Monday, May 12, 2014

... And that's an Anfield wrap

Liverpool 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

At last - a campaign that became positively purgatorial is finally over. Not with a win, naturally, but with a game that handily reminded us of the story of our season - the first half bright and full of promise, the second sharply descending into catastrophe and farce. All the media focus may have been on our hosts' disappointment at losing out to Man City in the pursuit of the title, but like Liverpool we manoeuvred ourselves into a great position before blowing it all in spectacular fashion.

Injury to Loic Remy meant he signed off in black and white (probably for good) with that second goal against Cardiff last Saturday, and the Silver Fox, presumably fearful of a goal-greedy side like the Reds running up a cricket score, opted to replace him with Saylor and revert to a back five. The other change also came in defence, where Massadio Haidara took Paul Dummett's place. Lubo Satka, meanwhile, was a notable inclusion among the subs.

Clad in the new dull grey away kit, the visitors made a surprisingly lively start, partly aided by the fact that Liverpool appeared resigned to finishing second even before Man City took the lead over West Ham. Big Lad should have done better with an unmarked header, though we were then grateful for referee Phil Dowd's fussiness, as he disallowed the quickly taken free-kick that Luis Suarez clipped over Tim Krul on the (debatable) grounds that the ball wasn't stationary.

Given his slump in form over the second half of the season, few would have bet on Goofy being the one striker on show who would then set about stealing the limelight - but that's exactly what he did in bursting onto a pass on the left and whipping in a cross with the outside of his right boot that the hapless Martin Skrtel sliced past former Mackem 'keeper Simon Mignolet for his fourth own goal of the season.

Goofy's afternoon could and indeed should have got even better soon afterwards, when an incisive through-ball from Big Lad picked out his run, only for Mignolet to block the ensuing shot. At the other end, Liverpool's much-feted front pairing were even more glaringly profligate, Daniel Sturridge in particular heading well wide when scoring looked easier.

Little changed in the first 15 minutes of the second half, until Brendan Rodgers boosted his side's attacking potency with Philippe Coutinho replacing the more defensively minded midfielder Joe Allen. That was Liverpool's cue to step up a gear, and sure enough they turned the game on its head in the space of two minutes courtesy of two carbon-copy Steven Gerrard free-kicks. The first picked out Daniel Agger, the central defender atoning for his partner's error from a tight angle (Krul may be disappointed), and the second was prodded home by Sturridge.

The game hadn't even restarted before things went from bad to worse, with Big Lad earning himself a yellow card and then another for dissent. If that proves to be the last action of his Newcastle career, as seems likely, then it's sadly apt - on too many occasions he's talked the talk but failed to walk the walk.

The Silver Fox threw caution to the wind in withdrawing Saylor for Luuk de Jong, but the Dutchman made little impact once again - certainly less than fellow replacement Paul Dummett did on Suarez's leg, with a lunge that was rash and ill-timed rather than malicious and so not really deserving of the red card offence Dowd deemed it.

A goal behind and down to nine men, our chances of securing a first Premier League win at Anfield since 1994 looked to have slipped away, and that proved to be the case, despite the efforts of substitute Little Big Lad to conjure something from nothing.

The requisite top ten finish had been assured before kick-off, regardless of the result, but Stoke's victory at West Brom meant that we limped over the line in tenth. The Silver Fox insisted we had been "terrific" and questioned Dowd's dubious decisions, while his opposite number took time out from reflecting on the death of Liverpool's title dreams to ponder how "the manager can be blamed when his club hasn't made a permanent signing for 18 months and sold its best player in Yohan Cabaye". The Silver Fox is certainly not blameless, but Rodgers did have a point - unlike us, who, after another ultimately disappointing season, travelled back up to the north-east needing to make some significant changes and improvements in the summer if we're not to face another relegation battle.

A Liverpool fan's perspective: The Liverpool Offside

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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