Sunday, April 29, 2012

Norwich City 0-3 Liverpool: Sensational Suarez Shoots Down Canaries

By Robert Nevitt

Luis Suarez hit a sensational hat-trick as Liverpool ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against Norwich City at Carrow Road.

The controversial Uruguayan has endured a stormy season both on and off the pitch, but he was at his brilliant best as he netted his first Liverpool hat-trick to give Kenny Dalglish's side the perfect tonic in the build-up to next weekend's FA Cup final meeting with Chelsea.

With one eye on Wembley, Dalglish chose to shuffle his squad, making five changes from last weekend's defeat to West Bromwich Albion, with Martin Skrtel named as substitute and Andy Carroll given the weekend off with a slight groin injury. In came Jonjo Shelvey in midfield, whilst skipper Steven Gerrard returned to play just behind lone striker Suarez. With the home side safe in mid-table following an impressive campaign, manager Paul Lambert also make a handful of changes with Canaries skipper and leading scorer Grant Holt only named on the bench.

After a quiet opening twenty-three minutes, in which both sides struggled to make any inroads towards their opponents' goal, the game was brought to life as the visitors took the lead.

David Fox's heavy touch midway inside his own half allowed the quick-thinking Gerrard to nick possession. The Reds skipper then had the presence of mind to hit a first time reverse pass to Suarez on the edge of the box. So often guilty of squandering chances, Suarez took one touch before arrowing a fine-left footed finish past keeper John Ruddy into the far corner of the net.

A minute later Suarez and Gerrard combined again with the striker's pull-back from the right resulting in Gerrard's goalbound effort blocked by Ryan Bennett.

Liverpool were now looking confident and quickly doubled their advantage. When Norwich defender Elliot Ward dallied from a throw-in, Suarez dispossessed him and charged down the right flank. As he approached the area there seemed little danger, but Suarez showed his new-found clinicalness as he fired a low right-foot shot fizzing into the bottom corner of the net.

After a torrid recent run of seven defeats in ten league games, a two-goal cushion allowed Liverpool a welcome chance to relax and knock the ball about with confidence. The impressive Gerrard and Suarez partnership looked a constant threat with Craig Bellamy an able accomplice, whilst Shelvey and Henderson looked assured in midfield.

The home side had spent much of the first half looking like a side busy planning their well-deserved summer vacations, but after a probable half-time dressing down from manager Lambert, they did at least try to test the Reds after the restart.

First, Elliot Bennett forced Pepe Reina into a good save after a fine twenty-five yard drive, before Bradley Johnson should have down better when he met Anthony Pilkington's corner.

But despite the Canaries' improvement, Liverpool still looked the side more likely to score. A flowing move saw a Suarez shot rebound in the air for Shelvey to head against the bar, before the young midfielder missed an even clearer opportunity to register his first league goal for the Reds when he somehow contrived to miss an open goal from six yards after good work from Jose Enrique.

Star of the show for the Reds though was Suarez. His constant movement and trickery led the Norwich defence a merry dance, with marker Ryan Bennett resorting to trying to stop the striker by first clinging on to his neck, then forearm smashing him.

With the home fans berating Suarez for his well-documented disciplinary problems, the Uruguayan should have made them pay when his profligate side saw him pass up the opportunity of completing his hat-trick. In a move which summed up Saurez' season, he brilliantly nut-megged a Norwich defender, but instead of rolling the ball past Ruddy, he attempted an audacious chip which fell onto the roof of the net.

Following the let-off, Norwich sensed a way back into the game. Sub James Vaughan, a former striker with Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton, fired just wide after a neat turn, before Reds defender Jamie Carragher was at his best as he charged down Vaughan's effort.

With eight minutes remaining though the result was put to bed as the game's best player Suarez converted his hat-trick with one of the goals of this, or any other, season. Glen Johnson's long clearance to the half-way line broke to Suarez, who moved the ball out of his feet before brilliantly lobbing Ruddy from all of 45 yards for his 11th league goal of the campaign.

Three-nil up, Dalglish quickly afforded his star striker a deserved standing ovation from the travelling Kop as he and Gerrard were given an early rest ahead of the cup final.

The win kept Liverpool hot on the heels of city rivals Everton, but more importantly, it provided a fillip ahead of the meeting with Chelsea. The Reds will have another pre-final chance to boost confidence when they entertain Fulham on Tuesday night, but with Suarez in this kind of form, confidence will almost certainly not be an issue.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Would January Arrivals Have Prevented Dire League Form?

By Robert Nevitt

Possession dominated. Twenty-eight shots on goal. Our record score in the "Crossbar Challenge" improved to 30 for the season. Five times as many corners as the opposition. Guilt-edged chances spurned. But still a zero remained next to the word Liverpool on the Kop scoreboard. Then, as it usually does on ‘one of those days’, along came the sucker-punch when the opposition struck to make us pay for our profligacy. 

In brief, that was the match report from Liverpool’s clash with West Bromwich Albion. But, in truth, the same small paragraph could have been used for any of the dozen games in which the Reds have failed to win in the league at Anfield this season. In yet another 'one of those days', we threw everything at Roy Hodgson’s men, including the kitchen sink, so much so that if it had taken place in a ring in Las Vegas, the referee would have stepped in and ordered the Baggies back to their corner long before they staged the ultimate version of a daylight robbery.

Despite our unparalleled success in the cups this season, Saturday’s defeat was the latest of a distinctly poor league campaign. Odemwingie’s winner made it 7 defeats out of our last 10 league games, whilst we’ve only amassed 12 points from a possible 45 since the turn of the year. Only already-relegated Wolves have had a worse record in that period.

