Liverpool overcame a resilient Newcastle side yesterday to gain a vital three points and in the process secure second place in the Premiership for the first time since Rafa Benitez led the Reds to those dizzy heights in the 2008/9 season. The contrast is that this time, they done in style. With verve, with a swagger and with guile.
I don’t think I’ll be exaggerating if I said that Brendan Rodgers’ side were the country’s “popular choice” for the Barclays Premier League title. Their often devastating and clinical attacking performances meant Manuel Pellegrini’s side were always going to play the part of “spoilers”, dispute some scintillating displays of their own. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The three points gained yesterday weren’t enough to derail Pellegrini’s Manchester City team who, one must admit, deserved to win over the course of the season.
Liverpool went behind to (yet another) Martin Skrtel own goal after 20 minutes. This means the hosts now have two top scorers in their side. Luis Suarez on 31 at the correct end, and Martin Skrtel with four at the wrong end. Not a record we’ll be shouting about, but a record nonetheless. Has another team finished with such an innocuous and bizarre record? Probably not but do tell me if I’m wrong.
From then on, the home side struggled as the visitors who, once the customary bus marked “Anfield Visitors” ventured forward, could have had one or two more To be fair, Newcastle played some decent stuff at times and for the want of a decent striker the outcome could have been very different. Needless to say, for much, if not all of the first half, Liverpool reverted to their old selves. Struggling to create anything of any use and lacking imagination with which to breakdown a packed visiting defence. For a while, it was as if I’d gone into a time machine and come out last season when the Reds couldn’t beat (supposedly) lesser opposition if their lives depended on it.
The second half began better, if only slightly. It’s no coincidence that Liverpool made the breakthrough shortly after the introduction of Philippe Coutinho on 59 minutes in place of Joe Allen who hadn’t had the best of games. Although the latter has bags of energy and forages for space like a mouse after cheese, yesterday’s game called for a touch of invention. I don’t see this as being Allen’s strong point. Fortunately for Liverpool, it is Coutinho’s. Within five minutes, the home side was back on level terms. Daniel Agger connecting with Steven Gerrard’s in swinging free-kick toward the back stick.
On 65 minutes, Daniel Sturridge converted an almost identical effort, stabbing home from close range. By now, news of the Man City result had circulated and the slipping away of hopes and dreams was signaled by the hush that engulfed Anfield for a time. The players had done what was required of them and could do no more. A minute later, Newcastle imploded as Shola Ameobi was dismissed for dissent on the restart of the game. Then, on 85 minutes, Paul Dummett was given his marching orders for an x-rated tackle on Suarez, having been on the pitch for only a matter of minutes.
The visiting supporters called for Alan Pardew’s dismissal. Their once swashbuckling side now finishing in a dismal tenth after a dreadful season. The hosts chanted Rodgers’ name. Their once dismal side now finishing in a swashbuckling second. How different the fortunes can be. The lack of investment in the Newcastle team leading to their mediocrity. The presence of investment in the Liverpool team leading to their resurrection.
After a tremendously brave effort and an absorbing campaign, Rodgers and his side have been unable to reach that top rung of the ladder. The top of the summit. The heady heights that would have crowned them as Champions. That said, we can be proud of their achievement. A season that started out with modest, and at the time seemingly lofty, ambitions of European football qualification has turned out to be a dream. Just a shame the alarm went off just as we got our hands in the trophy and the din of reality hurt our eyes. Captain Gerrard “devastated”. Totally understood.
I can only say well done Liverpool. Well done Brendan Rodgers. Well done Liverpool FC. You surpassed all of our expectations and in so doing entertained everyone around you. As a summer of World Cup approaches with the inevitable highs and often courageous lows that the England team will treat us to, I’ll be keeping an eye on LFC. Looking forward to 2014/15 and then, again, we’ll see.
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