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Lacklustre Reds pay the penalty

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West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Liverpool
Saturday, April 2nd 2011

Much has changed around Liverpool Football Club in the short time since the departure of Roy Hodgson in January.

The heralded return of Kenny Dalglish and the arrival of a couple of big-money signings have been matched by a general perceived improvement in results and performances. And, more significantly, the improved atmosphere and direction of the club.

However the much-maligned former boss returned to haunt his brief former employers at the Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon. A ghost of Liverpool past, reminding us all of the problems which still hinder Liverpool and the work still to be done.

The attention in the stands was predictably focused on the two men in the dugouts. Two men who insist remain good friends despite the media furore. But the home fans wasted little time in vocally reminding the travelling Reds that it was their much-chastised former boss who had masterminded this latest setback, once Chris Brunt had netted the second of his brace of penalty kicks.

Much of the burden of blame for Liverpool’s shortcomings during a disappointing campaign have been laid on the shoulders of Hodgson’s inauspicious – bordering on disastrous – fleeting tenure in the Anfield hot seat.

However, people are perhaps now coming to terms with the realisation that the problems were always more deep-rooted than that. Hodgson was simply never the man to resolve those problems.

This Liverpool squad resembles too many characteristics of a mid-table side. Short on consistency – with positive results and performances often followed by much less inspiring ones. And short on quality and consistency of performance in certain areas of the pitch – particularly out wide.

This was not one of Liverpool’s better days. Preparations may have been hindered by the recent international break. Whilst the Reds were disrupted early on by a couple of defensive injury setbacks. Yet, following the positives of victory at the Stadium of Light in the previous match, Liverpool fans are right to expect more from their side.

The first half was a scrappy affair, during which neither team were able to gain any measure of control or fluency to their play. After a relatively encouraging opening to the match – in which Dirk Kuyt forced Scott Carson into a save from close range from a Raul Meireles corner – Liverpool laboured.

The loss of left-back, Glen Johnson, to injury in the early stages, which was soon followed by the withdrawal of the ever-injury prone Daniel Agger curbed any early momentum.

The reorganisation disrupted Dalglish’s side. Danny Wilson filled in at left full-back and Sotirios Kyrgiakos came on to partner Martin Skrtel in the centre. But Liverpool were susceptible to the pace and movement of Peter Odemwingie, Jerome Thomas and co.

Pace and width being two factors which this Liverpool squad perpetually lacks. In their absence, the Reds failed to compensate by retaining enough possession and moving the ball around at pace, in order to threaten a well-marshalled West Brom side.

Andy Carroll struggled to make an impact on the game. The imposing Jonas Olsson and Abdoulaye Meite gave the big forward a tough time. But this was evidence that Carroll still requires time to find his feet at his new club. Whilst Liverpool must themselves learn how to best utilise this new asset.

Luis Suarez was also relatively subdued for the most part, compared to his recent high standards. Before briefly rousing in the closing stages to very nearly, single-handedly rescue a point. But Liverpool generally failed to carry the short of threat required to overcome a side in the midst of a relegation dog-fight.

Wilson was alert enough to divert the danger with Odemwingie poised to strike at the far post. Whilst at the other end, a rare opening for Carroll saw him shoot narrowly over the bar. But goal-scoring openings were at a premium.

It was Liverpool who were to break the deadlock, though. And via a route which is proving increasingly fruitful of late. The arrival of Carroll has added a significant dimension to the threat from set-pieces. Add to Carroll’s threat the presence of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel in the opposition box and set-plays often seemed the most likely route to goal at the Hawthorns.

It was Skrtel who profited on 50 minutes. With Albion attentions distracted by Carroll, Sktrel ghosted in to head Meireles’ flighted corner from the right into the top corner of Carson’s goal.

Liverpool had the lead without ever really playing well. And they briefly rallied. Kuyt testing Carson on the counter-attack, when Suarez was probably better-placed. But West Brom are desperate for Premier League points to boost their survival cause and the hosts were able to claw their way back into the match.

Odemwingie was Hodgson’s key attacking threat. And the Nigerian striker posed questions to the Liverpool rearguard throughout. Wilson again had to be alert with Odemwingie lurking at the far post. Brunt testing Reina from distance with the follow-up.

And it was Odemwingie who presented West Brom with the opportunity for an equaliser. The striker’s first time turn when receiving Nicky Shorey’s pass on the edge of the area beat Kyrgiakos. And the Greek substitute’s challenge took man before ball. Referee Atkinson pointed to the spot. Brunt sent his penalty down the middle and made no mistake.

Meireles rather snatched at an opportunity to regain the lead, after Suarez had cut in from the left to find the Portuguese. Meireles sending his first-time effort over. But Liverpool had not done enough to warrant victory in this game.

The Reds did not retain possession often enough or create enough goal-scoring openings to deserve the win. Yet, they should have been capable of holding out for at least a point.

Another West Brom penalty meant that even that consolation was relinquished. More poor defending from Kyrgiakos allowed Odemwingie to get the better of him from a long, high ball forward. One-on-one with Reina, the keeper’ brought down Odemwingie and Atkinson awarded a second penalty kick.

Brunt again dispatched the kick beyond Reina with only 2 minutes remaining. Earning West Brom a first victory over Liverpool in 20 attempts. And condemning the visitors to a hugely disappointing twelfth defeat of the season.

Skrtel should have done better with a free-header at the far post from another Meireles corner. Whilst some composed play from Suarez forced Carson to save and then Shorey to clear off his own goal line.

But it was too-little-too-late from a Liverpool perspective. Liverpool had themselves to blame for presenting Hodgson with the opportunity to inflict yet more harm on a cumbersome season.

Man of the Match
Not Suarez’s most effective game in a red shirt. But the Uruguayan still always carried Liverpool’s main attacking threat on a day when the Reds did not offer enough going forward.

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