The reasons for the dire run? Well, we could go on for hours. Lack of goals would obviously be the main gripe, with the performances of our summer signings another. The impact of the season-ending injury which midfield lynchpin Lucas Leiva picked up at Chelsea in November would also have to be taken into account, whilst, while I am not an advocate of the Dalglish Out campaign, criticisms would have to be aimed at King Kenny for some of the strange tactics or decisions which he has applied at times.

All reasons would be valid and there’s no doubt people more knowledgeable about the beautiful game than me, would add many more. For me though, whilst it isn’t strictly a reason for our awful league form, something which hasn’t helped our cause is our failure to flex our muscles in the January transfer market.
Even before Christmas, things were far from perfect, with a number of points dropped due to missed chances or ‘off-days’. With Lucas already ruled out for the season, things got worse as 2012 approached, with the news that star striker Luis Suarez had been handed an 8-game ban for his “racial” spat with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

When the transfer window opened on New Year’s day, we all expected at least one arrival to help cover the losses of Lucas and Suarez, and to improve our goalscoring record. But, the signing(s) never came. Instead, we were told there was no value in the market and our squad was fine. So, when Sky Sports’ Jim White excitedly proclaimed that the transfer window had been slammed shut, we were left, disappointingly, with no new faces.

Since then, away from the cup competitions, we’ve found it hard. As well as the continued lack of goals, we’ve started to ship them at the other end. Just like winning, losing becomes a habit and one defeat has turned into two, three, four.... all the way up to the current seven out of 10. And whilst we have been struggling following our failure to buy in January, the Premier League has seen a number of the new arrivals come to the fore.

In our last game of 2011, we beat Newcastle United 3-1 under the Friday night lights of Anfield. The result put us into fifth, level on points with fourth placed Chelsea and four points ahead of Alan Pardew’s Geordies. Fast forward to today, we have slumped to eighth, whereas the Magpies sit comfortable in fourth, a mammoth 18 points in front of us. That is a 22-point swing in only 15 matches.

One of the reasons for Newcastle’s superb form and likely top-four finish is Pardew’s acumen in the transfer market. Already punching above their weight at Christmas mainly thanks to the goals of Demba Ba, Pardew didn’t rest on his laurels. Instead, in January he spent big money on another Senegalese striker, Papiss Demba Cisse. What has happened since has been remarkable, with Cisse netting 11 goals in 10 games, including a brace against us, to fire the Geordies up the table.

But it’s not just Newcastle who have benefited from a January signing. Across Stanley Park at Everton, David Moyes brought in Nikita Jelavic from Rangers and entered the loan market to take Steven Pienaar back to Goodison. Both have been revelations as the Toffee's have moved above us in the table. Pienaar’s trickery and creativity has added a much-needed bow to Everton’s attack, so much so that the South African was a huge miss for the Blues in our recent FA Cup semi-final clash. Prior to Christmas, goals were hard to come by for Everton, but Jelavic’s ability to convert chances has seen him net 8 times, with one remarkable statistic showing that for each of his goals so far, he has only ever taken one-touch.

Down in South Wales, Swansea City’s January loan-signing of Hoffenheim midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson has also paid off, with the Icelandic international’s seven goals to ensure Brendan Rogers’ side preserved their Premier League status. And at Fulham, Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak has struck 6 times in eight games to have a similar effect. Even Thierry Henry’s brief return to Arsenal heralded three goals and helped the Gunners continue on their upward curve after a disastrous start to the season.

It’s not just January arrivals that have had an impact though, sometimes it's just a new face. Carlos Tevez recently returned from his self-inflicted sabbatical from Manchester City. In his absence, City were starting to look leggy and in danger of falling away in the title race, but the Argentinian’s recent return has seen City revitalised. The goals have started to fly in again, the swagger to their play has returned and suddenly, they are right back in the title race.

So, whilst there are a number of reasons as to why Liverpool have struggled in the league this season, the success other clubs have seen following their forays into the January transfer market, shows that if Dalglish had followed suit, the Reds slide down the table could well have been prevented. The summer signings a club makes often shapes the forthcoming season, whereas a January signing can offer fresh impetus to a struggling squad or provide a welcome boost to a team looking for honours.

In recent years we have benefited with, the likes of Agger, Mascherano, Suarez and, to a lesser extent, Carroll, all arriving in January and helping the club to a strong second half of the season. If it’s not a signing, the introduction of younger players to the squad can also have the same effect, as seen with Flanagan and Robinson last season.

The fact that no-one arrived in January to provide fresh impetus when we were beginning to struggle, and we haven’t really seen the youngsters come in and freshen it up, are, I believe, major factors as to why the torrid league form is continuing.?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Liverpool 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: Wasteful Reds Pay The Price Yet Again

Roy Hodgson made a winning return to Anfield as his West Bromwich Albion side staged a daylight robbery to take all three points at Anfield.

But for Liverpool, it was yet another one of those days at home as they dominated the game from start to finish, hit the woodwork twice and squandered several good chances, only to be hit by a late Peter Odemwingie sucker-punch.

Following last weekend's Wembley FA Cup semi-final win over Everton, the doom and gloom which had previously engulfed Anfield following six defeats in seven, seemed to have lifted. With manager Kenny Dalglish insisting pre-match that May's cup final meeting with Chelsea would not have any bearing on the Reds' remaining league games, the Reds boss named a strong side. Pepe Reina returned in goal following his three-game suspension, with Jose Enrique, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez all recalled. Skipper Steven Gerrard was absent with a hamstring injury, whilst up-front Dalglish continued with the Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez partnership.

The Reds started on the front foot, dominating possession before wasting their first opportunity of the afternoon on 10 minutes, when good work from Suarez saw the Uruguayan tee up Kuyt, who dragged a shot wide of the far post when he should have at least made visiting keeper Ben Foster work.

