Sunday, 17 May 2015

Palace poop the party on Gerrard's Anfield farewell

Crystal Palace proved the party poopers as they beat Liverpool 3-1 in Gerrard’s final match at Anfield as a Liverpool player before he departs for the States in the summer. Goals from Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray more than cancelled out Adam Lallana’s opener and gave Pardew’s men the win their performance deserved, as Gerrard’s Anfield career ended on a disappointing note.

Nonetheless, the most important thing was never going to be the result; it was always the farewell that Anfield gave Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, and the crowd didn’t disappoint, as the skipper revelled in the reception he received from admiring supporters sad to see him go but immensely grateful for the way in which he has carried this football club throughout his inimical career.

Gerrard high five's all the Palace players and the officials as they give him a guard of honour
The guard of honour given to Steven Gerrard as he walked out onto the Anfield pitch for the final time with his daughters was undoubtedly the most noteworthy thing that happened until Adam Lallana opened the scoring on 26 minutes. Before then, the match felt like a testimonial and was played at pre-season pace.

Liverpool began the better, but ironically it wasn’t until Palace came back into the match that they claimed the lead. The visitors were settling down and beginning to threaten, when former Liverpool defender Martin Kelly sent a stray ball right into the path of the on-rushing Lallana, who eased past Scott Dann and finished past Wayne Hennessey to give the Merseysiders the lead.

Lallana celebrates his goal with his teammates
It would have been harsh to describe Lallana’s goal as against the run of play, but at the same time Liverpool weren’t exactly peppering efforts on Hennessey’s goal. Palace, meanwhile, were growing in confidence, and their attack was in particularly good form, although admittedly Liverpool’s defence was woeful.

Lovren was given a torrid time by the twisting and turning Bolasie, while Can was erratic, and it was his foul that gave away the free kick from which Puncheon equalised. Having already called Mignolet into action with a decent strike on the half hour mark, the 28-year old striker caught the Reds’ Belgian keeper out with a free kick swung into the bottom corner of the side of the goal that he was supposed to be covering.

Puncheon, the man of the match, equalised for Palace on the stroke of half time
It was shoddy keeping from Mignolet but no more than Palace deserved following a great response to going one behind. They only improved in the second half, too, while the Reds’ performance deteriorated, particularly defensively, where they were all other the place.

After seeing a couple of good penalty shouts turned down by referee Jonathan Moss, Palace substitute Zaha gave the Londoners the lead only 22 seconds after replacing South Korean team mate Lee Chung-Yong, scoring with his first touch as he bundled home Bolasie’s cross after Congolese skinned Lovren all too easily.

Zaha's goal had a hint of offside
In response, Rodgers made two changes, introducing Lucas and Lambert. Unfortunately, it seemed to make little difference, and Liverpool’s defensive difficulties continued to remain their Achilles heel. In fact, only a minute after those subs were made Bolasie blazed against the bar after a defensive mishap from Moreno allowed him to cut in from the right.

There were hopes of one final Steven Gerrard inspired comeback, and the skipper tried his hardest to make it happen, seeing Hennessey save his right footed shot well and curling a free kick from ideal Gerrard range just over the top left hand corner.

It wasn’t to be, though, and Palace made sure of the three points in injury time with the help of a poor decision from referee Moss, who pointed to the spot despite Lucas’ foul on Zaha clearly taking place just outside the box.

Glenn Murray stepped up and saw Mignolet save his initial spot kick but then turned home the rebound with relative ease before celebrating in front of the delighted away supporters in the Anfield Road end. There was also a hint of offside for Zaha’s goal, so Liverpool were slightly unlucky with the two goals that ultimately gave Palace the victory, but the Reds’ could have few complaints.

Credit to them, Crystal Palace were the better side and fully deserved the win that almost spoiled the party. At the end of the day, however, it was all about that man Stevie Gerrard, and remembering his fantastic Liverpool career and celebrating it one last time at Anfield.

He was given a memorable send off by the home crowd during the traditional lap of honour at the end of the final home game of the season, and the away supporters also stayed behind to salute Stevie as well in what was a sign of Gerrard’s universal appeal to football fans of all clubs.

Gerrard says goodbye to the Kop
There’s something compelling about his love for and loyalty to Liverpool that makes him likeable across the footballing spectrum, and he’s one of a kind that we are unlikely to ever see in the beautiful game again; a genuinely world class player who stays true to his beloved local boyhood club through thick and thin, sacrificing personal glory for its good.

Stevie, you will always be our hero and we’ll never forget the many memories you gave us of the times of our Liverpool supporting lives.


Monday, 11 May 2015

Champions League chase over despite credible Chelsea draw

Liverpool’s already extremely faint top four hopes were all but extinguished yesterday afternoon, as they could only draw 1-1 at Stamford Bridge, leaving them six points behind fourth placed Manchester United, whose goal difference is also far superior to the Reds’.

