Monday, April 02, 2012

Red letter day

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Liverpool

When we played Liverpool in December, we appeared to be slightly overawed by the occasion and played Anfield and the badge rather than the game. Yesterday, we saw through the façade and comfortably outplayed a mid-table side under the control of an antiquated manager, shorn of confidence and packed full of over-rated, off-form players.

It was glorious.

With Sideshow Bob injured, Perchinho partnered Mike Williamson at centre-back, with stand-in captain Spidermag filling the left-back berth. In midfield, we welcomed back Mr T into a central trio with Dreamboat and Danny Guthrie, retaining Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and HBA up front.

For the opposition, the prospect of at least one old boy returning to haunt us was increased by the news that the No-Necked Text Pest had recovered sufficiently to join Jose Enrique and Rocky in their starting line-up.

In truth, it was the visitors who started the better, with Rocky looking a threat and Bellamy probing down the right, causing problems for Spidermag. Having won a couple of early headers, Rocky had the game’s first real chance when he broke through on goal before knocking the ball past Tim Krul and tumbling to the floor rather than risk a shot with his weaker right foot. Thankfully, referee Lee Mason was on hand to penalise our erstwhile number nine, who was rightly booked for a shocking dive. A year and a half ago, I’d have expected Rocky to have hit the shot with his right but, shorn of confidence, his attempts to win a penalty (for someone else to take) spoke of desperation, and showed how far his stock has fallen.

(On that subject, a lot of people have been talking about how Liverpool paid over the odds for Rocky. While his price was massively inflated, the reality is that Liverpool’s fee for Torres was £15m plus whatever we wanted for Rocky, so the reality is that Chelsea overpaid for Torres which included the overpayment for Rocky – something many seem to forget).

With HBA and Enrique enjoying an even contest early on, our mercurial Frenchman was afforded space after 18 minutes when he dropped deeper to collect the ball. With nobody closing him down, he was able to cut onto his left foot and launch an inch-perfect cross to the back post for Papiss Cisse to squeeze a header back across Pepe Reina’s goal and in off the far post to notch his sixth goal for the club since he inherited Rocky’s old shirt.

While Liverpool continued to press, we stood relatively firm – although Williamson was perhaps slightly fortunate to get away with some fairly close marking of Rocky at a set piece, and Danny Simpson cleared the ball off the line from a corner with what looked like his upper arm rather than shoulder. Thankfully, both referee and linesman were unsighted, so no penalty was forthcoming on either occasion. On a side note, I’ve lost count of the number of goal-line clearances Danny Simpson has managed this season, but his approach to defending set pieces is a heartwarming addition to the team (and a far cry from the Little Waster’s attempts in the past).

Neither side made personnel changes at the break, but I expected Liverpool to seek to capitalise on Spidermag’s inexperience at left-back. However, in truth Liverpool barely troubled us after the interval. With HBA, Demba Ba and Cisse all looking lively for us, a second goal always seemed to be on the cards and it arrived after a fine run by HBA. His ball fed Ba, who crossed to the on-rushing HBA, who looked to get the slightest of touches out to Cisse (who had been in an offside position in the build-up) and our new number nine kept his cool to cut inside and side-foot the ball into the net and make it seven goals in seven games.

From there Kenny Dalglish pulled off both the No-Necked Text Pest and Rocky, the latter last seen storming down the tunnel in disgust. Liverpool huffed and puffed, but on the odd occasion when they managed to break forward they found both Williamson and Perchinho in fine form, the latter producing one excellent block when Suarez was well placed to shoot.

The final blow came towards the end, when Big Lad won a corner. The ball was swung in and eventually fell to Reina. The Reds 'keeper grasped it as Perchinho swept in, leaving his foot in after the ball had been gathered to concede a free kick. Seemingly incensed by the foul, Reina reacted badly and looked to aim a head-butt at Perchinho, which prompted our man to fling himself to the floor. While the headbutt made minimal contact, the referee was left with no option but to send off Reina (and book Perchinho for the original foul). Our visitors having used all three of their subs, Jose Enrique was pressed into service as an emergency goalkeeper.

Disappointingly, we weren’t able to test him, but equally we never looked remotely troubled as we kept the ball calmly and saw the match out to complete a comprehensive victory over an incredibly expensively assembled team of misfiring old boys.

As the ground reverberated to chants of "Jose Enrique, we’re in the top six", Enrique must have regretted his tweet "The club will never again fight to be among the top 6 again with this policy". Ironically for us the biggest negative is likely to be Reina’s red card, with the Spaniard now ruled out of Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final against Everton (which we could do with them winning).

The win saw us pull ten points clear of Everton who now occupy seventh spot, and put us back level with Chelsea in fifth. Plaudits all round, with only the sight of Guthrie clutching his calf a slight cause for concern. Massive credit must go to our back four and Krul for the clean sheet, with Williamson and Perchinho both deserving of hearty praise. While we may have been critical of both in the past, yesterday they were excellent and it speaks volumes for the coaching staff that the sight of Perchinho running out as part of the team no longer sends a shudder down my spine the way it once did.

A Liverpool fan's perspective: Liverpool Football Club Blog (whose author couldn't bear to write up his side's sixth Premier League defeat in seven and instead just listed his five favourite sea creatures...)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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