The home side then saw an appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Neil Swarbrick when Maxi fell after apparent contact with West Brom defender Billy Jones.

The Reds continued to attack forcing a number of corners, whilst Carroll headed wide and Maxi fired a volley high and wide after Foster had denied Suarez.

To that point, the visitors had hardly ventured into their opponent's half, but when they did on 28 minutes, they very nearly took the lead. Jonas Olsson's long ball forward was cushioned down well by Shane Long, for Chris Brunt to poke a volley towards goal, only for Reina to pull off a fantastic one-handed save.

Minutes later, defender Liam Ridgewell should have done better from a corner when he fired straight at Reina from only six yards out, before normal service was resumed when Liverpool defender Daniel Agger saw his goalbound shot well kept out by Foster.

Soon after the restart, the Reds went even closer to opening the scoring when Jordan Henderson's effort from 20 yards smashed against the Baggies' bar before rebounding off Foster's back and away to safety.

More chances went begging through Suarez, Maxi and Carroll before the West Brom woodwork was shaking again when Kuyt's angled shot beat keeper Foster but rebounded off the far post and away from danger.

By now, it was all Liverpool with efforts raining down on the visitors goal. In an attempt to break the deadlock, Dalglish threw on Craig Bellamy and Stewart Downing as he looked to inject a bit more pace to the Reds' attack.

But, just as it looked a matter of time before the Reds finally scored, Anfield was stunned by Odemwingie's sucker-punch.

There seemed little danger when Glen Johnson was in possession midway in his own half, but when the England defender dallied he was dispossessed by Youssouf Mulumbu. The ball broke for Odemwingie who had a clear run on goal before he clinically fired past Reina from the edge of the box to net his 11th of the season.

Shocked by the goal, Liverpool looked to find a way back into the game. But, aside from long shots and a barrage of corners, the visitors held firm to record their first win at Anfield since 1967 and give Hodgson, who received a warm reception from the Kop despite his disastrous spell as boss, a satisfying victory.

For Dalglish, it was the latest in a season of Anfield off-days. As a cup side, Liverpool are unparalleled this season, but with only five victories in 17 league games at home, the Reds' wastefulness in front of goal has been their undoing. Victory at Wembley on May 5th would leave the Reds with two trophies this season, but their current league position of 8th, one which could get worse before the season is out with 14th position only four points adrift, means an end of season inquest will be held.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Semi-Final musings and a Rant!

When my alarm clock went off at 4:30am on Saturday morning, I thought to myself, “I must be mad”. But just under 10 hours later, the sight of Andy Carroll’s 87th minute header nestling in the back of Tim Howard’s net made the ridiculously early start all worthwhile. 

In keeping with most semi-final days that I can remember, the weather was kind to us with the sun beating down on North London. As we headed down the M1, the sheer amount of Blues outnumbering the Reds was a worry, but once in and around Wembley, we soon saw that there were as many travelling Kopites as there were Evertonians. (The Blues will no doubt say this was because most of our supporters flew in from Oslo!).

A couple of pre-match pints and sing-songs in the jam-packed Wembley Tavern were followed by a walk down Wembley Way, before we made our way into the ground. As is probably the case in 99.9% of the seats in the impressive stadium, our view from block 511 was top notch, perfectly placed behind the goal, the one where the goals were later scored.

Leading up to kick-off, it was hard not to shed a tear as both sets of supporters united to impeccably observe the minute’s silence for the 96 Hillsborough victims and, of course, the late Gary Ablett, a cup winner with both clubs.

As for the game itself, Kenny’s starting line-up was a bit of a surprise. We had all wanted Agger to start, but it was a bit of a shock to see Enrique make way for him. It was good though to see Dalglish reward Carroll for his winner at Blackburn Rovers by naming him in attack.

Going into the game, Everton’s recent fine form saw many people view them as pre-match favourites, and I think, apart from the opening 10-15 minutes, it had an impact on the first half. The Everton midfield of Osman, Fellaini and Gibson all exerted an air of confidence about their play, albeit without putting us under a great deal of pressure, whilst we were poor. We dropped off to leave too big of a gap between our defence, midfield and attack, whilst the likes of Downing, Henderson and Spearing all struggled to make any sort of impact on the game.

Everton’s reward came on 24 minutes, when the horrendous defensive mix-up between Carragher and Agger, saw Jelavic presented with a gift, which the impressive striker finished clinically.

But, whatever Kenny said to the lads at half-time, it worked, as we came out with all guns blazing. Our defensive line pushed higher up the pitch, forcing Cahill back, which in-turn left Jelavic isolated. We also improved our attacking play as Downing, who had switched flanks in the closing minutes of the first-half, finally showed some belief and got at Baines, whilst Spearing and Gerrard wrestled control of the midfield. Carroll, who put in an impressive all-round display, could, and probably should, have had a hat-trick, whilst Suarez’ desire, movement and trickery caused the Toffees’ defence, and Heitinga in particular, no end of problems.

As many Blues have pointed out since Saturday, it took a mistake for us to get back on level terms, but the fact of the matter was Distin’s poor backpass happened as a result of our change of philosophy. By forcing the play, we were able to apply more pressure on the Everton defence and thus panicked Distin into his error. Numerous times in the first half, Distin and Heitinga were able to pick the ball up from the same position, turn and advance to the halfway line before any of our players got near them.

After the equaliser there was only going to be one winner, though extra-time did look a distinct possibility. Kenny has received alot of criticism over the past few months for some of his tactics and selection, but I think he deserves a bit of credit for getting his subs spot-on on Saturday. First he recognised that Henderson was getting lots of possession down the left but not really doing anything with it, so brought on Maxi, a player who offers more guile and goal threat. He then introduced the pace, directness and hunger of Bellamy to stretch a weary Everton defence, whilst also keeping faith with Carroll.

