Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tigers bite as tame Reds lose

Liverpool’s miserable run of form continued last night as they lost 1-0 away to Hull City. Michael Dawson headed home the only goal of the match (and of his Hull City career) eight minutes before the break to seal three crucial points for Steve Bruce’s side, who are now four points above the drop zone.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are almost mathematically unable to finish in the top four, although most Kopites already knew that Champions League qualification was never going to happen anyway before kick-off at the KC Stadium.

Roughly 1000 Liverpool supporters boycotted the match in protest at high ticket prices, leaving the away end half empty. Unfortunately, at points it seemed as if the players had followed the fans’ lead, as they never really showed up and certainly didn’t put a decent performance in, with the possible exceptions of Simon Mignolet and Philippe Coutinho.

In the main surprising team news, Mario Balotelli retained his place in the starting eleven following a typically average display against West Brom on the weekend. Coutinho and Sterling started either side of him, as Gerrard missed out altogether after picking up a slight knock late on against the Baggies.

Almost straight from the kick-off, Balotelli was producing his usual antics, needlessly squaring up to Tom Huddlestone after a routine foul. The Italian’s subsequent free kick was nothing to write home about, either, as it was deflected behind by Hull’s wall.

If only Balotelli channeled some of this energy into his football
Coutinho went closer on 18 minutes, testing Harper with a decent effort from a corner kick won following a weaving run down the right wing by Jordon Ibe, but the hosts were creating the better goalscoring chances, Mignolet repelling goal-bound headed efforts from N’Doye, Chester and Elmohamady.

The best the Reds could come up with in response before Mignolet was finally beaten by a header was a weak and pointless back-heeled effort by Balotelli, who was then largely responsible for Hull’s opening goal. The Italian was too slow in moving out at a corner and, although three of his teammates were offside, Michael Dawson was onside and thus able to head home Elmohamady’s ball back into the box.

Balotelli played Dawson onside for his goal
To make matters even worse, the number 45 then squandered a perfect opportunity to atone for his error in literally the last second of injury time, as he somehow failed to tap home from close range after some unusually excellent work from Glen Johnson, who marauded down the left wing, beating two men, before putting the ball on a plate for Balotelli.

Admittedly his teammates weren’t exactly pulling up any trees, but Balotelli was particularly poor, and it still astounds me how he gets game time ahead of Rickie Lambert. The only explanation I can think of is that Rodgers wants to put him in the shop window so he can try and recoup some of the £16 million he shelled out for him last summer.

The second half was perhaps even worse. Although Hull’s players, fans and manager were clearly anxious about Liverpool getting back into the match, they needn’t have worried, as the Reds never seriously threatened to equalise, let alone comeback to claim all three points.

Henderson saw a couple of shots saved by Harper, but even after the introduction of Lallana and Lambert with 25 minutes left Liverpool looked incapable of truly testing Hull’s 40-year old goalkeeper. If anyone was going to make something happen, it was Philippe Coutinho, but the little Brazilian magician couldn’t do it all by himself, and he lacked back-up from a fairly mediocre supporting cast.

Coutinho and Mignolet were the only ones who came away with any credit for Liverpool
On 77 minutes he weaved past two players and tried to play in Lambert, but the former Southampton striker was too slow to latch on to it. Then, he did well to make it into the box and find Sterling, but the number 31, who is performing ridiculously poorly for a 20-year old demanding over £100k a week, shot straight at Harper.

Coutinho then smashed one well wide of target in the third minute of injury time, as Hull fairly comfortably held on for what is a crucial, and well deserved, victory for them. Liverpool, on the other hand, need to take a long hard look at themselves.

Their season is winding down to a very disappointing conclusion, and it feels like Rodgers' time at the club might be winding down to a sorry end as well, unless things are radically different in their final four games against QPR, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Stoke City.

Champions League qualification is definitely off the table - it was before anyway- now it’s all about restoring some pride and sense of direction so that we can start next season with a bit of momentum rather than down in the doldrums.


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