Here’s Bazza’s take on yesterday’s game.
Will and I were joined for this one by a mate of mine, Adam, a supporter of the Reds, Neil, whose loyalties lie with the Canaries of Norwich City and his young son Dean who professes to support Liverpool. My oldest boy, home from University, completed a rather eclectic mix that headed north towards Birmingham. We stopped off at Will’s brother’s pub, the Baginton Oak near Coventry which regular readers of my drivel will have heard me mention before, for a couple of pints and a bite to eat. Chris, Will’s brother was unable to join us for the game as Easter Sunday being a busy day of the year for him meant he had to stay at his post. Gayle, Chris’ wife greeted us all warmly and she looked very nice in a black and white dress with a horizontal striped design broken up in places to add interest to the pattern. Nevertheless, as is my wont, I was quick to point out that she needed to be careful going past any checkout machines as they might beep and she could end up making a load of purchases she hadn’t bargained for! Failing that, I asked if I could possibly have some help with the answer to 10 across! 😀 (My medical colleagues tell me that I should be out of Intensive Care in time for our next home game!)
Moving on, after lunch and fortified by three pints, we proceeded towards St Andrews where we had another pint. I had moved from my usual position in the Kop to the Olympic Gallery for this game so that our happy little group could all be together. I am bound to say that the view from up there is excellent and being so high up you get a clear outlook on the whole game and appreciation of movement and space that isn’t always appreciated from other areas of the ground. The down side is that we had to endure the sound of a load of very noisy scousers below us. Both teams set up 4-4-1-1 with Mcleish once again omitting Chucho in favour of McFadden up front with Jerome and Fahey on the left of midfield. I still remain unconvinced with this formation which strikes me as too cautious and blunts any forward threat we have. I prefer Chucho up front with McFadden back in midfield which is the formation that stood us in such good stead during our mid-season epic run. No matter, the decisions were made and a forgettable first half produced very little to get enthused about with the only moment that woke the crowd of nearly 29,000 from its soporific slumber was a good save by Joe Hart from Maxi Rodriguez onto the bar and at the other end a header narrowly over the bar from Roger Johnson from a McFadden corner. Both teams cancelled each other out and I was able to risk a brief visit to the gents as the beer had caught up with me finally but I suspect I could have gone half a dozen times more and missed very little.
The second half was a little more eventful and after a pretty stupefying first forty-five minutes and with barely a minute of the restart, a Liverpool corner was met by Glen Johnson who miscued his shot horribly at right angles to the intended direction of flight to jeers of derision from the home crowd. Unfortunately, the error turned into a perfect pass for Steve Gerrard standing just inside the corner of the box. He took about three touches turning Bowyer this way and that, far too easily in my view, to then curl an exquisite shot through a crowded penalty area just inside the far post. It was eye of the needle stuff and though a class finish could and should have been prevented with tighter defending. Liverpool now had a lead that neither team deserved and it looked as if an uphill battle was in front of a Blues side that had shown little attacking threat themselves. The lead lasted for nine minutes when McFadden out on the right wing looked up and spotted Liam Ridgewell running in on the opposite flank completely unmarked. Rafa Benitez could be forgiven for inquiring as to where his much lauded, England international, full back, Glen Johnson was? Ridgewell continued his run to the far post to meet the ball delivered to perfection with his nether regions. With a thrust of the groin and a shout of ‘get in’ Pepe Reina was given no chance as the Tilton rose in exultation. The Liverpool custodian was apoplectic with his defenders as well he might be. This was a truly awful piece of defending and not in keeping with a team still harbouring hopes of a late dash for fourth place and Champions League football next term. Alex Mcleish said afterwards that Ridgewell stole in at the far post like the great Martin Peters; whilst this may be taking hyperbole a little far, I do understand what he means as our makeshift left back and double agent has a habit of stealthing in at the far post and has scored vital goals for us this season in that position gaining us valuable points in the process.
Blues had a golden opportunity to win the game with twenty minutes left when an excellent cross from Ridgewell from the left cleared the Reds’ defence to leave Lee Bowyer unmarked six yards out in the middle of the goal with only Reina to beat. His first time effort was scuffed wide of the near post when a side footed contact back across the keeper from where the ball had come would surely have registered the winner. This was undoubtedly the best chance of the game and an absolute sitter; a pity because Bowyer, along with the once again imperious Barry Fergusson had another very good match in the centre of midfield. Gardner and Fahey were solid enough but less effective in the wider positions. They are after all central midfielders themselves and the wide berths have to be addressed in the summer to give the team more width and attacking threat. Jerome worked hard all afternoon and competed well winning his fair share of headers and flick-ons. He appeared to get a knock late on and whilst Mcleish tried to bring on Michel for him, the final whistle beat him to it.
The back four were excellent again and although Liverpool huffed and puffed a bit towards the end and will point to good chances that cheating little Frenchman, Ngog had when he was substituted for the disappointing Torres. Blues deserved their point and the result was fair. Much has been written about the Torres substitution by Rafa Benitez and there have been suggestions that this move cost Liverpool any chance they had of securing their goal of fourth spot. I beg to differ on both counts; Torres’ body language was of a man at odds with himself and his surroundings. He whined and moaned all afternoon about perceived sleights and gave the air of a man with an attitude the size of Jupiter. I think the much maligned Liverpool manager was right to give his highly prized asset the hook as he had been ineffective all game and there is no doubt that Ngog gave our defenders more problems when he appeared despite being booed to the rafters with every touch. Suggesting that the sulky Spaniard would have netted at least one of the chances that Ngog was presented with is unfair and highly speculative since Torres spent so much time throwing his arms in the air in exasperation rather than getting on with the matter in hand. He is without doubt the best centre-forward in the world at the present time and oozes sheer class but yesterday was not his day and sometimes that has to be accepted and the opposition congratulated for keeping him quiet and frustrated.
Generally I was disappointed with Liverpool and compared to all the other top teams that have visited St Andrews and come away with just a point, they compare unfavourably. However, their run in is more agreeable than those of their rivals but they have no margin left now for further slip ups. Win all five and they could still run the others close; as for Blues; well done yet again lads!