The doom and gloom that followed the defeat at Zenit last week was understandable coming as it did on the back of the disappointing result against West Brom. However, despite the 2-0 defeat leaving the Reds with a mountain to climb there are reasons to be optimistic ahead of the second leg.
Our home form has been good this season. The Arsenal game and Swansea League Cup fixture aside, Liverpool have dominated at Anfield even though the results have not always reflected that domination. We have shown that we are capable of scoring 3 or more goals and keeping clean sheets, both of which will be essential if we are to progress through to the last 16.
Furthermore, the first leg showed that we can create good chances against Zenit. Brendan Rodgers’ assertion that we put in a perfect performance for 70 minutes was undoubtedly overstating the case. A similar 70 minutes though would put is in with a great chance of turning the tie around.
However, our best hope of progressing though lies with the Anfield factor. Our history is built upon the famous European nights. Great European teams and world class players have fallen victim to the intense, suffocating atmosphere generated by our crowd. The floodlights, flags and a few bevvies after work bring out the best in our lot.
But more than that, adversity brings out the fighting spirit in Scousers whether natural or adopted and so often when our backs have been to the wall the crowd has helped the team to a remarkable comeback.
Liverpool 2 Celtic 0 (2-1 aggregate). European Cup Winners Cup Semi-final. 19th April 1966
Following a dire display in the first leg against the team that would go on to win the European Cup the following year, Liverpool would need to be at their best to reach their first European final. They tore into Celtic at Anfield but were unable to break the deadlock in the first half. With no substitutes allowed, a knee injury to Geoff Strong after 35 minutes effectively reduced the Reds to 10 and a half men but still they piled forward. A Tommy Smith free kick after an hour levelled the tie on aggregate but it was Strong who secured the win after 67 minutes, leaping from his one good leg to head the ball home. A late disallowed Celtic goal sparked a mini riot in the away end but the Kop was too busy celebrating a remarkable transformation.
Liverpool 3 Hibernian 1 (3-2 aggregate). UEFA Cup 1st Round. 30th September 1975
The Reds were lucky to leave Edinburgh with only a goal defeat thanks to Ray Clemence saving a penalty late on. Liverpool were still expected to qualify though and looked comfortable when Toshack levelled the tie on 21 minutes. However, what should have been a straightforward game was turned on its head after 33 minutes when Hibs equalised meaning Liverpool needed two more goals to avoid defeat on the away goals rule. The home team turned on the pressure and Toshack was the hero of the night adding two more second half goals to seal a hat trick of trademark headers. It was a close shave in a competition Liverpool went on to win.
Liverpool 3 St Etienne 1 (3-2 aggregate). European Cup Quarter Final. 16th March 1977.
This was arguably Anfield’s most famous night. In truth Liverpool were the favourites to progress having only lost in France to a fortunate late goal. Keegan levelled the tie after 2 minutes at Anfield and Liverpool looked set to make the Semi-finals comfortably. However, St Etienne were a classy team and had improved from the first leg and on 51 minutes went ahead on aggregate with a swerving 30 yard shot from Bathenay. Liverpool now needed 2 goals and a quick reply from Ray Kennedy set up a barnstorming finish. It was Kennedy on 83 minutes who lifted the ball over St Etienne’s high defensive line for substitute David Fairclough who shrugged off the defender and slotted under the on rushing keeper to score the winning goal and seal his place in Anfield history. The Kop went wild and those who were there felt Liverpool’s name was already on the cup.
Liverpool 3 Auxerre 0 (3-2 aggregate). UEFA Cup 2nd Round. 6th November 1991.
The Reds returned from European exile that season and showed how ring rusty they were. Liverpool were thoroughly outplayed in the first leg and had Grobbelaar to thank for keeping the arrears down to 2. An early Molby penalty got the Reds right back into the tie and Mike Marsh levelled on aggregate after 30 minutes. Auxerre hung on until the 83rd minute when Liverpool’s pressure finally told and Mark Walters wrapped up Liverpool’s biggest ever comeback.
Liverpool 2 Roma 0. Champions League 2nd Group stage. 19th March 2002.
Although not a 2 legged tie, Liverpool knew that they needed a victory and probably by 2 goals to progress to the quarter finals. The game had added poignancy as it marked the return to the dug out of Gerard Houllier following heart surgery. Indeed Houllier had not even returned to daytime duties at Anfield and his entrance before kick-off raised the roof. Opposition manager Fabio Capello embraced him warmly but knew that the fans and the team would now be extra motivated. The Italian champions were packed full of quality and Liverpool were missing Owen and Hamann but goals from Litmanen and Heskey were enough to send Liverpool through on an emotional night.
Liverpool 3 Olympiakos 1. Champions League Group stage. 8th December 2004.
Another group stage game where victory by 2 clear goals was needed. However, this time the job was made all the more difficult by Rivaldo’s first half goal leaving Liverpool needing 3 in the second half without reply. The tie was put on a knife edge from the unlikely sources of Sinama-Pongolle and Mellor. The Reds led an all out charge for the last 10 minutes and it took a goal of the highest quality from Gerrard to seal the unlikeliest of comebacks. Striking through a spinning ball from 20 yards, it was a goal only HE could have scored. At the time it felt like it could be the start of something special. It was!
There are many other games that define our European history, glorious victories and wonderful atmospheres. So many nights to remember. But these games show that while things may look bleak, when we are at home wearing THAT kit, playing in front of THAT crowd there should always be hope in our hearts.