Ramires testing Reina before the former connected with a header from a corner that Reina got his fingertips to but couldn't prevent from nestling into the top corner.

Oscar heads Chelsea in front
Reina then nearly conceded a soft second, fumbling Luiz's blasted free kick and only just recovering to stop the ball trickling over the line.

Suarez had a few chances to level before the break, but Liverpool's resurgence only came following the arrival of Daniel Sturridge who, but for Suarez's madness and genius, would have been the player focused on by the media after the match. Immediately after replacing Coutinho at the interval, he raced down the right and played in Gerrard, whose swerving effort was kicked away by Cech. 

The former Chelsea player clearly had a point to prove to both the Blues and Brendan Rodgers, who has strangely left him out of the starting eleven frequently recently. His instant impact almost translated into an equaliser two minutes after the restart as his sensational drive from 25 yards out smacked against the woodwork.

It wasn't long, though, before Sturridge's industry and talent paid dividends, as he tapped home Suarez's exquisite centre to equalise in front of an ecstatic Kop. Unfortunately, Suarez went from hero to villain in the space of two minutes, literally handing Chelsea the chance to regain their advantage. After his handball from a corner kick, Hazard beat Reina from 12 yards with the spot kick.

Seemingly unable to contain the frustration of giving away a penalty, Suarez then ludicrously bit Branislav Ivanovic in the penalty area in an off the ball incident that the referee missed and therefore may mean the number seven is handed a sizeable ban by the FA. 

Suarez loses all sense of rationality
Substitute Shelvey had a couple of chances to level late on, striking into the side-netting when he should have done better and also firing over the bar as time began to run out. At the death, however, Sturridge and Suarez combined to devastating effect. The former delivered an inviting cross into the box, where Suarez was to nod beyond Cech to remarkably rescue a point from the jaws of certain defeat.

Irritatingly, though, it wasn't his excellent skills with his feet that people were talking about after the game but his inexplicable mind and uncontrollable teeth. With history of biting opponents, you'd think Luis Suarez would learn from his mistakes and alter his behaviour but he seems incapable of going a significant time period without acting stupidly and smearing the club's reputation.

Thankfully, the club have handled the situation well, immediately issuing an apology and forcing Suarez to apologise, as well as fining him, with the proceeds going to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. It remains grating, however, that the club is embroiled in scandal when we should be celebrating yet another late comeback at an atmospheric Anfield. 

For all his stupidity, it would be unwise to sell Suarez as he remains an indispensable player. "Bite-gate" won't stop clubs wanting to sign him so it shouldn't force us to sell him. He'll now probably face a suspension that will rule him out for the rest of the season. Let's just hope we see him in a Red shirt at the start of the 2013/2014 season and that a bizarre bite of an opponent doesn't prove to be his last act for Liverpool, like it proved to be when he was at Ajax.


Monday, 15 April 2013

In Memory of the 96

On 15th April 1989, 24 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

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Reading keeper on top form to deny Reds

An inspired goalkeeping performance from Alex McCarthy restricted Liverpool to a point at Reading's Madejski Stadium yesterday afternoon. The 23-year goalkeeper, a product of Reading's Academy, pulled off a host of stunning saves in his first match since November to deny the Reds the victory their dominant performance arguably deserved. At the other end, his opposite number made a couple of impressive saves as well to prevent the home side stealing all three points late on.

Before kick-off, an emotional minute's silence to commemorate the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives at the Hillsborough disaster 24 years ago tomorrow was impeccably observed.

Liverpool's players remember the 96
Brendan Rodgers made one change to the team that was held to a goalless draw versus West Ham at Anfield six days earlier, as Daniel Sturridge started in place of Stewart Downing, who dropped to the substitutes' bench.

After a scrappy start, Liverpool beat goalkeeper McCarthy for perhaps the only time after quarter of an hour, although frustratingly Chris Gunter managed to clear off the line to deny the Merseysiders an early opening goal that might well have changed the course of the contest.

An excellent team move involving the ever improving Henderson, the delightful Coutinho and a dummy from the inventive Sturridge released Suarez in space in the Reading box. His clipped effort evaded the keeper but was impressively cleared off the line by Gunter to thwart the Uruguyuan.

Three more chances followed in quick succession, as Sturridge's shot from an awkward angle was blocked after Suarez had played him through and Coutinho's follow-up attempt was smartly turned behind for a corner by McCarthy. Jamie Carragher, of all people, connected with the subsequent set-piece, watching his header glide past the far post.

