Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jingle Bellers

Liverpool 3 - 1 Newcastle Utd

So, as feared, our horrendous run of results at Anfield continued and the curse of the old boy did indeed strike - but it was the No-Necked Text Pest whose brace did the damage, Rocky contriving to leave the scoresheet untroubled. Steven Gerrard came on to grab the Scousers' third, and is probably off out celebrating in time-honoured fashion as I write.

While the demotion of Leon O'Best to the bench was expected, the Silver Fox sprung a selection surprise by choosing to replace him with Haris Vuckic rather than HBA, the player whose goal had been the vital spark in the Boxing Day win at Bolton. Vuckic seemed to have been asked to occupy an advanced midfield role in a 4-5-1 formation, but the ploy never really worked, not least because the Slovenian youngster was lost and off the pace from the first whistle.

Had the first real shot of the game, a long-ranger from the home side's Charlie Adam, flown in, the assist would have had to have been credited to referee Lee Probert for intercepting Obertan Kenobi's dribble out of defence. That effort rose over the bar, though Stewart Downing brought Tim Krul into action low down at his near post.

However, on 25 minutes we were the side that nudged in front - somewhat fortuitously it has to be said. While Vuckic jogged to the touchline for treatment after getting belted in the face, Raylor whipped a curling right-footed cross in from the left which Dreamboat, deep in the area, flicked goalwards with his head. With Demba Ba breathing down his neck, Daniel Agger shouldered the ball past Jose Reina, who had already committed himself to diving to his left.

Rattled by that setback, Liverpool responded with a flurry of balls into our box. When Adam's low cross from the right was prodded partially clear by Mr T, the No-Necked Text Pest was perfectly positioned to arrow a shot into the bottom left-hand corner, Mike Williamson having shifted to his left to unwittingly create the necessary gap.

It could have got worse before the break, with Martin Skrtel - looking slightly less like a neo-Nazi, now he's got some hair - heading narrowly wide and our left flank looking vulnerable owing to the bookings collected by both Spidermag and Raylor.

The latter made way for Davide Santon at the interval, but we remained on the back foot. Dreamboat made a wince-inducing challenge on Jay Spearing that went unpunished (but that may well result in retrospective disciplinary action), but otherwise it was the hapless Rocky who was the focus, fluffing opportunities aplenty including one moment when he miscontrolled a perfect pass over the defence straight into Krul's hands.

That ball had been delivered by Gerrard, by now on for Adam, while the Silver Fox belatedly made the right decision and replaced Vuckic with HBA on 65 minutes. Two minutes later, though, we were behind. Probert's award of a free-kick to Liverpool for a Mr T challenge on Agger was appalling, but from that point we - and by that I mean Danny Simpson - should have defended it better. With everyone in place, Simpson suddenly backpedalled frantically to the line as if tracking an imaginary runner, then advanced again just as the No-Necked Text Pest struck the dead ball. Sadly, it was enough to distract the normally infallible Krul and the ball squeezed between 'keeper and defender and flew in.

Ba, so often our saviour this season, very nearly hauled us level, a clever run and angled shot somehow hacked off the line by Skrtel with the away end howling at the linesman to award a goal. For Liverpool, though, Rocky was getting closer, thumping a header off the crossbar. Having provided that cross, Gerrard opted to take matters into his own hands, bursting untracked onto a Jordan Henderson pass and slipping the ball through Krul's legs from an acute angle.

At that point all ambition, hope and belief seemed to evaporate and we played out the final quarter of an hour like a side incapable of conceiving that salvaging a draw might still be possible. Little Big Lad replaced Obertan Kenobi but was no better in terms of trickery or penetration, and our only consolation was the fact that an aerial confrontation with the magnificent Sideshow Bob had seen the home side's two-goal striker leave the pitch prematurely with a bloodied face. Like Dreamboat, our skipper can perhaps also expect to hear from the FA.

This was our fifth league defeat of the season, and while not our worst it certainly wasn't particularly pretty. Perhaps most worryingly, it was the first time we'd taken the lead and lost - hopefully not the reappearance of an all-too-familiar failing...

A Liverpool fan's view: Liverpool Football Club Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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