The plan worked when Carroll rose to meet Bellamy’s perfectly weighted cross with three minutes to go. Maxi should have put a more realistic look to the scoreline when he hit the post but it mattered not as Everton offered little attacking threat in stoppage time, just as they had done for the previous 90 minutes.

Gleefully we walked down Wembley Way, though having to wait under the bridge at the bottom as police only let a few fans through to Wembley Tube station at a time, wasn’t much fun. With Liverpudlians celebrating, one Evertonian took umbrage and retaliated with repeated shouts of “Redsh*te” and “Murderers”. Luckily, despite no segregation, there wasn’t any trouble. However, I worry that won’t be the case when we are in the same ridiculous situation with Chelsea fans in early May.

A win always makes the trip home more bearable and this was the case again, despite my dodgy directions sending us on a tour of the outskirts of London before we saw the M1 again. A stop off at one of the services saw both Reds and Blues mixing amicably, something which perfectly summed up the day.

However, the day was slightly soured by a very small minority of our fans, and I repeat a SMALL MINORITY. Here comes the rant...

When entering the ground, we noticed something going on with a few police officers. It turned out some Reds were trying to get in without tickets. Their mates would scan in the ticket, and then when it was accepted, two or three lads would try and jump the turnstile. Correctly, the Police stopped them going in and arrested them. We thought nothing more of it until the match kicked off. It was then that we realised that part of the front row of our block was overcrowded. With everyone standing up, it was hard to see, but there were about 15 people in the vicinity of 5 seats. When the steward came over to sort it out, he had no control of the situation and eventually let it go.

Now, don’t get me wrong, on the grand scheme of things, those extra 10 or so people weren’t causing any great problems, as modern-day stadiums are a relatively safe environment. But, the thing that annoyed me was the principal of the matter. Twenty-three years earlier I was at Hillsborough for the FA Cup semi-final where 96 Reds never returned home due to overcrowding in the middle pen of the Leppings Lane terrace. In an emotional scene on Saturday, everyone inside Wembley perfectly observed the minute’s silence in memory of the 96 poor souls, and the vast majority of us held aloft the S*N protests, whilst chanting for the Justice that the victims’ families are still searching for.

Joining in with the tribute and the chants were these scallies on the front row who, no older than 17, had obviously got in to Wembley without a ticket. Talk about hypocritical! They wanted to see the game, b*llocks to the consequences. The same thing happened in Athens in 2007. Reds fans got in without tickets, meaning there was no room for the people who had valid ones, like me and my brother. We, as Liverpool fans, should know more than anyone the consequences of overcrowding. Yes, we all want to see the game, but to do so you must buy a ticket. If you haven’t got one, stay away. *RANT OVER*

Apart from that though, it was a cracking day and I look forward to doing it all again in three weeks time.

“We’re On the March with Kenny’s Army....!”

Monday, April 16, 2012

Liverpool 2-1 Everton: Carroll Sends Reds Back To Wembley - Again

With one swish of his ponytail, Andy Carroll repaid a large chunk of his record-breaking £35million transfer, as his 87th minute header sent Liverpool into the FA Cup final.

Since his British record transfer from Newcastle United last season, Carroll has struggled to adapt to life at Anfield. But, after heading a late winner at Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, the big striker was at it again at Wembley to settle a pulsating Merseyside derby.

With both sides differing form of late, Everton unusually went into the game as slight favourites. Apart from the cup-tied Steven Pienaar, manager David Moyes was able to field a strong line-up, with England defender Phil Jagielka left on the bench. For Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish sprung a surprise by naming fit-again Daniel Agger at left-back in place of Jose Enrique, whilst midweek two-goal hero Maxi Rodriguez had to make do with a place on the bench. With both Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni both suspended, third-choice Brad Jones took his place in the Reds' goal.

With Sunday marking the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives, both sets of fans impeccably observed a minute's silence, one which was also dedicated to Gary Ablett, who died earlier this year and remains the only player to have won the cup with both Merseyside clubs.

In a lively start to the game, Reds' midfielder Jay Spearing fired narrowly over after good work by Carroll, before Leighton Baines curled a free-kick onto the top of the net for the Blues.

Martin Skrtel, who scored at Wembley in the Carling Cup final in February, was next to go close when Everton keeper Tim Howard stopped the defender's left foot strike on 13 minutes. But slowly Everton started to force Liverpool back and were soon rewarded with the opener.

A punt upfield saw the ball bounce on the edge of the Liverpool box. There was seemingly no danger until both Agger and Jamie Carragher waited for the other to clear. Frantically, Carragher tried to lash the ball clear, but instead fired the ball straight at Tim Cahill and into the path of Nikita Jelavic. There was a hint of offside, but the Blues forward kept his calm to expertly sidefoot the ball past Jones to send the Toffees' faithful into raptures.

The Reds attempted to raise their game, but Everton kept control, with Jelavic close to doubling his account when he curled a free-kick only a few yards wide.

Throughout the first-half Liverpool had struggled to find any sort of rhythm in their attacking play, but within a minute of the restart it was clear Dalglish had demanded more of a cutting edge.

Stewart Downing, now operating down the right flank, sped past Baines before delivering an inviting cross to the far post, from which Carroll headed wide when it looked easier to score.

With the Reds noticeably playing 10 yards further forward than in the first period, they were able to apply more pressure on Everton, a tactic which brought about the equaliser on 62 minutes.

Under pressure from Luis Suarez, Sylvain Distain's attempted backpass fell well short, allowing Suarez to nick possession and bear down on goal. The Uruguayan has had plenty of critics for his finishing this season, but as Howard came out of his goal, the Reds number seven coolly slotted the ball into the net with the outside of his right foot.

