Monday, 2 December 2013

Tigers tame Reds

It was ‘one of those days’ for Liverpool at the KC Stadium yesterday.

Lacklustre and lifeless, Liverpool succumbed to an embarrassing 3-1 defeat away to Hull City on Sunday lunchtime, casting serious doubts over not only their title credentials, but also their ability to maintain their position in the top four. The Tigers’ top performance deservedly earned them their first victory over Liverpool in seventeen attempts, while Brendan Rodgers’ men were a shadow of their former selves, appearing disjointed, defensively vulnerable and toothless in attack throughout 90 minutes that Kopites endured, rather than enjoyed.

Following the blow of losing Daniel Sturridge for the upcoming festive fixtures, Raheem Sterling and Victor Moses were handed the opportunity to fill Sturridge’s sizeable boots and stake a claim for a regular place in the starting eleven. Unfortunately, neither impressed and both were eventually substituted in the second half. Meanwhile, at the back Toure and Skrtel seemed uncomfortable playing together and were exposed on several occasions by the hosts’ attack, while the youthful Flanagan was unsurprisingly the target of sustained pressure down Hull’s right hand side.

From the off, Steve Bruce’s men were on top, keeping things tight at the back and threatening on occasion, eventually claiming the lead 20 minutes in. Liverpool were given a warning sign five minutes before the opening goal when Curtis Davies headed narrowly wide, but the Reds failed to heed the warning and fell behind when Jake Livermore enjoyed a stroke of good fortune, as his effort from the edge of the area took a wicked deflection off Skrtel to wrong foot Mignolet and fly into the back of the net.

It was at that point that I thought it might just not be our day.  A slow start from the Reds, Hull’s energetic opening and the fact that fortune seemed to be on the hosts’ side as well were all factors combining to make me thoroughly pessimistic half way through the first 45 minutes.

It came as a pleasant surprise, therefore, when skipper Steven Gerrard produced a bit of magic to get the Merseysiders back into the contest soon after the deadlock had been broken. Him and Suarez stood over a free kick after Davies had been rightly booked for hacking down Jordan Henderson on the edge of the area. The number eight proceeded to curl a beautiful free kick beyond McGregor and into the back of the net, papering over the cracks of a shoddy first half display with a fantastic equaliser that the away side hoped would provide a platform for them to build on in the second period.

Gerrard and Henderson celebrate the skipper's equaliser
Frustratingly, it turned out they weren’t much better in the second half either, as Sterling and Moses remained anonymous and Suarez struggled on his own up front. Hull weren’t deflated by the leveller, either, and continued to pressurise their opponents while retaining an attacking threat, Davies heading wide of the post on the hour mark.

The introduction of Coutinho, who had started on the bench due to injury hampering his training during the week, had an instant effect on the Reds’ attack, as the Brazilian cleverly set up Moses, only for the Chelsea loanee’s shot to be saved by the keeper.

The Reds’ defence remained eminently vulnerable, however, and were culpable for allowing David Meyler to give Hull a deserved lead with 18 minutes remaining. Toure and Skrtel failed to co-ordinate their attempts to clear the ball, providing Meyler with the perfect opportunity to arrow the ball beyond Mignolet and into the bottom corner.

Ironically, the only positive to come out of the match, apart from Gerrard’s superb first half strike, was the reaction of Kolo Toure after conceding the second goal. The Ivorian beat the ground repeatedly in evident frustration, displaying the type of passion devoid from Liverpool’s display for large spells.

Toure doesn't accept defeat lightly
As usual, the Reds relied on Luis Suarez to try and dig themselves out of the considerable hole they found themselves in. The Uruguayan almost produced the goods as well, but he failed to replicate his free kick heroics from the previous week’s Merseyside derby, sending a dipping strike inches wide from a set piece in a similar position to the one he beat Tim Howard from at Goodison Park.

To round off a thoroughly miserable afternoon, Martin Skrtel scored an own goal with three minutes of normal time left, inadvertently heading Huddlestone’s scuffed strike, which was heading wide of the target, beyond his own goalkeeper and into the net.

Ahmed Elmohamady thankfully squandered a last gasp chance to net a fourth. Nonetheless, Liverpool’s humiliation was already complete.

To concede three goals against a Hull side who had only managed to net more than once in one previous League game is simply not good enough, and Liverpool’s defence must take a long hard look at where they went wrong and how they can improve. The Reds have now conceded three goals in successive matches for the first time since 1998. If Rodgers doesn’t establish a settled and more stable backline quickly, we will continue to leak goals, which will undermine our push for Champions League qualification, since all successful teams are built on a strong defence.

After suffering defeats like this one you want another match to come along as soon as possible in order to recover from the setback quickly. Thankfully, Liverpool have the ideal fixture in which they can right the considerable wrongs of this display coming up in midweek, as struggling Norwich City make the long trip north to Anfield.

It’s vitally important the Reds’ stuff the Canaries so that this match can be written off as simply a bad day at the office.


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