I won’t argue that Liverpool FC deserve something more out of the last two matches based on form. Reading were the better team in both cup ties and Stoke were just about on par with the flailing Merseyside giants last weekend. And with Torres, Gerrard and Benayoun still out for today’s fixture, one feels like the struggle to put a much-needed win away is less likely than ever. (Especially against Spurs who are having themselves one excellent season.) As a fan, though, I will say we deserve something more than we’ve gotten in the last couple of matches, if only in a spiritual sense.
Let me explain.
Liverpool without Torres and Gerrard need a lift to come from somewhere else. Without some pivotal moment, the rest of our side, who can play out of their skin in the right circumstances (much of last season) will definitely let bad results and bad luck weigh heavily on their collective consciousness. Usually one can expect Dirk Kuyt or Yossi Benayoun to make the difference in the clutch when Torres and Gerrard are absent but Yossi’s out injured and Dirk hasn’t had enough good service to get him one of those game-saving goals to turn the side’s miserable fortunes into a brighter direction. Some glimmer of hope from a stoppage time goal or a blistering free-kick could be enough to light a fire under our depleted side. But recently things have gone completely the other way. Those game-changing moments have been against us and have sucked the petrol from our tanks again and again.
Against Reading, despite the miserable form, Liverpool looked about to steal the win. Our players showed more grit in the second half trying to protect the single (own-) goal lead. And though we couldn’t find the second goal that would have put the match to bed, the win should have been ours after regulation. But when Yossi was adjudged to have fouled Shane Long in the box in stoppage time, Phil Dowd awarded a penalty. And we didn’t even have Pepe in goal. It was the understudy, Cavalieri, and Reading converted. But the real outrage is that earlier, Dowd took a near-identical situation at the other end (light contact and a fall) and not only denied the foul, he booked Philip Degen for diving. And I’m not arguing we deserved a penalty off Degen’s fall either. But the guy was kicked in the shin and he gets booked for simulation. Hasn’t Phil Dowd ever heard of a reflex hammer? I would have been content to see both plays waved on. Neither was what I would call a clear penalty. Referees must err on the side of not turning the match on its head if there is any doubt. Instead we get some serious game-changing inconsistency over two similar incidences in the box and Reading get a breath of fresh air in extra time. They deserved to progress on form, yes. But again: this is a spiritual plea. The penalty call crushed Liverpool, both in terms getting knocked out of the FA Cup and the deflated mentality going into the next match, which brings us to…
Stoke City. God, it was miserable. We lobbed the ball up the pitch forgetting that Nando, Stevie and Yossi weren’t there to collect and do anything with it. The early portion of the game saw Stoke take countless throw-ins from their own half due to our blundering. We might as well have just passed it off to Stoke in our half and saved them the trip up the pitch each time. Degen, who I’d thought looked good at times against Reading, was a horror show against Stoke, passing into traffic more than once while an open teammate was elsewhere in a world of space waving his hands for the ball. N’Gog, while still rated by me as a young player loaded with potential, has not learned enough finesse as a dribbler or a passer to pose consistent threats unless he’s on the end of a good service, which nobody seems up for providing lately. And Dirk looked so drained of energy until the end when he nearly regained the lead with a last-minute header that careened off the post, but at least he reminded us he was still in the match. Too bad it wasn’t enough.
The Lucas moment in the first half could have been just the lift we desperately needed. Referee Lee Mason decided Lucas was going down before the tackle and again we get booked for diving even though I had a better chance at getting the ball off Lucas from my couch in Boston than Danny Higgenbothom did with his late slide. We went into the half nil-nil and I found myself hoping Mascherano would start taking his long blasts in the general direction of goal (reminiscent of Riise’s last season at Anfield—I swear the goals must be forty feet high in Norway), I mean, why the hell not since nobody in a Liverpool jersey could keep hold of the ball in the attacking third anyway?
But then came a moment—not spiritually lifting like a bit of Torres goal-mouth trickery or a long-range Stevie G heat-seeking missile, but something...
Who would have thought, the man most likely to push Liverpool into a good result was Sotirios Kyrgiacos? I know so little about our Greek squad defender I had to pop over to the LFC site just now to make sure I was spelling his name correctly. Kyrgiacos did his best Sami Hyypia impersonation on Saturday. He was everywhere. Marking younger, faster players. Stripping defenders. And he scored our only goal, tapping it in after a little game of pinball in the box. Again, it looked like it would be enough. But, again, we let it all slide away with yet another miserable attempt to defend a set play. Stoke leveled after a late corner allowed Shawcross to flick on to an unmarked Huth who put it away.
There was one more chance for that spiritually elevating moment I’m talking about. It was the only moment where we looked like a top football team, but it came up fruitless in the end: Aquilani’s stellar pass to Aurelio, Aurelio’s searing cross to Kuyt… and Kuyt’s head smacking the ball into the post. It was devastating. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. In my last article I asked for “stupefying” moments out of largely selfish reasons. I wanted them as a spectator. Now I’m asking for the big moments, the elevating moments not just for me, or for my fellow supporters, but for our players. They desperately need to dazzle themselves again and remember what it’s like to play for a winning football team.
So today we play a tough side at home. Spurs have firepower and are in solid form, sitting in that fourth spot on the table we so deeply covet. Our three best players are out with injury along with Glen Johnson and we’re waiting to hear about Danny Agger. I hope to God we play Maxi Rodriguez. None of that extended caution we’ve shown a recuperated Aquilani. I don’t want to ease Maxi into the Premier League. These are desperate times and Maxi is a goalscorer. Play him against Spurs. He can figure it out and he can score or at least create the kind of chance that Dirk or David can actually gobble up. And if he does score the winner that would be a serious lift. The new guy comes in and seals the result. That will give our players the feeling that they can turn this streak around. That we’re using the transfer window to tackle some of our problems. That a top four finish is in reach. That this season isn’t over yet. C’mon, Maxi!
(I swear if Degen starts on the wing again I am going to cry.)