Liverpool were now in the ascendancy. Minutes later an almost identical move saw Suarez break free down the left, before centering for Downing, whose shot was charged down. Reds captain Steven Gerrard had a goalbound volley blocked, whilst Carroll fired narrowly wide from the edge of the box.

With another goal not forthcoming, Everton were still very much in the game and they displayed their threat when Jelavic fired a left-foot shot into the side-netting.

The pattern of the game was summed up as Moyes made a defensive substitution when bringing on Seamus Coleman for Magaye Gueye, whilst Dalglish bolstered his attacking options by throwing on Maxi and Craig Bellamy.

The change looked to have worked for the Reds when the ball fell to Carroll eight yards out, but the striker's poor effort trickled wide.

But, with three minutes remaining, the big striker, whose all round game was good, finally got his name on the scoresheet.

Bellamy's corner drifted out to the left, where Gerrard was cruelly brought down by Coleman, who was lucky to stay on the field having already been booked. Welsh international Bellamy took his time with the free-kick before delivering a perfect clipped ball into the six yard box from which Carroll rose above Marouane Fellaini to divert the ball home with the back of his head.

Having seen it all before in previous Merseyside derbies at Wembley, Everton's supporters soon headed for the exits as Maxi nearly made it three when he struck a post after Suarez had once again led the Toffees' defence a merry dance.

There was hope for the Blues when four minutes of injury time were signalled, but, as had been the case for most of the game, they failed to test Jones in the Liverpool goal, with the stopper only called into action to catch occasional crosses.

Despite all the criticism regarding their poor league form, the final whistle heralded a second cup final appearance of the season for the Anfield side. Without European involvement this season, the Reds started the campaign with a maximum of 51 games to play. The fact that they will play all fifty-one games is a credible achievement. A top four finish may make more financial sense to owners FSG, but Dalglish and the Anfield faithful now have a domestic cup double in sight.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Today, as you will know, marked the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. It is often said that the grievances that remain from that day are ones that should easily transcend trivial football club rivalries. And so they should. But it occurs to me more and more that this isn't actually correct enough. 

It shouldn't just transcend mere football rivalries - it should surpass sport altogether. Hillsborough isn't really a matter of sport - or certainly not exclusive to it - at all. It just so happens that the events occurred at a sporting event. That surely is the only connection. (Or at least it should be - the victims, as well the surviving Liverpool fans, were smeared against largely because they were football fans. Certainly Margaret Thatcher took a particular dislike towards people who followed the game.)

It was and remains fortunate for the authorities that the disaster did take place at a sporting event. Had something similar somehow happened at a supermarket or, perhaps a better example, the Royal Ascot, then it is doubtful that those fighting for justice would be as maligned a force as they have been (though it should be said they are swelling in number all the time).

This is why, you see, I get quite frustrated when people say any football fan wrong to neglect (and in many cases actually taunt) those that 1989 affected - again not because they are wrong but rather that they do not go nearly far enough.

Hillsborough was an injustice against people - ordinary people - who died because of the shocking mismanagement of those supposedly responsible for their well-being. It was a crime against people and thus people - not just Liverpool fans or football fans or fans of sport - should be the ones who call for the official recognition and apology - and whatever suitable compensation that naturally follows from that - from the guilty parties and those in government today.

We can be grateful that this is now starting to happen to a limited extent, but still the language needs to change from 'all football fans' to 'all people'. The coverage needs to remain on the front pages not the back ones. I say this not only because it would do untold help for the cause but because to carry on otherwise hugely misrepresents - and thus underestimates - the scale of the wrongdoing on that fateful day in April.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Following the tragic events at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989, football rightly took a back seat.

Intense rivalries were cast aside, as clubs from all corners of the world offered their sympathy and support to Liverpool Football Club and paid their respects to the 96 poor souls who had lost their lives on the Leppings Lane terrace. As our neighbours, Everton Football Club were at the forefront of this.

Coming from the same city, most Evertonians were either related to or knew many of the Reds whom never made it home from that fateful football match. The excitement of winning their own FA Cup semi-final against Norwich City quickly paled into insignificance as the tragic news from Sheffield filtered through. Rather than basking in the glory of reaching Wembley, they instead shared our grief. In the days that followed, they acted like a big brother and offered many a shoulder for us to cry on. When I visited Anfield with my family to lay flowers on the Anfield pitch, I was touched by the fact that there was as much blue, as there was red in the thousands of scarves and flowers on show.

On May 3rd 1989, when it was deemed as time for Liverpool to return to competitive action, there wasn’t a more fitting place for us to get back playing, apart from Anfield, than at Goodison Park. Already known as the ‘Friendly’ derby, the term took on a new meaning as flags were paraded around the pitch displaying messages of “Thanks” from Liverpudlians to their Evertonian counterparts.

Accompanied by my Dad, I was perched upon a barrier in the Lower Bullens stand. Sitting next to me was an Evertonian, about 11 years old, the same age as I was. Both he and his dad asked if we were OK following the tragic events we had witnessed 18 days previous, then both offered their support and sympathy. As the two sets of teams walked solemnly onto the pitch and observed an emotional minute’s silence, the lad and I swapped scarves and proudly held aloft the colours of our ‘rivals’.

Only two and a half weeks later, the sides met again at Wembley in the FA cup final. Over 82,000 fans used the occasion to display to the world a city united in mourning. Chants of “Merseyside” continuously echoed around the famous old stadium, whilst Gerry Marsden’s rendition of "You’ll Never Walk Alone" left grown men in tears. Though there was obviously disappointment with the fact that their team lost a thrilling match, but even Everton fans must have thought it fitting that the Reds lifted the cup. In truth though, the true winners that day were not just the team in Red, but the whole city of Liverpool.

