Dan Holland gives his view on a disappointing night at Anfield.
Long before Stevie G missed from 12 yards I knew this was going to be ‘one of those nights’. Leaving Grimsby at 3pm everything was very routine until we hit junction 12 on the M62. At this point traffic came to a near standstill ensuring the last part of the journey took far longer than it should do which seriously hampered my pre-match routine. Crawling along we finally had had enough and left the M62 at Junction 8 taking the back roads into Anfield and getting parked up which left very little time for any refreshments.
Taking my seat in The Paddock to see the final moments of the warm up everything seemed positive. Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing’s run of form again being recognised with another start, Jonjo Shelvey back in the starting line-up, profiting from Daniel Sturridges injury, and in a week when Jamie Carragher announced his retirement our organiser in chief kept his place at the heart of the defence.
Even the substitutes were in high spirits in what looked like a strong bench; summer arrivals Fabio Borini and Joe Allen, impressive youngsters Andre Wisdom and Raheem Sterling, experience in the form of Martin Skrtel and Brad Jones and not to mention recent signing Coutinho. A simple game of keep ball was interspersed with laughter and obvious team spirit with Sterling and Wisdom appearing to be at the heart of it.
Team spirit appears to be a vital cog in the Brendan Rodgers machine as there are always smiles a plenty from manager and players in and around the bench area and mutual respect when substitutions are made. To see a previously regular starter in Skrtel laughing and joking in a pre-match warm up to me says he has accepted the manager’s decision and is happy to fight for a starting place rather than sulking and causing friction in and around the team.
As kick off approached Stevie led his team out to another superb rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Brendan Rodgers and his backroom staff took their place on the bench with the gaffer as always acknowledging the crowd immediately around him as normal. As referee Jonathan Moss blew his whistle to start proceedings the early signs looked quite encouraging with every ball being chased down and every West Brom player being pressed in typical style with the full backs being given even less time on the ball – had they been identified as a weakness?
The first half was a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, and unfortunately the latter was more prevalent. Most players in a red shirt were guilty of missed place passes, bad decision making and being weak in the tackle. Glen Johnson was having his worst game for Liverpool in as long as I can remember, he was failing to beat a man, giving the ball away and even controlling a simple pass seemed a difficult ask last night. However one dipping volley almost created an opening goal when Ben Foster could only parry Johnnos shot and Jonjo scrambled the ball home only for the linesmans flag to cut celebrations short.
In the other full back position Jose Enrique was typically dogged in his defending but offered no threat going forward, inside of him Daniel Agger’s poor form continued and it is arguable that it is the Dane who should be sat on the bench not Skrtel. Out of the back four it was again Carra who came out with the most credit in another strong and organised display.
During the first half the Anfield crowd were given their first sight of Philippe Coutinho, the recent arrival from Inter Milan was sent out to warm up along with Fabio Borini and Joe Allen. The Liverpool support was typical in the warm applause that greeted his appearance. However it was Fabio Borini that took the applause, I thought “it’s not for you soft lad”! Coutinho seemed totally oblivious of the immediate adulation this crowd gives you and carried on his jogging and stretching.
This trio were sent back to the bench for the other outfield players to have a run, this was only brief as Borini and Coutinho were sent back out along with Sterling a sure sign Rodgers wasn’t happy with the way the forward line was working out. Luis Suarez was back to being a lone figure going forward with Shelvey operating in behind him with Jordy (as BR affectionately refers to him) and Downing occupying the wider areas. It was the former Middlesbrough and Villa man who was the shining light on an otherwise disappointing night.
Confirming his recent change in form the England international was beating his man at will with some good trickery and bursts of pace. He also went close with a venomous drive after receiving a raking pass of the skipper, Ben Foster tipping the shot over. Apart from blatant time wasting Foster was to have a match winning influence on this game.
The other three forward players were far less effective with Shelvey being the most disappointing; he offered very little and rarely troubled the Albion defence. Luis showed occasional glimpses of his brilliant self with a flicked cross in the inside left position being the stand out moment of the first half. However this aside there was some sharpness missing in vital areas.
Jordan Henderson was having a mixed evening with his work rate as ever being unquestionable but like many others around him lacked a degree of composure and quality when in possession. The night wasn’t to end on a good note for Jordan when he was withdrawn in the 2nd half.
Just before half time a late tackle from Baggies Steven Reid brought the game’s first booking. Yes it was a foul and yes it was probably a booking but the contact on Suarez was minimal. The Uruguayan’s reaction showed why many outside of LFC have taken a dislike to the supremely talented forward. Rolling in agony with grimace on his face for me has no place in football but is all too common these days.
