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The win is all that matters

HAVING yielded next to nothing from two magnificent performances, Liverpool produced an absolute stinker of a display at Hull and came away with all three points.

Rarely has the maxim about results and not performances mattering at this stage of the season been so vividly emphasised.

Flowing, attacking football against Chelsea and Arsenal brought Liverpool nothing but a Champions League exit and two dropped Premier League points.

But a disjointed, listless and at times rank bad showing at Hull was the precursor to a vital win which meant Rafa Benitez’s title challengers went back to the top of the table at least until Howard Webb did little to dispel the Reds boss’ theory that Man United have an undue influence on referees.

Had Webb not awarded the most controversial but perhaps the least surprising of Old Trafford penalties then maybe United would not have been able to launch their all too familiar second half comeback and Liverpool could today still be top of the league.

But just as artistic merit counts for little at the business end of the season, so ifs, buts, maybes and what might have beens are about as useful as Alex Ferguson and Sam Allardyce at a sign language conference.

Liverpool cannot afford to allow themselves to be distracted by conspiracy theories or deflated by disappointment no matter how genuine their grievance, all they can do is carry on with the job in hand of continuing to win games in the hope that the pressure will inevitably tell on the leaders.

On Saturday they did exactly that despite never even coming close to hitting the heights of recent weeks and in grinding out a victory they at least ensured that their title hopes remain very much alive, even if the decreasing number of games left to play means that the odds are very much stacked against them.

Hull did everything that you would expect of relegation battlers as they scrapped for every ball, ran their hearts out and made it as difficult as they possibly could for Liverpool to express themselves.

Phil Brown’s tactics may not have been pretty but they were certainly effective during the first half in particular with the Reds unable to perform with any real tempo or muster the kind of collective cohesion which has been a trademark of their play in recent weeks.

Passes went astray with an alarming regularity, tackles were missed and enough defensive mistakes were made to keep Andriy Arshavin in goals from now until the end of the season.

Thankfully, though, for all Hull’s huffing and puffing they did not possess a player of the little Russian’s quality and this meant they were never likely to blow Liverpool’s house down.

When it mattered most, Benitez’s side came up with the kind of moments of quality which decide football matches even though so many of his players were having off days.

Xabi Alonso provided the first just before the interval. His first attempt at scoring from 25 yards may have been totally in keeping with Liverpool’s sloppy showing but his second certainly wasn’t as the Spaniard latched onto his own rebounded free kick and fired an unstoppable half volley past Boaz Myhill.

If the home fans inside the packed KC Stadium feared that Liverpool would be transformed by that goal then they were wrong as performance levels again remained worryingly low during the second half.

Even the numerical advantage caused by the sending off of Caleb Folan for ridiculously lashing out at the out of sorts Martin Skrtel failed to bring too much poise to Liverpool’s game although the visitors did at least begin to keep the ball better than they had done previously.

With increased possession came added pressure and the ever willing Dirk Kuyt made the most of the extra red shirts pushing forward by nodding in from close range to seemingly end Hull’s challenge.

But when Liverpool’s back four again revealed their recently acquired vulnerability, Geovanni took full advantage and Hull were back in the game.

If the Brazilian’s goal did not look too good from a Liverpool perspective at the time, television replays have since highlighted just what a bad one it was to concede with three members of the Reds defence failing to do what is expected of them.

Firstly Alvaro Arbeloa was caught out of position, then Skrtel failed to stop Daniel Cousin from getting to the byline and getting a cross in and finally Emiliano Insua knocked off, allowing Geovanni to slot home.

Against Arsenal in midweek three similar defensive errors had cost Liverpool three goals, fortunately on this occasion they all occurred during the same move and the damage was limited to just one.

Only when Kuyt produced another poacher’s finish was the result put beyond doubt and Liverpool can count themselves slightly fortunate that they were not facing superior opposition on a day when they were well short of their best.

Having said that, in this kind of obstinate and battling form Hull will be nobody’s pushovers in the run in to the end of the season and the increasingly well studied fixture list tells us that the Tigers entertain Manchester United on the last day of the current campaign.

The problem that Liverpool have is that winning their own games is no longer enough and they will probably have to rely on two of United’s opponents coming up with a pair of unlikely victories if their title dreams are to stand any chance of being realised.

The glimmer of hope that still exists comes from the fact that while their title rivals may currently be coming up with the wins they need to keep their challengers at arm’s length, they are not doing so with their usual ease.

Spurs, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Blackburn have all given the reigning champions a run for their money in recent weeks and that is without even mentioning their defeats at the hands of Liverpool and Fulham.

All the Anfield outfit can do is hope that a couple of United’s opponents are able to inflict flesh wounds that are significant enough to turn into a mortal blow but at least there is a vulnerability to Ferguson’s side which indicates that such a scenario, though unlikely, is certainly not impossible.

Results are all that matter now and as long as Liverpool continue to keep up their side of the bargain on that score they will give themselves a chance and that is all that anyone can ask of them at this stage of the season.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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