That though proved to be the pinnacle in the relationship between Liverpool and Everton. In the 23 years since, relationships between the two clubs have strained. The friendly rivalry, which was once built on mutual respect for the other, has sadly disappeared, instead replaced by a disturbing undercurrent of hate.

Many parts of the media still portray the ‘Friendly’ aspect, with TV cameras always able to find the obligatory derby picture of a Red sitting in the Gwladys Street or a Blue on the Kop. But, the reality is that it is happening less and less nowadays. Granted, this is partly due to the changes football has seen since Hillsborough; with all-seater stadia, segregation, season tickets and no paying on the gate all making it harder for opposing fans to mix. But a simpler, and more worrying reason, is that the two sets of fans no longer get on. The togetherness and chants of “Merseyside” which could be heard at Wembley in ’89 have gone, replaced with exchanges of vitriol between the opposing sets of supporters.

The Reds label the Blues as ‘Bitters’, due to the fact that the Toffees are quick to blame 'the Redsh*te', as they call us, for anything and everything, mainly the fact that they were unable to participate in the European Cup in the mid-1980’s, a competition they would probably have won, due to the European ban inflicted on English teams following the events at Heysel in 1985. The self-proclaimed ‘People’s club’ view us as smug, jealous, living-in-the-past and claim most of our fans are glory-hunting daytrippers from Norway.

The fact that both clubs operate at different ends of the financial spectrum only adds to the rivalry. Whilst Liverpool have, even during the debt-ridden Hicks and Gillet era, splashed record amounts of cash on a number of players, Everton have had to work with a tight budget. Trophy-wise, Liverpool have won everything but the Premier League in the last 10 years, whilst the Blues from across Stanley Park haven’t got their hands on silverware since their FA Cup win of 1995.

On the pitch, the fixture has seen more dismissals than any other in the Premier League era, whilst former Reds’ boss Rafael Benitez did little to help relations between the clubs when he labelled Everton as a ‘small club’. Throw in the fact that Everton have a number of ex-Manchester United players and sold their “lifelong blue” star striker to the Liverpool’s arch-rivals from down the East Lancs Road, and the recipe for dislike is complete.

Such is the current hostility between Liverpool and Everton, Saturday’s FA Cup Semi-final will kick-off at the ridiculously early 12:30pm, in a bid to reduce the amount of time in which alcohol can be consumed and ultimately reduce the likelihood of any potential trouble.

But, it shouldn’t be like this.

With the Aintree Grand National taking place on the same day as the Wembley showdown, the eyes of the sporting world will be on the city of Liverpool. In a story more akin to "If Carlsberg did Scouse sporting weekends..", the weekend also marks the 23rd anniversary of that tragic day at Hillsborough, with Anfield holding it’s annual memorial service on Sunday afternoon.

So for one day, it would be nice if both Liverpudlians and Evertonians cast aside their current hatred for one another. It may be too much to ask for us all to unite and break out into chants of “Merseyside, Merseyside”, but a derby day minus the hostility and all the sickening abuse from both sides would be a step in the right direction.

Just like when I swapped scarves with that young Evertonian back in 1989, I can’t think of a better way to pay our respects to the ninety-six.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blackburn Rovers 2-3 Liverpool: Late Carroll Header Settles Ewood Thriller

Andy Carroll headed home a stoppage time winner as 10-man Liverpool triumphed 3-2 in an action-packed encounter at Ewood Park.

In one of the games of the season, Kenny Dalglish's men raced into a two-goal lead in the opening 16 minutes, but then saw stand-in keeper Alexander Doni dismissed after 25 minutes. Replacement Brad Jones saved the resulting penalty with his first touch, but two goals from Blackburn striker Yakubu levelled matters, with Jones lucky not to follow Doni down the tunnel. But, as the game looked destined for a draw, until £35m Carroll stooped to head home the winner.

With one eye on Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Everton, Dalglish made a number of changes to his starting eleven, with Jamie Carragher, Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez all named on the bench, whilst Steven Gerrard was given the night off. In came Glen Johnson after an 8-match absence through injury, whilst Doni continued in goal as Pepe Reina served the second of his three-game suspension.

In a relatively quiet opening 10 minutes, the only real incident saw Reds full-back John Flanagan booked for a challenge on Marcus Olsson. But on 13 minutes, the game came alive.

Carroll did well defensively in his own box before laying the ball off to Martin Skrtel. The Reds' captain for the night then produced one of the passes of the season when his instant 50-yard ball set Craig Bellamy clear down the right. The Welshman advanced into the Rovers box before delivering a perfect cross from which Maxi Rodriguez netted from two yards out.

Within three minutes it was two as the Argentine struck again. Jonjo Shelvey did well to win possession in his own half before advancing to the edge box and forcing Paul Robinson into a save low to his right. Carroll's effort from the rebound was blocked, but fell nicely for Maxi to volley home his sixth goal of the season.

Two-nil up after 16 minutes, Liverpool's army of away support would have been forgiven for thinking the Reds were on-course for a straight-forward victory. But, as has been the case for much of the their season, trouble was not far away.

First, Flanagan was lucky to escape a second yellow card when his late challenge sent Marcus Olsson tumbling. The young right-back then saw a weak back pass allow Rovers' striker Junior Hoilett a clear run to the Liverpool goal, only to be brought down in the box by Doni.

The Brazilian keeper was making only his second Reds' appearance and was all set to play in Saturday's semi-final, but his challenge left referee Anthony Taylor with no option but to show him a red card and thus rule him out of the Wembley showpiece.

Third choice keeper Brad Jones was summoned in place of Flanagan, and with his first touch kept out Yakubu's weak penalty. The former Middlesbrough keeper celebrated by pointing to the sky in memory of his young son Luca who sadly died in November following a long battle with leukaemia.