However, there were plenty of positives to take from the match against the newly crowned Champions. One of only four teams to take points off Mourinho’s men at the Bridge this season, Liverpool looked the better side, particularly in the second half, and, if there was going to be a winner, it would have been the Merseysiders. Unfortunately, as is the story of their season, they lacked a clinical front man.

The Reds’ lined up as a 4-2-3-1, as Gerrard and Henderson sat deep in midfield, while Lallana, Sterling and Coutinho buzzed industriously and productively behind lone striker Rickie Lambert. Glen Johnson also put in one of his best performances of the season at left back, but it’s difficult to understand why he’s still being picked when everyone knows that he will leave at the end of the season. Surely Javier Manquillo, who at least might have a future at the club, deserves a game.

After Liverpool gave a humiliating guard of honour to Champions Chelsea as they entered the field of play, the match began quickly and controversially. 

This must have hurt
Only a minute in, there was massive confusion as referee Andre Marriner accidentally showed Jon Obi Mikel a red card and then a yellow card following Fabregas’ horrendous tackle on Sterling, which was worth of a red. Eventually Mikel pointed out the error to Marriner, who promptly booked Fabregas instead. The silky Spanish midfielder was relieved it wasn’t a red.

Then, on five minutes salt was rubbed in the Reds’ wounds as Fabregas, who should have been in an early bath by this stage, sent in a right wing corner which Terry headed home to open the scoring after all too easily beating Rickie Lambert in the air. 

This was a poor goal to concede
Chelsea’s defence have scored more goals between them this season than Liverpool’s four main forwards, which is a sobering statistic revealing the gulf in quality between the two teams.

The rest of the first half was a much quieter affair, but Liverpool did come back into the match, Johnson striking into the side netting after marauding down the left wing and Coutinho forcing Courtois into a save. For Chelsea, Fabregas was by far and away their best player, making Mignolet punch clear on the half hour mark, but he was also lucky to avoid a second yellow after pulling Sterling back by the shorts.

Liverpool eventually got a slice of luck, however, on the stroke of half time when some shoddy Chelsea defending allowed Gerrard to respond to his critics by equalising. Ivanovic picked up a silly yellow for a foul on Lallana on the left hand by-line, giving Henderson the opportunity to dink the ball into the box.

All it took for Gerrard to escape the attention of Mikel was a bit of movement, creating space for him to deftly head home unmarked at the back post. His subsequent celebration was muted, but Gerrard must have loved silencing his Chelsea critics, who were of course out in full force again yesterday.

Gerrard's response to scoring was restrained
That equaliser was the harbinger of better things to come, as the Reds built on the platform that it gave them during the second period, in which they were much the better side. Soon after the restart, Lallana unfortunately scuffed a shot across goal after neat work between Gerrard and Henderson, while Coutinho also had a great chance after being set up by Sterling, but shot agonisingly narrowly wide with Courtois beaten.

Willian responded with a couple of threatening strikes for Chelsea, but Mourinho was so concerned that he chose to replace 19-year old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who’d put in an accomplished performance on his Chelsea debut, with the far more experienced sitting midfielder Nemanja Matic on the hour mark.

Liverpool, meanwhile, made a couple of changes of their own. First, Jerome Sinclair was brought on for Rickie Lambert to make his Premier League debut. He did quite well, replacing the ineffective Lambert, who was responsible for Chelsea’s goal and made little impact on the match, managing only 15 touches during an average performance that failed to add credence to claims earlier in the week that Chelsea are interested in signing him to replace the departing Didier Drogba.

Then, with just over ten minutes left, Steven Gerrard was replaced by Lucas. Initially, he was booed by the Bridge, but those jeers soon turned into cheers as the whole of the ground promptly followed the lead of the Liverpool fans and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho to honour one of the Premier League’s best ever players. 

The Bridge honours a legend for a few seconds before returning to mercilessly mocking him
Gerrard’s dismissive response, saying it was “nice for Chelsea fans to turn up for once”, was classic Stevie.

The final minute of the match almost saw Coutinho grab a dramatic late winner as the Brazilian’s deflected effort nearly wrong-footed Courtois. Unfortunately, he reacted quick enough to avert the danger and ensure that the Blues got a point that they arguably didn’t deserve on the balance of play.

At the end of the day, it’s disappointing to have the final nail hammered into the coffin of our Champions League hopes, but most Kopites knew it was already over. Moreover, it was pleasing to see the Reds put in a decent performance at a difficult venue where few teams come away with anything. Gerrard scoring one last time against his arch enemies Chelsea was also great.

