Club Focus – Liverpool – Expect the unexpected at Anfield, and then expect the expected

Poor old – or should that be young – Stuart Attwell. Two years after he gave Reading a goal at Watford for what could only generously be described as an effort that went marginally wide, controversy appears to have followed him around ever since. There is of course a reason for that – he is a referee who is far too inexperienced to officiate in the Premier League – but it is hard not to feel sorry for him after his latest headline-grabbing decision.

As the Professional Game Match Officials statement made clear in the immediate aftermath of Liverpool’s draw with Sunderland at Anfield on Saturday, Attwell was correct to award Dirk Kuyt’s opening goal – even though the revelation that referees do not need to blow their whistle to indicate for a free-kick to be taken was a surprising one to this writer – and so that should have rendered the debate null and void, but of course, the freakish nature of the goal dictates that it will not. It might have been correct by the book, but whether or not there is a room for common sense in football is perhaps an even more important argument. If there is a defender anywhere in world football who, when faced with Fernando Torres directly in front of him just five minutes into a match at Anfield, would be cool, casual and calm enough to attempt a back-heeled free kick to his own goalkeeper then – with all due respect to a rapidly improving Sunderland side who thoroughly deserved their point – perhaps he should be playing at a club at a higher level than the Mackems. Yet that is where Michael Turner is, and while the finger of blame should be pointed as much towards him as to the referee – the ball was already in the right place for the free kick to be taken – the oddity of the goal means that debate will go for some time yet, but perhaps such discussion should have been expected.

The unusual has become the norm when Liverpool face Sunderland. The Mackems became the first Second Division side to reach the FA Cup Final in 10 years when they took on the Reds at Wembley in 1992 and lost – largely down to a rare Michael Thomas stunner. More recently, Gary McAllister won a penalty for Liverpool at the Stadium of Light when he appeared to have been fouled closer to the centre circle, Sunderland managed to take four points off the Reds in their disastrous 2002/03 relegation season – they only took 15 off everyone else – while, perhaps most staggeringly, Liverpool once won a game on Wearside thanks to goals from Momo Sissoko and Andriy Voronin. Then, of course, came last season’s beach ball.

Perhaps the greatest travesty of the fallout from Saturday’s game – the controversial goal and Liverpool’s inability to win yet again – was that two more goals from the excellent Darren Bent were again overlooked. The Reds struggled to cope with the forward’s movement all afternoon, and again conceded the kind of goal that they have been accustomed to letting in so far season, as they once again failed to cut out a cross, and once again stood static as a forward profited. For Bent read Carlos T

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