Liverpool 0-1 Wolves
Wednesday, 29th December 2010
Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool tenure was teetering on the brink at a little before 10pm on Wednesday evening. Peter Walton’s full-time whistle condemned the Reds to their 8th defeat of a league campaign which has yet to reach its half way point.
But just as devastating was the nature of this performance and the manner in which the Reds submitted to a Wolverhampton Wanderers side possessing the single worst away record in the league going into this match.
Although, the fact that this victory brings Wolves’ away record almost equal with that of Liverpool, says much about the dire predicament which Roy Hodgson and his players currently find themselves wallowing in.
And any remnants of festive good will which may have been awarded to Hodgson were quickly eroded during an abject showing and completely absent come full-time. The Anfield crowd greeting the performance of the players and their manager in the manner which it deserved – with boos, jeers and even desperate pleas to new owners.
There can be no doubt now that Roy Hodgson’s reign as Liverpool manager – which has admittedly been under intense scrutiny from the very beginning – is now fighting for its life.
The home crowd jeered Hodgson’s substitutions; the Kop ironically chanted “Hodgson for England” and begged for “Dalglish” as their saviour. Finally, acrimoniously booing the manager and – it should be stressed – also the players off the field at the final whistle.
There have been some notably poor days for Liverpool and the clubs followers in 2010, but this is probably the worst. An inept performance in every department culminating in defeat to a side tipped for relegation. It is the Reds themselves who now sit uncomfortably close to a potential relegation scrap.
Whilst the focus has again been on Hodgson in the immediate aftermath of this defeat, the players have to take their share of the blame for such an inadequate display. There were too many players who performed well below the required standard. Particularly disappointing, as the general team performance had improved steadily over recent months.
Steven Gerrard was the only creative influence in the first period. However even the captain faded, with a very poor second half showing. Gerrard can perhaps be owed some mitigating circumstances, on his return from a lengthy injury lay off. Others, though, can not.
Glen Johnson, Dirk Kuyt and Paul Konchesky were all abysmal. The latter even sarcastically jeered from the field upon his substitution for Fabio Aurelio in the closing stages. Even Pepe Reina – so often a stalwart between the posts – had an evening he will wish to forget in a hurry.
Fernando Torres, meanwhile, was largely anonymous once again. Sure, service was very limited and his partnership with N’Gog – then Ryan Babel – was isolated from any support for the most part. But – barring the odd exception – this has been the standard from Torres this campaign. And for a player of his reputation and ability that cannot be considered adequate – lack of fitness can no longer cut it as an excuse.
However, the fact that this is far from the only performance of similar ilk this season; combined with the fact that the manager appeared powerless to change the sway of the game from the touchline, mean that the man in charge must take the brunt of the blame.
Many questions could be posed. Why play Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt on the wings, offering no width to speak of, with the full-backs clearly restricted by defensive instructions? Why not play Meireles in the centre, where he has been the most influential player of recent games?
Why not change the shape and focus of the team sooner, when it was clear to see that there was no outlet out wide and the strikers were isolated up-front? Why remove David N’Gog – the greatest attacking threat at times, however limited?
There is little doubt that anxiety and a lack of confidence is inflicting its own limitations on this Liverpool side – as Hodgson alluded post-match. After falling behind to Stephen Ward’s second half strike, this was painstakingly apparent. But there is also little inspiration of tactical nous in the dug out.
Credit to Wolves they did their job and achieved a significant and potentially crucial away win from their perspective. However, the fact of the matter is, Mick McCarthey’s side are short on quality and did not need to produce a particularly outstanding performance to defeat this Liverpool side.
Wolves worked tirelessly, closed the Reds down in their own half of the pitch and gave them very little space. And Hodgson’s men came unstuck. It is nothing new – a recipe for disaster which we have seen before this season.
Meireles could have put a different complexion on the match early on, when the Portuguese midfielder wasted Liverpool’s best chance of the match. Torres’s clever quick free-kick released Meireles one-on-one with Wayne Hennessey after 6 minutes. But he squandered the chance allowing the ‘keeper to save comfortably from point-blank range.
That was as good as it got in a dour first half, with few openings at either end. Liverpool seemed unwilling to commit men forward and lacked any momentum. As Wolves chased down every ball and closed out Liverpool’s options.
The second half began in much the same lacklustre vein. Johnson pulled a cross back to N’Gog from the right. However the French striker shot wide from six yards. Ronald Zubar tested Reina for the first time soon after.
But the visitors were to find themselves in front soon after. And it was little less than Liverpool deserved. Defensive pair, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel, mis-read the situation on 56 minutes; allowing Sylvain Ebanks-Blake to thread the ball through to Ward. Ward getting to the ball just ahead of Reina to squeeze it first time into the far corner. Sending the visiting fans into ecstasy and the home support into a state of disbelief.
Hodgson sent on both Babel and Joe Cole in an attempt to salvage the game. But there was no inspiration and little cutting edge.
But Johnson had to be alert to prevent Kevin Foley adding a second for Wolves. Whilst, the closest the Reds came to an equaliser was Skrtel’s header Gerrard’s free-kick in the final minutes. Which bulged the net but was clearly offside.
Wolverhampton Wanderers at home is a game which all Liverpool fans should, and will always, expect their team to win. In fact, Liverpool should anticipate victory from any fixture at Anfield. Perhaps the most telling point then, is that many people who witnessed this capitulation will have been shocked but not entirely surprised at its occurrence.
This Saturday will be the first occasion in some time that I will not be personally in attendance at a Liverpool home game. I for one will be glad of the break.
Man of the Match
It would be far easier to pick the worst player….