Fuller 56, Jones 90
On Saturday evening, Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool side had the chance to extend their unbeaten run to seven games for the first time since last April. On a ground in which the Reds had suffered defeat only once in the last 35 years, against a side that had kept a clean sheet only once all season, they were presented with the opportunity to catapult themselves into fifth place in the league. However, in a result characteristic of Hodgson’s time at Anfield, it wasn’t to be, as the pattern of one step forward and two steps back was resumed
To comment on the performance is simply to return to the criticisms surrounding many of the Reds’ earlier games, such as the clashes with Blackpool and Everton. Indeed, so near-identical in its sluggishness and lack of invention was this showing that one could probably just recycle these earlier match analyses and not land too far from the truth.
Everything was poor, from ball retention and attacking shape to the defending at set pieces. Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel struggled for the whole 90 minutes – Skrtel especially was frenetic at times, and Kenwyne Jones’ all-too-easy outmuscling of him for the second goal summed-up the defender’s day. Paul Konchesky often looked lost, and even Jose Reina struggled to deal with crosses. Hodgson’s deployment of Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez on the wings ensured that on Stoke’s already narrow pitch, the Liverpool attack lacked anything resembling width, and the isolated Fernando Torres – whose performance was most memorable for an accidental thumping-into-touch of a simple sideways pass – cut a dejected figure up front. By the end of the game, the Reds’ had controlled only 36% of the possession, against a side renowned for long-ball football: A damning statistic indeed.
The travelling Liverpool fans, with weary predictability, began to chant for Kenny Dalglish towards the end. This epitomizes the fragility of Hodgson’s tenure, which after a victory over Chelsea a week ago was looking suddenly rosy. The ex-Fulham manager alluded to this with his post-match comments:
“That seems to be a part of Liverpool life at the moment,” he said. “We are trying to do the best job we can. I don’t know if that kind of singing and chanting helps anybody but I didn’t hear it and I am sure there a lots of fans who sympathise [with me].”
Is Hodgson right? Are there lots of fans who continue to sympathise with him? It’s difficult to say. The Reds certainly appeared to have turned something of a corner against Chelsea, but the revival has stuttered with a just one point from fixtures against Wigan and Stoke. One gets the sense that many supporters of the Anfield club are beginning to think that Hodgson is not the man for the job.
Liverpool now have four points less than they did at this point last season – a campaign which was judged disastrous on Merseyside, and led to the departure of Rafa Benitez. Steven Gerrard expressed his delight at the club being “in safe hands now” with new owner John W. Henry this week. However, Hodgson will need to get his Red revival back on course soon, and quickly, if he is to avoid these ‘safe hands’ perhaps putting him out of a job in the not-too-distant future.
23 Carragher – 16 Kyrgiakos – 37 Skrtel – 3 Konchesky
04 Raul Meireles – 21 Lucas Leiva – 08 Gerrard – 17 Maxi
18 Kuyt – 09 Torres
66 – 24 Ngog on for 04 Meireles
73 – 19 Babel on for 17 Maxi