This incident did however bring a comical moment, from the resulting free kick we should have been awarded a throw in deep in West Brom territory but the linesman (who was far closer) inexplicably waited for the referee to indicate which way the throw given. It went to West Brom much to the dismay of all players and fans wearing red, never one to hold back Jamie Carragher snarled towards the referees assistant “how didn’t you see that from there, what a f***** disgrace”. Now normally the Bootle man would have got away with this but as the ground was very quiet (which is another disappointment from the night) his outburst was heard by all near the linesman.
Half time arrived with the game still goal less and as much as it was a disjointed performance there was only one team who looked likely. The usual half time playlist was shelved in favour of a gentle penalty shootout in front of the Kop. This saw the return of legend Robbie Fowler – what would we give to have a young Robbie still available to us. Some light hearted entertainment with amusing banter between Fowler and scouse comedian John Bishop putting a smile on everybody’s face.
The 2nd half was barely two minutes old when Rodgers and his much trusted assistant Colin Pascoe were in deep conversation presumably about forthcoming substitutions. What I like about BR is that he is always happy to listen and in fact welcomes input from Pascoe and Mike Marsh before deciding on substitutions unlike some previous managers who stubbornness and refusal to listen has often cost the side.
Having said that I think the trio got the changes wrong last night. Shelvey had to be withdrawn as he turned in arguably his worst performance in a red shirt. Henderson however for me should have stayed on the field. On leaving the field Jordy wasn’t even acknowledged by the gaffer which is highly unusual as he is normally there with a warm handshake, embrace or at least a pat on the back. This reaction appeared to be credited to the fact 5 minutes prior a back heeled effort on goal was saved by Ben Foster. Rodgers was furious and his gesturing towards the midfielder seemed to suggest he thought he was being too clever – for the record I think that is harsh – but it ultimately led to his withdrawal.
Of the two replacements Sterling certainly looked more likely but it was Borini who forced Foster into another good save with a poked effort from the edge of the box after more delightful play from Downing. The formation after the double substitution was more of an orthodox 4-4-2 with Borini and Suarez in the forward positions although for large periods you would have thought Luis was up there on his own. Gerrard played in a midfield two with Lucas anchoring the midfield, a trademark charge into the box from Gerrard was the next effort on goal but Foster refused to be beaten with another sharp save to keep the scores level.
Ben Foster was yet to make the most telling intervention of the evening though. In the 76th minute Liverpool were awarded a rare penalty after he was felled just inside the box. The decision appeared from where I was sat to be generous but like the old adage says it evens out over the season and we have certainly been due a decision. The normally reliable Gerrard grabbed hold of the ball and placed it on the spot just as Philippe Coutinho was stripped for action, the Brazilian could only watch on along with nearly 45,000 others as a tame spot kick was pulled out of the bottom corner by the increasingly impressive Foster.
At this point I was resigned to the game finishing 0-0, as I said at the outset it was just one of those nights. We hadn’t played well, were anything but sharp in and around the goal and until now Reina hadn’t had a shot to save. If only it had finished like that, three things happened between the 74th minute and 77th minute that turned this game on its head. Firstly the introduction of Romalu Lukaku gave our defence somebody to worry about; his physical presence in the box, his raw pace and power combined with freshness caused all kinds of problems. Secondly the missed penalty or saved penalty should I say – this rejuvenated West Brom beyond belief. Fosters save was greeted with huge celebrations in the away end and away dugout; the players on the field visibly grew in belief.
Thirdly the introduction of Coutinho, now this might sound harsh on the young debutant but that isn’t my intention. Despite some very neat touches he looked like a little boy lost, coming into a Premiership game against a big physical side like West Brom must have been very daunting and he offered very little protection for his full back. This isn’t his fault but his slight frame was then another player that then couldn’t help from set pieces. Again this isn’t his fault but he replaced Stewart Downing who for me was far and away the best player on the field who regardless of this works as had defending his own goal as well as being just shy of 6’ which undoubtedly helps from corners and free kicks.
As previously mentioned a West Brom side now full of positivity responded almost immediately when they had their first shot on goal for which Reina had to be alive as he tipped a Mulumbu drive round the post. The first shot was quickly followed by the 2nd as Gareth McAuley rose unchallenged to head home from the resulting corner. Nine minutes later Lukaku went past Daniel Agger like he wasn’t there and beat Pepe from the angle to give West Brom a hard earned if not slightly fortuitous two nil victory.
It is hard to take many positives from this game which has severely dented our Champions League hopes but the performance of Stewart Downing was certainly impressive and was my Man of the Match by a good distance. The other is the impact that Daniel Sturridge has had on our team and this was underlined tonight by his absence. Without him we looked one dimensional and very slow in the final third. Hopefully his injury will have healed before Sunday when we welcome Swansea to Anfield when I will again be giving you my ‘View From the Paddock’. Sandwiched in between these two games is the Europa League tie against Zenit – what importance do we place on this trophy now? Is it another opportunity to qualify for Europe or is it a distraction from improving our league position.