Let’s hope he and the rest of the team can now give us something to cheer about by putting on a bit of a show in the Reds’ final two matches at home to Crystal Palace and away to Stoke City.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

Late Gerrard header rescues Reds against Rs

Steven Gerrard saved Liverpool with a last gasp winner in front of the Kop for perhaps the final time as the Reds beat QPR 2-1 at Anfield yesterday. It was a fairy-tale ending to an otherwise unremarkable end-of-season encounter, which began with Coutinho opening the scoring before Fer levelled for the visitors.

Stevie seemed to have missed his chance to clinch the points when he missed from the spot on 77 minutes, but, as it turned out, thankfully he wasn’t to be denied his opportunity to rescue the Reds one last time.

In the absence of the injured Balotelli, Rickie Lambert was finally handed a starting berth, while Lallana operated behind the former Southampton striker alongside Sterling and Coutinho as he made his first start since returning from injury.

QPR began the better and had the ball in the back of the net only one minute in, as Fer bundled home a corner kick in front of the Kop. Fortunately, the ball had already gone out of play so the goal was disallowed.

However, it was a big let off for a sluggish Liverpool side that started slowly, allowing Caulker, Fer and Henry to have further goalscoring opportunities which they thankfully squandered by failing to hit the target.

QPR’s confidence is at rock bottom levels, though, as they continue to wage a losing battle against relegation. Their captain didn’t help them out, either, as Joey Barton gave the ball away twice in quick succession, allowing Gerrard to drag wide and Lambert to shoot straight at Green before Coutinho netted the opener on 19 minutes.

Lambert squared the ball to the talented Brazilian, who, in his infamous manner, cut back onto his right foot before curling the ball beyond the diving Green.

Coutinho is a world class magician
The number 10 has now scored in all three of his appearances against QPR, and continues to look a cut above his attacking teammates. The likes of Lallana and Sterling are undoubtedly good players who have a vital role to play for the Reds going forward, but they aren’t world class like Philippe Coutinho. If he keeps on developing at his current pace then there’s no reason why he can’t have as big an impact at Liverpool as Luis Suarez.

The Merseysiders were on top for the rest of the half, but never really got out of second gear as the game had a typical end-of-season feel to it. Skrtel headed Gerrard’s corner off target, the skipper shot wide and Sterling scored but was flagged offside. Apart from that, it was fairly uneventful stuff at Anfield.

Five minutes after the restart Lallana squandered a good chance to double Liverpool’s lead, but he snatched at his shot and the ball fizzed wide at the near post. Even worse, Sterling wasted a glorious goalscoring opportunity on 54 minutes, as, Ronny Rosenthal-esque, he skied his shot into the Kop from yards out when all he had to do was tap home. I keep on saying it, but Sterling simply has to start scoring those before the club can even consider paying him in excess of £100k a week.

Jordon Ibe arrived on the scene with just over 20 minutes remaining and made an instant impact, getting to the by-line and cutting the ball back for Lambert, who disappointingly missed the ball. It eventually fell for Gerrard, but his shot was deflected behind for a corner, which was headed firmly goalwards by Lovren but Green dealt with it quite well.

At the other end, QPR were also enjoying their best spell of the match. Sandro’s effort was blocked by Lovren while Mignolet easily saved Phillips’ shot from the rebound, as Chris Ramsey’s men came back into the game and shocked the home crowd by equalising on 72 minutes.

Barton’s right wing corner found Fer and the 25-year old Dutchman volleyed past Mignolet before celebrating by revealing a shirt with a message of support for teammate Rio Ferdinand, whose wife Rebecca Ellison sadly lost her battle with cancer this weekend.

Fer shows his support for the Ferdinand family
QPR’s resurgence was pleasing brief, however, and they quickly self-destructed, as Nedum Onuoha soon conceded a spot kick after dragging down Skrtel in the box. Green frustratingly guessed right to deny Gerrard from 12 yards, but QPR couldn’t capitalise on the reprieve their keeper offered.

First, Onuoha was sent off for a second bookable offence after fouling Ibe. Then, Gerrard produced the goods to steal the points for the home side. Finding space in the penalty area, Stevie swooped to superbly head home Coutinho’s left wing corner, to the absolute delight of the vast majority inside Anfield.

This photo is just fantastic
It was great to see Stevie peeling off in celebration of a last gasp winner in front of the Kop one last time before he leaves for the States, and he received a magnificent reception when he then left the field of play to be replaced by Lucas.

He’s inevitably not the same player that he was 10 years ago, but he’ll always be one of, if not the, best Liverpool player ever, and certainly the player I’ve most enjoyed watching during my 15 years following the club.

Unfortunately, his goal probably won’t count for much because the Reds’ rubbish form has almost certainly cost them Champions League qualification already, even though fourth placed Manchester United have now lost three Premier League games in a row without scoring. Frustratingly, if Liverpool had beaten West Brom and Hull, then they’d be sitting in fourth right now.

I’d prefer not to think about that now, though; revelling in Stevie’s winner in his penultimate match at Anfield is much more fun!