With still no pressure from the dire Reading, who seemed to have accepted their fate, Liverpool continued to craft chances, Suarez's strike being beaten out to Gerrard, whose controlled effort after an awkward bounce of the ball was deflected wide of the target.

There was one more goalscoring opportunity before the break, as Suarez swung a left wing corner into the box after Henderson's drilled strike was deflected narrowly wide. The ball fell to Sturridge, who was denied by a crucial stop from McCarthy from point blank range.

During the interval, it felt like it was going to be one of those days again. That feeling intensified a few minutes after the break when Coutinho wonderfully found the net but his effort was ruled out for offside. Gerrard centred from the right and the diminutive Brazilian fantastically sent the ball into the net with a deft flick of his back heel, but the linesman rightly flagged for offside.

Coutinho's brilliant skill went unrewarded
After Coutinho had sent a powerful side-footed strike just wide, Reading responded with a quarter of the match left. Firstly, Hunt and the spectacularly named Pavel Pogrebnyak combined, with the latter squaring to the former, who was excellently placed to net an undeserved opener. Thankfully, Reina, who had had his proverbial pipe and slippers out up until this point, retained his concentration and produced a vital block. 

Nigel Adkins' side seemed to feel they might be able to pinch a win after somehow managing to remain in a contest that should have been over after 45 minutes. Reina was called into action once again on 76 minutes, tipping Jobi McAnuff's goal-bound drive over the bar.

Fortunately, unlike what might have happened in previous games, Liverpool didn't allow the hosts to dominate the closing stages and instead continued to pursue a winner themselves. Unfortunately, McCarthy appeared to relish the amount of work he had to do, producing save after wonder save to keep his team in the match.

Suarez's curling free kick clipped the post on its way wide, before Downing's shot went just the wrong side of the post. McCarthy then superbly denied Steven Gerrard, before astonishingly catching a sweet volley from Suarez and also punching clear another effort from the bewildered number seven in injury time. 

In the final analysis, it's clear that McCarthy made the difference. His world-class performance meant Liverpool failed to score in successive games for the first time in 14 matches. As a result, any European ambitions are quickly evaporating and, even more embarrassingly, Everton appear increasingly likely to finish above us in the table.

On the positive side, Pepe Reina kept a clean sheet and the Reds' attack seemed to be in relatively good form, although they obviously left their shooting boots back on Merseyside! Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho and co. will have to remember to wear them next week if they are to score the goals that defeat Rafael Benitez's Chelsea on the Spaniard's return to Anfield.

Justice for the 96, YNWA

Monday, 8 April 2013

Reds held by stubborn Hammers

Liverpool failed to break down West Ham United's defence at Anfield yesterday, as Sam Allardyce's men frustrated their hosts to claim a point that should see them safely avoid the drop this season. The Merseysiders, meanwhile, face an uphill task to even finish ahead of neighbours Everton, let alone qualify for European competition.

As it was the Reds' closest home game to the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, a minute's silence for the 96 was held before kick-off, which both sets of supporters observed impeccably.

Never forgotten- the Reds respect the memory of the 96
When the football began, Liverpool were in control and enjoyed most of possession but the visitors remained solid at the back and adhered to their game plan manfully. Coutinho's low shot was saved by Jasskelainen and Gerrard's half volley bobbled wide, but it was West Ham who showed the first sign of real excellence.

Diame did superbly well to get out of the corner of the pitch, using impressive skill to navigate the challenges of numerous Liverpool players before blasting over the bar when he should have really tested Reina. After the sick Stewart Downing had to be replaced by Daniel Sturridge, a good block was also required from Agger to stop Carlton Cole's shot, as the game began to even up.

In truth, though, there was little in the way of action and the only other chance before the break came on the stroke of half time, as Henderson's shot was deflected wide. During the interval, it felt as if it was going to be one of those days. With the Hammers set up to keep the Reds out at all costs, an early goal was crucial and, having failed to net one, the home side's task seemed doubly difficult.

Gerrard nearly opened the scoring ten minutes after the restart but he was denied by a goal line clearance from Tomkins. Suarez's cross then screamed across the face of goal, before Sturridge had the ball in the back of the net but he was marginally offside. 

Although creating little going forward, the Londoners had a good penalty shout turned down by referee Anthony Taylor, as Enrique inadvertently kicked Tomkins as he tried to clear a free kick into the box. However, he was arguably fortunate not to concede a spot kick himself at the other end, as he then fouled skipper Steven Gerrard in the penalty area but the Reds' protests fell on deaf ears. Maybe the myth that refereeing decisions tend to even themselves out was accurate on this occasion. 

