Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not-so-Merry Christmas present for young Reds as Liverpool draw with Utrecht

“Happy Holidays” Liverpool FC principle owner John W Henry posted on his Twitter account after announcing that kids tickets for the Reds final Europa League group stage clash with Utrecht would be free, with adult tickets being offered at a considerable discount.

It was a calculated move from Henry and business partner Tom Werner, who recently took the role of chairman at the club. It was good PR, it was clearly a move taken to raise the new owners stock amongst the still cautious Anfield faithful, but nevertheless it was a decision made with the best intentions at heart.

After the game though, those children and adults who had decided to take the owners up on their offer of free and discounted tickets may have wished they hadn’t bothered. What they witnessed at Anfield was not the no-strings attacking football that was expected, instead it was a poor, defensive display in a game in which Liverpool had nothing to lose.

Fernando Torres, who Roy Hodgson claimed in his pre-match press conference was going to start, was removed from the squad at the final hour, with the Liverpool boss claiming it was a decision made on the back of advice from the clubs medical staff – meaning thousands of young Reds, coming expecting to see their hero, were disappointed.

The players that were on show were sent out to hold their shape, rarely pressing the Dutch opposition and allowing them plenty of time and space, especially in their own half. To call it uninspiring would be an insult to other teams who have been given such a label.

Hodgson may have thought he could get away with it, after all this was a nothing game, Liverpool were already through and the players on the pitch were a second-string Liverpool side. But the Reds boss’ inability to judge the mentality of the clubs supporters once again came back to haunt him, as his stock fell even further after the final whistle blew.

This leaves Hodgson in a precarious position. Though he claims to feel completely safe in his job everything is far from cosy for him. The majority of supporters (around 80 to 90% according to most polls) no longer want him as manager of the club, the owners – in a phone in on LFC TV – branded the start of the season “unacceptable” and Fenway Sports Group are set to announce a new CEO in the new year, who may have their own ideas who should be in charge.

The rest of December seems to be a crucial month for the manager. Liverpool have four very winnable games remaining this year, against Fulham, Blackpool, Wolves and Bolton. All of these games fans would expect to see three points from, but Liverpool’s incredibly poor form on the road, coupled with some shock results against weaker sides at Anfield, suggests the run of games is anything but predictable.

It’s make or break for Hodgson. A run of four wins will see the pressure taken of his position considerably, allowing him to go in to January focused on the second-half of the season. Poor results however will see the anger towards the veteran manager among Liverpool supporters increase even more, potentially pushing the patient John W Henry and co a little too far.

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(Photo provided by Mikhail Slain)

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