Karthik Ramakrishnan (by @redkopmersey)
“15 on the back; Sturridge on the back; And HE is back!”
Thus was the commentator’s proclamation, as the #15 entered the field, fingers raised skywards, eyes closed slightly, inhaling deeply the atmosphere around him. Five long months had been the buffer time for this appearance and this reception. It was finally here.
Anfield’s collective roar was palpable. It started off as an indomitable wave, which then began to metastasize itself into an insidious crescendo. As he began to warm up, the din inside Anfield began to sound like the opening motifs from a symphony. As he got ready to be substituted on, the noise level rose up, along with the feeling of impending excitement. As he entered the hallowed turf, Anfield was up on its feet, applauding the returning Englishman.
The moment that so many had been awaiting had finally come. The manager had been waiting for his lead striker to shore up his team’s attacking blues. The team had been looking to the sidelines now and again to see whether or not he was fit to join them. The fans had been singing his name all the while, harbouring hopes of seeing him in his element again. The player himself was dismayed and annoyed at the long layoff and was itching to go hunting in a Red shirt again.
The wait was over.
Coutinho has been in a punishing mood for much of the recent past. So when he gets the ball, quite a lot is expected. Magic could happen.
Phil gets the ball and runs through the West Ham half, across the center. He has the #15 to his left who is relatively unmarked. A simple pass to him locates #15 right on the edge of the box. A touch, then another, then a step over, a skipping run along the right and then a shot on goal, that the ‘keeper can parry away. It was not a goal, but it was something encouraging all the same. Those two touches, confident touches; that step over, almost his trademark, move; that calm run and shot; that would have meant that Anfield let out a collective gasp, a gasp of relief. He was back on and he had his first try at goal. The atmosphere grew more intense, more inflammable, more electric. It wouldn’t be long before he buried it beyond the ‘keeper.
It was not long.
Lallana’s on the right. He dribbles past one West Ham player and springs in a cross into the box, towards him. He gets his head to it, but it simply wobbles off him, and the ‘keeper graciously accepts the offering.
It is coming.
The ball is free for the taking for Lallana on the right wing, who lashes in a teasing ball across the box. He is there, but almost. So close to making contact. The ball goes out of play.
It is almost there.
It had to Phil, hadn’t it?
Coutinho receives a pass from Sturridge. He is in the centre of the field and near the half way line. Sturridge is away, running towards goal, with a defender closing on him. Coutinho takes a few strides forwards, shimmies past one defender and spots a relatively free #15 on the right, and passes on the baton. A characteristic control of the ball with his left foot takes him into the box, with the ball ahead of him, and the gaping goal in sight. He looks down a bit, readies to take a shot, and two seconds later, the call of “STURRIDGE” is ultimately muffled by a huge roar. The ball was in the back of the net.
It showed tellingly about how much it meant to him. The deafening ambience of Anfield could have even made a black hole cough up with its possessions.
The goal was scored by the #15. Anfield was alive. The dance was out. The dance was well and truly out, and the entire clan of Red men had gone ballistic.
Sturridge was back. He is back.