Four minutes from time, West Ham almost netted a smash-and-grab winner, as a goal line clearance from Lucas Leiva was required to prevent Collison's header finding the back of the Anfield Road end net. Suarez's shot in injury time may then have tested Jasskelainen, but the Finn was up to the task and pushed behind for a corner, which came to nothing.

Frustration- Suarez was shackled by Collins
It was a disappointing conclusion to what was a frustrating afternoon. To be fair to West Ham, their effective rearguard performance was what made the match frustrating, as they limited Liverpool to only a few goalscoring chances and successfully accomplished their aim of pinching a point by keeping a clean sheet.

Thankfully these matches have become rarer under Rodgers, whose style of play has usually led to high-scoring affairs. Unfortunately, though, that doesn't take away the exasperation experienced after a goalless draw that leaves Liverpool floundering in seventh place, with little scope to climb the table before the end of the campaign.

Justice for the 96, YNWA

Monday, 1 April 2013

Villans slain on Easter Sunday

It was a Happy Easter for Liverpool as they came back from behind to defeat relegation threatened Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park and keep alive their faint hopes of European qualification. After trailing to Christian Benteke's first half strike, rather than dropping their heads the Reds responded encouragingly, showing character to clinch all three points thanks to a clipped finish from Jordan Henderson and a well taken spot kick from skipper Steven Gerrard to reward a much improved second half display.

Desperate to keep pace with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and even Everton, Brendan Rodgers picked a strong side to take on Paul Lambert's men. Jamie Carragher returned to marshal the centre of defence, while Coutinho, Henderson and Downing provided a potent attacking triumvirate behind the industrious Luis Suarez and Gerrard and Lucas patrolled the midfield effectively once again, the captain particularly impressing.

Villa were the better side during the first half, however, and should have gained the lead after only a quarter of an hour. Matthew Lowton's superb swerving cross found Agbonlahor in the six-yard box. Fortunately, the forward's effort was beaten away by Reina. Suarez then saw his strike tipped over by Guzan, before Agbonlahor dragged another shot wide at the other end soon after.

His strike partner Benteke, who single-handedly destroyed the Reds at Anfield in December of last year, displayed superior finishing skills as he became the Merseysiders' nemesis once again on the half hour mark. After Agbonlahor had flicked a header down to him, the 22-year old Belgian drilled home past Reina from the edge of the area to open the scoring.

Reina was forced into action to deny Benteke moments later as well, preventing his header from doubling the Midlanders' lead. Meanwhile, his American counterpart did well to stop Gerrard levelling just before half time, as the number eight smashed a strike at goal that moved in the air but was smartly punched away by the on-form Guzan.

He could do nothing to prevent Henderson equalising minutes after the restart, though. Coutinho, who has been a revelation since signing from Inter Milan in January, played a precise through ball into the path of the on-rushing Henderson, who retained his composure and expertly lifted the ball over Guzan and into the net before celebrating in front of an ecstatic travelling Kop.

Henderson wheels off in celebration after equalising
In the absence of Sturridge, who was left on the bench, Coutinho was the Reds' main midfield playmaker, linking up with Suarez superbly. The Brazilian is the type of signing that Rodgers will have to continue making  to demonstrate to Suarez that progress is being made and encourage him to stick with his project. On 56 minutes, Suarez set up Coutinho, putting him through one-on-one with the keeper. Unfortunately, his shot went agonisingly wide of the far post.

As Liverpool cranked up the pressure, Johnson's shot smashed against the post, before Baker blatantly and ludicrously felled Suarez in the area to gift the visitors a penalty. Gerrard made no mistake from the penalty spot, stroking the ball just past the grasp of Guzan and into the bottom left corner to reach double figures in a season for the eighth time. Captain fantastic then pulled off some heroics at the other end as well five minutes later, amazingly heading off the goal line to prevent Benteke equalising for Villa with a headed effort from a corner.

Gerrard's goal line clearance was as good as a goal
Benteke may have had the ball in the back of the net during injury time, but it was rightly ruled out for offside and Liverpool held on to claim three much welcome Premier League points from a potentially tricky fixture. Villa may have begun in the ascendancy, but Liverpool thankfully weathered the storm and displayed character to work their way back into the game and clinch the win thanks to two goals during a 15-minute second half spell in which they dominated.

Liverpool will need to replicate this performance in upcoming matches away to Reading and Newcastle if they are to end the season well and push for European qualification right up until the last day of the campaign.