Last night was another one of those games that seems could only happen to us. Struggling through a relatively straight forward 3rd round cup tie is one thing. But to twice lose the lead to lower league opposition, including conceding a penalty in the very last minute of extra time, is making very hard work of it. To then take part in the longest penalty shootout the competition has ever seen, is us taking a bog-standard early cup game and turning it into a massive talking point in football.
Yesterday, I made a prediction that the game would go to extra time. Not because I weighed up the two sides and decided we were too evenly matched, but instead because of the fact we are playing the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday, and I thought it would be just typical for us to spend the night wearing ourselves out and potentially picking up knocks. That’s the sort of mind-set being a Liverpool supporter can put you in sometimes. It seems like we turn everything into an uphill battle, and make things as over-complicated as possible.
It was one of those games that tired you out just watching it, never mind playing in it. I had to remind myself that all we achieved is a pass through to the fourth round of the league cup. It had the feel of a semi-final or final, where no matter how much it takes to win, you keep on going because there’s a significant reward in sight. I suppose in that sense, you can’t fault the character of our players; they battled hard just to stay in the competition, when (I’ll whisper it) it may have been easier to throw in the towel, knowing it would give us a lighter fixture list to really make a go at the league and Champions League. But Liverpool is about winning things, so full credit to our players for their determination.
It was contrasting fortunes for two scousers starting a game for Liverpool for the first time. Ricky Lambert was very quiet, and will be disappointed he couldn’t make more of an impact on the game. Young Jordan Rossiter, however, managed a goal less than ten minutes into his Liverpool career. There was a touch of fortune about the finish, but Rossiter kept his composure well, and also turned in a good performance for the rest of his game.
Raheem Sterling, other than his mistake that led to the penalty, and then his subsequent penalty miss in the shootout, actually had a very good game, and gave Middlesbrough a lot to think about. The two fullbacks, Javier Manquillo and Jose Enrique, also had decent games, Suso came on and made an impact, and I was delighted to see Adam Lallana turn in a Man of the Match performance. There wasn’t a particularly bad performance amongst our players, and after two poor league games and an underwhelming Champions League display, at least last night gave the chance for some players to gel and generate a bit of confidence.
The big talking point, of course, was the penalty shootout to decide the game. Ending with a 14-13 win, there were some exceptional penalties on show, but I might be picky and suggest that Simon Mignolet could have done better with a few of them. After a while though, it was like everyone was just going through the motions. The entire atmosphere of the shootout changed, and whereas they are usually nervy affairs where one person becomes the hero or villain, I was actually finding myself laughing as shot after shot was hitting the back of the net. You could see the anxiety in the players diminish, and smiles started to crack as they realised they were taking part in one of the craziest shootouts this, or any other competition, has ever seen.
No one, Liverpool fan or otherwise, can argue that we don’t provide our fair share of talking points in football. Before this never-ending penalty shootout, we’ve had a beach ball goal, the Anfield cat, the Luis Garcia ghost goal, Suarez’s bites, Gerrard’s slip, Bellamy’s golf club, and £35m on Andy Carroll. Over the longer term, we’ve had seasons of 2nd to 7th, and 7th to 2nd. We’ve had owners nearly plunging us into administration, the season where we broke the record for hitting the woodwork, and of course the most dramatic Champions League and FA Cup finals of modern times. I could go on. Every team gets their moments in the spotlight, but we seem to spend an awful lot of time there.
Supporters of every club probably feel like their team goes through the most ups and downs and is constantly being scrutinised. But Liverpool just seems to attract the most bonkers events that football has to offer. People often refer to the ‘footballing gods’, and if they are up there pulling the strings they sure do love to use LFC as the focal point of a lot of their ideas. One things for sure, if Mario Balotelli came here wanting an answer to his question, he’s going to be very disappointed.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)