Now a man light, Liverpool struggled to continue their early domination, with Carroll left isolated as the midfield dropped deep. Ten minutes before the half-time whistle, Blackburn's pressure told as Yakubu rose unmarked to head home David Dunn's inviting free-kick.

Sensing Liverpool were on the ropes, the hosts looked for an equaliser. A superb Martin Olsson was inches away from the head of Yakubu, whilst defender Grant Hanley went close, but the visitors hung on to lead at half-time.

Within a minute of the restart, Liverpool should have restored their two-goal cushion when Carroll somehow headed wide from a vicious Bellamy corner. Fifteen minutes later, the miss looked to be costly as Rovers equalised in comical fashion.

Jones' attempted clearance down field hit the back of Yakubu and spun into the air towards goal. As the Australian keeper backpedalled, he could only parry the ball down into the path of the Rovers striker. As Yakubu headed the ball away, Jones pushed the Nigerian to the floor, with ref Taylor instantly pointing to the spot. The home fans called for a second dismissal, but with Yakubu heading away from goal, Taylor deemed the offence was only worthy of a caution, with extra punishment coming in the shape of Yakubu's leveller from the spot.

With half an hour to play, Rovers looked in the ascendancy and on course for a win to move themselves out of the bottom three. Sensing this, Dalglish shored things up with the introduction of Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique, though their lines looked to have been breached when Carroll inadvertently diverted a header towards his own goal, only for Jones to tip over.

A criticism levelled at Liverpool's recent poor run has been the mental state of the current squad, so Dalglish would have been delighted at how his side dug in and battled despite playing with a man less for more than an hour. With captain Skrtel strong in defence, Jordan Henderson put in a tremendous shift in an unorthodox right wing-back position, whilst Shelvey and Bellamy continually caused Blackburn problems on the break.

Just as it looked as though a draw was on the cards, the Reds struck to take all three points. A late corner was cleared as far as Sebastian Coates who floated a pass into the Rovers box. The retreating Agger brilliantly managed to cushion a header into the path of the on-rushing Carroll, whose flying header beat Robinson high to his right.

For Blackburn, the result means Steve Kean's men remain inside the bottom three. For Liverpool, this was only their second win in nine games, but such was the manner of the victory, the three points should serve to give the Reds' squad a vital boost of confidence ahead of Saturday's crunch Merseyside derby.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Liverpool 1-1 Aston Villa: Suarez Nets But Reds Stutter At Home Again

Luis Suarez headed in an 82nd minute equaliser as Aston Villa became the latest side to leave Anfield with at least a point.

After a run of three successive defeats, Suarez' late header at least stopped the current Reds' rot, but another draw means Kenny Dalglish's men have now failed to win at Anfield in 11 of their 16 league games at home this season.

With goalkeeper Pepe Reina beginning his three-match suspension for his sending-off at Newcastle last weekend, Dalglish gave a belated debut to summer signing Alexander Doni. The Scot also made a tactical change as the Reds reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, with Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey patrolling the centre of midfield, Steven Gerrard on the right and Dirk Kuyt partnering Luis Suarez in attack. With club captain Stilian Petrov battling against acute Leukaemia, Villa boss Alex McLeish named a youthful and inexperienced starting eleven.

After a perfectly observed minutes silence to mark next weekend's 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpool started the game like a team determined to put right the wrongs that were evident in their display on Tyneside six days earlier. Only six minutes had been played when former Villa winger Stewart Downing showed Alan Hutton a clean pair of heels before delivering a teasing ball across goal. At the far post, Kuyt's low shot saw Villa keeper Shay Given just about keep the ball out before diverting it onto his near post and eventually away for a corner.

The visitors though didn't panic and instead took the lead with their first real attack of the game. Former Liverpool left-back Stephen Warnock delivered a deep cross which Doni could only parry into the path of Barry Bannan, who in turn laid the ball off for Chris Herd to brilliantly curl an 18-yard shot into the far top corner.

With the Anfield faithful fearing another frustrating day, the hosts struggled to exert any real pressure on their opponents' goal. They did however have two genuine appeals for penalties turned down by referee Michael Oliver, when first Herd appeared to handle a Suarez cross, then the Uruguayan striker was felled by Alan Hutton when through on goal.

As the half drew to a close, Liverpool eventually upped their game. Reds' skipper Gerrard fired over when well placed in the box, before good work from Suarez and Gerrard resulted in one of the misses of the season as Kuyt fired over from less than six yards out with the goal gaping.

Seven minutes after the break the Reds went even closer to an equaliser. A superb Gerrard delivery from the right found Suarez, whose flicked header hit the inside of the far post, before Given scrambled it away.

A third penalty shout was turned down when Eric Lichaj looked to have handled at the back post when under pressure from Kuyt, before Dalglish threw on Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll as the Reds need for a breakthrough increased. The change nearly worked when Bellamy fired against the outside of the Villa post, though the Welshman will feel he should have done better.

With fifteen minutes remaining, there was finally some good news for the home fans as Daniel Agger returned to first team duty when he replaced Jose Enrique. Since cracking a rib in the Carling Cup final, the influential defender's absence has seen the Reds leaking goals at an alarming rate. As well as his defensive ability, the Dane is also a threat at set-pieces, and only six minutes after entering the fray, he played a major role as the Reds finally breached the Villa goal.

A Bellamy corner was only half-cleared to Gerrard, who delivered another exquisite cross, from which Agger headed onto the bar, the 35th time Liverpool have hit the woodwork this season. But, unlike on the other 34 occasions, this time the ball fell invitingly for Suarez, who nodded in from less than a yard. 

Now sensing victory, Liverpool peppered Given's goal. Carroll should have done better when he headed straight at the Villa stopper, before the Irish keeper did well to keep out a swerving Gerrard effort.

