Yesterday’s defeat against Spurs ranks as one of the worst emotional debacles I have endured as a Liverpool FC fan. Frustration and anger overcame my system and I was left wondering that someone “up there” must certainly hate us. My last column, “Cautious Optimism” highlighted how Tottenham move into top gear after half-time and have become the season’s masters at coming back from behind and beat their opponents. Nothing prophetic may I add and a quick look at results will only confirm this. Tottenham away was not an insurmountable target I concluded, but deep down I knew we had to be inch-perfect to come away with anything but a defeat.
I must say that both teams were ambassadors to the English Premiership and proved to me (not that I needed further confirmation) that this league is the most exciting sporting event in Europe. The ball was continuously played from one end of the field to the other and both teams sought to pass the ball precisely and indulge in one-touch football. The Reds entertained us to one of the best away performances in the last months and any sincere neutral fan will acknowledge that Liverpool should have at least earned a point after yesterday’s much improved away display. It was not to be and the Liverpool players and management have to pick themselves up after yet another set back.
Liverpool proposed a typical 4-4-2 line-up with Ngog partnering Torres up front, both supported by Kuyt and Maxi just behind. Lucas returned into the starting eleven after seeing out a one-match ban against the Hammers the previous week. The Brazilian proved to be a massive influence and was instrumental in breaking down attacks. Equally important was how Lucas muscled his way through Tottenham’s defense on many occasions reminding everyone that he can shoulder the great burden when Gerrard is absent. Liverpool’s game play was tremendously professional, well disciplined, accurate and made easy by a Spurs side impatient to score the opening goal many times failing to put Pepe Reina under notable pressure. In fact it was Liverpool that gained the upper hand in the first half and such was the positive effort that Spurs suffered a sucker punch just before half-time with an opportunistic but well taken Skrytel shot. Fair to say, Spurs had lost two men to injury during the course of the first period.
Minutes later and Liverpool failed to consolidate, first through Maxi and then through Torres, both taking advantage of a napping Spurs defense but ultimately failing to find the net. Two nil down, and Liverpool firing on all fours would have made it tough for Tottenham to come back, but with the game so tight and the lead minimal, the onus was for Redknapp’s side to come out fighting after the break. And so they did, although the Reds never bowed to pressure and kept on probing Tottenham’s half in search of the elusive second goal, which never materialized. And this is the crux of the whole game – Liverpool created many chances but only scored once, so with Tottenham riding their luck, it was always too much for Liverpool’s back four to keep Spurs at bay. Mid-way through the second half, the North London team were awarded a dubious penalty but Defoe fluffed his shot wide, and, boy was I elated. Moments later, elation turned into despair as a bulldozing unchallenged run by Modric saw his shot blatantly deflected goalwards by Skrytel who suddenly turned villain after cunningly giving us the lead. Good to note that Skrytel’s “second” goal meant that this weekend’s Premiership round saw all teams score, at least, one goal, apparently a record in it’s own right.
It was not an onslaught from then on and Liverpool had penalty appeals turned down when Kuyt was amateurishly tackled inside the box. The match official wasn’t eager to hand Liverpool any favours and seemed to enjoy extracting the yellow card and book Liverpool’s players in a game that warranted less involvement of the referee. The football maybe great in England but English referees leave much to be desired. With a few minutes on the clock remaining, Liverpool were forced into a sudden change after Carragher signaled arm trouble and the only option was to bring Krygiakos on. As a side-note, any experienced armchair fan would have recognized the injury as being a dislocated shoulder, and it was to my surprise that a popular website came up with the mad conclusion that Carragher had sustained a broken arm! Deep into injury time and Konchesky was found dormant the moment Lennon latched onto a well struck pass and the England man showed great confidence to beat Reina and make it 2-1. Tottenham could have scored a third but failed to capitalize on poor defending.
The game provided a preview of what Liverpool might offer when the ship is finally stabilized and yesterday’s performance suggests we’re not far off from reaching this goal. It’s a fine line nowadays between victory and defeat; every team will provide for a stern test but the approach and mentality adopted by the Reds yesterday is welcome and helps tone down the consequences of earning zilch from a game which could have easily been won.
The defeat boiled down to errors which are a result of the team still trying to gel but the players seem to understand Hodgson’s tactics much better now. For once, there was nothing the manager could have done to change things for the better. The game was lost when Liverpool provided, on a number of occasions, a life-line for Tottenham to hang on to by failing to score that all important second goal. It is a boosting psychological factor when one’s opponent is not ruthless infront of goal and buoyed by the home crowd, Spurs were in no mood to throw in the towel early and pressed for an equaliser even after failing to convert a highly debatable penalty.
Torres was uncharacteristically shy at shooting goalwards and may have felt somehow lost playing alongside Ngog. The latter was a nuisance all throughout but needs to improve on his ball retention skills as many times he is shoved off far too easily. The next game against Steaua Bucharest will be important for us to get back in good shape in time for the home tie against Aston Villa which is another must win and one which I am confident will see us secure three points. Three home games and two visits to Newcastle and Blackpool offer a relatively straightforward end to 2010. No use crying over spilt milk (after losing to Tottneham) – it’s important the team recognizes the good achievement albeit the loss, build on this and improve on the few but determining negative aspects. Good luck Roy, Liverpool.
See you next time.