I’m not one to glorify failure, doing so paddles perilously close to the waters of Newcastle. Nevertheless, the manner in which Liverpool succumbed to their narrow European exit on Tuesday was courageous enough to evoke a deep sense of pride. Sure, for all the blood, sweat and tears we were ultimately dumped from the continents ultimate competition.
But our exit was not through a lack of effort, belief and desire to overcome all odds. These fighting seeds were sown as far back as Shankly’s era yet ring true to this day. It is a deep-routed drive which distinguishes our team from all others, convincing us supporters we are truly blessed to follow such a special side.
Overturning odds as uninviting as Jonny Vegas’ toilet would always prove strenuous. Notching three goals without reply at one of our notorious ‘bogey’ grounds seemed a bridge too far even for Liverpool. Even so the pre-match hype recited familiar lines regarding Istanbul, Cardiff and even Eastland’s back in October. It was with such images and blind partisanship that I sat to watch the action unfold. Nothing could prepare me for the next two hours.
All day long I’d spoke of a need to score early. A goal sometime within the first twenty minutes would be enough to set that notoriously oversized Lampard arse into a faint quiver. Fabio Aurelio duly obliged with the kind of free-kick which forces you into a double take. Hang on; did he really just try that? Our ever improving Brazilian, perhaps buoyed by the freedom of seeming impossibility, struck gold with a 30-yard gem. Its sheer audacity and outrageous curl inspired Gary Mac nostalgia.
The reds were utterly dominant, Chelsea caught in the dreaded twighlight zone three away goals bring. Not even the plastic flag brigade could stir them into any sort of rhythm – their passing wayward, their attacking threat minimal.
When Xabi Alonso stepped-up to convert a sumptuous penalty on the half hour mark hope sprung eternal. It could, dare I say should, have been more before the break. Both Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun went close, while Pert Cech was debuting his best David James impression.
One glance at Guus Hiddink’s remarkably bloated face convinced us a second-half re-run was out of the question. And credit to the Dutchman, he clearly earned his corn throughout the interval. Such a top coach was never going to be embarrassed to such an extent, not without a fight anyway.
In hindsight perhaps we should have contained for the first ten minutes or so of that second 45. That may well have been the plan, but due to an unfortunate error we found our advantage cut and with it an abandonment of all defensive logic.
Didier Drogba it was whose faint touch deceived a usually impregnable Pepe Reina. Without meaning to sound bitter, the Ivory Coast forward is an absolute disgrace to both his team and the game as a whole. His antics come with such regularity they should actually appear on the fixture list, a little side-note to inform all sides that when they face Chelsea they will also encounter this pansy of a forward whose acting skills are so unconvincing he should be cast in Emmerdale. A great player, undoubted, but a man with the capability to make a fighter out of Ghandi.
And our fight was far from over. A bazooka of a shot from Alex unsettled the lads, as did Lampard’s customary goal against us, but once composure was restored we set-about achieving the impossible, again.
The withdrawal of Torres signalled an end to the quest, at least in the manager’s eyes. Add El Nino’s departure to the fact our captain sat helpless in the stands and the enormity of the task, and indeed effort, is maximised.
Yet again however, we dug deep, because we’re Liverpool.
Lucas, forever maligned, saw a deflected shot elude Cech with ten to play. In fairness, his was a just reward for a steady performance in the middle of the park. He’ll never provide the surge of a Gerrard, the tenacity of a Mascherano or the class of an Alonso. Instead he adopts the more patient approach, suited perhaps to Seria A or La Liga. Nevertheless, he stood up to be counted in midweek, admirable considering the barrels of abuse he has had to endure.
The ever willing Dirk Kuyt then sent Messers Tyldsley and Beglin into a state of near orgasm when he converted Riera’s cross. Hope, again.
This see-saw of a match took a last, cruel twist when ‘Jabber’ netted a final time.
Our brave bid curtailed. But what a game.
There are various crumbs of comfort to accompany the heartache.
1. We are now free to concentrate all attention on wrestling number 19 from the clutches of those down the East Lancs Road.
2. We have proven a true match for anyone, travelling to Old Trafford, the Emirates and now Stamford Bridge twice without defeat. Real progress on previous campaigns.
3. Ashley Cole gathered a suspension (no direct impact but satisfying all the same).
Though the greatest fall-out from this game was the courage on show. Everyone involved battled until the very end, softening defeat with a sense of pride, a great tribute on the eve of the Hillsborough disaster.
The outcome may not have been so joyful but the spirit of Istanbul is alive and well. This is a Liverpool to be reckoned with.
Justice For The 96