In a rare forage forward, Villa had their own penalty shout turned down when sub Samir Carruthers was clipped by Agger, before Kuyt failed to convert from inside the six yard box for the second time.

The final whistle was met with cheers from the away support as McLeish's men earned a valuable point to move six points clear of the relegation zone. For the home support it was another case of frustration and what might have been.

But, after a run of six defeats in seven games, Suarez' late header at least stopped the rot. Dalglish will now hope his side can build upon the point as they travel to Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night, before Saturday's season defining FA Cup semi-final against Merseyside rivals Everton.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Newcastle 2-0 Liverpool: Cisse makes Reds look like April Fools

Officially, April Fools' Day is supposed to end at noon, yet such was Liverpool's performance in this 2-0 defeat to Newcastle United, that deadline may need extending to around 3.15pm.

As if the manner of the performance wasn't bad enough, to make matters worse for Kenny Dalglish's downbeat side, Pepe Reina's late red card, for throwing his head towards the soon-to-be Oscar nominated James Perch, means the Reds' keeper will miss the Wembley FA Cup semi-final against Merseyside rivals Everton.

After five defeats in six league games, most recently against Wigan Athletic last weekend, bookmakers surprisingly made Liverpool favourites against a Newcastle side, which has been transformed under boss Alan Pardew and lay 8 points ahead of the Reds prior to kick-off. But, after the opening exchanges, the pricing looked to be spot on as the Reds were the quickest of the two sides out of the blocks,

Jonjo Shelvey, who replaced Jordan Henderson in the starting line-up, saw a deflected shot land on the top of Tim Krul's net, whilst the bar was struck when fit-again Craig Bellamy's cross deflected of a defender. With Bellamy and Luis Suarez repeatedly finding gaps, a Steve Gerrard free-kick led to Martin Skrtel heading over from six yards out.

All eyes though were on Liverpool's number nine, Andy Carroll, who was making his first return to St James's Park, or the Sports Direct Arena as it is now called, since his record move last season. Idolised prior to his move to Anfield, Carroll felt the full force of the Geordie faithful as chants of 'Judas' and a chorus of boos accompanied all of his early touches. The ill-feeling towards the former Geordie favourite grew stronger on 9 minutes when, after impressively winning the ball out wide and forcing his way into the box, Carroll went past keeper Krul, but then blatantly threw himself to the floor in hope of winning a penalty. Krul voiced his anger in his former team-mates' direction, whilst referee Martin Atkinson immediately cautioned the big striker.

Carroll was soon involved in the action again as the visitors thought they should have had a penalty. When he rose to meet a Gerrard corner, Toon defender Mike Williamson inadvertently diverted the ball goalwards. As the ball bounced, it appeared to strike the arm of Danny Simpson before the defender cleared away, but despite Liverpool appeals, referee Atkinson waved play on.

On 19 minutes, Liverpool's misery at not being awarded the penalty was compounded as the hosts struck first blood.

If Carroll's £35m move to Liverpool hasn't worked out, the same cannot be said about his £9m replacement as Newcastle's number nine. Since his move from Freiburg in January, Papiss Demba Cisse had notched 5 goals in six games for his new club. When Hatem Ben Arfa waltzed his way to the edge of the Liverpool box, Cisse was waiting at the far post to expertly head home the Frenchman's teasing delivery. From a Liverpool point of view, Ben Arfa should have been closed down and Skrtel could have been tighter to Cisse, but credit must go to the Newcastle striker for the accuracy of his header, which went in off the post and left Reina stranded.

A goal up, the hosts grew in confidence, with their Senegalese front two causing most problems. Demba Ba had a 35-yard shot charged down, whilst Cisse headed narrowly wide after good work by Danny Guthrie. At the other end, Carroll's luck showed no sign of changing as he headed over the bar from inside the six yard box.

Within 60 seconds of the restart, Newcastle nearly found themselves two-up when another Guthrie cross saw defender Williamson head against the post with Reina well beaten. But the home side didn't have to wait long to double their lead, and it was that man Cisse again who was celebrating.

There was some controversy to the goal though, as Cisse looked to be in an offside position when Ba prodded a ball across the Liverpool box. But, with a challenge between John Flanagan and Ben Arfa occurring before the pass reached Cisse, ref Atkinson adjudged Cisse's involvement to be in a different phase of play to Ba's pass, so allowed the striker to step inside Reina before finishing from 3 yards out.

As they headed towards a sixth defeat in seven games, apart from a Suarez shot which was blocked on the line by Perch, Liverpool looked beaten and devoid of any attacking threat. Dalglish looked to instill new ideas by throwing on Henderson, Downing and Kuyt, the latter as a replacement for Carroll, who showed his displeasure at the decision by storming down the tunnel.

There was still time for things to get worse for the Reds though. When Reina fumbled a shot, Perch went in heavy and late on the Liverpool keeper. Reina reacted angrily and after an exchange of words, the Spaniard appeared to headbutt the defender. Perch threw himself to the floor theatrically, but Reina's actions left Atkinson with no choice but to send the keeper off, a decision which means Reina will almost certainly be suspended for the FA Cup semi-final with Everton in two weeks time.

With all three subs used, former Newcastle left-back Jose Enrique had to don the gloves for the final 8 minutes. In the summer, Enrique left Tyneside citing the reason was he wanted to finish inside the top six. With the Geordies now odds-on to finish in at least sixth spot and Liverpool a massive 11 points adrift, the home support took great pleasure in reminding their former player of his past comments.

Since the Carling Cup triumph in late February, Liverpool's league season is deteriorating fast. With less than two weeks before they face in-form Everton at Wembley, Dalglish and his squad need to take a major look at themselves or else David Moyes' men may inflict a further low on what is becoming an increaingly frustrating season.

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