RETURN to your seats and assume the brace position – Liverpool’s season is caught up in extreme turbulence.
While it is still too early to say the campaign has crashed and burned following a fourth successive defeat, the path of this particular flight is heading perilously close to a disastrous ending.
Today you should have been reading about the Reds restoring a sense of hope, enjoying the analysis of a victory that could have restored momentum, spread belief and fired optimism once more.
Maddeningly, though, we are pouring over the wreckage of another dispiriting defeat that was largely self inflicted; of all the reverses that have been suffered in the past three weeks, this one, arguably, hurt the most.
From Fabio Aurelio’s glaring miss just before half-time to the Keystone Cop defending in the dying moments, Liverpool fluffed a fabulous opportunity to silence the doubters and Lyon gleefully accepted the invitation to inflict more misery.
So frustrating. Crisis, inevitably, will be a word that is used frequently in the coming days, particularly with Manchester United’s visit looming large on the horizon, but now, more than ever, is a time for clear heads and brave hearts.
What worries most of all, though, is the fact that not for the first time in recent weeks, Liverpool looked dead and dispirited when they conceded that crucial equalising goal to Maxime Gonalons.
In recent years, you would have bet your life on them roaring back but with valid questions over the lack of spirit, unity and direction, that never looked possible; if anything, there was no real surprise when Cesar Delgado pilfered Lyon’s winner.
Now, then, Rafa Benitez needs to draw on all his experience and tactical acumen and, above all, pray for some good fortune to arrest this dramatic slide; the natives, after all, are starting to get restless.
It was inevitable Benitez would shuffle his pack following a performance which was well below the standards expected but while some changes were entirely expected, there were a couple of surprises, too.
Martin Skrtel’s omission was to be expected following his error-strewn display in the North East, while it was no shock the axe fell on Ryan Babel, but the one eye-opening entry on the teamsheet came at right-back.
A tweaked groin in training prevented Glen Johnson’s inclusion and that opened the door for Martin Kelly to become the second Academy graduate in the space of four days to be handed a debut in testing circumstances.
But, similarly to Jay Spearing at Sunderland, if Kelly had any nerves, they were impossible to detect – one lunging tackle to dispossess the marauding Aly Cissokho inside the first 10 minutes showed his appetite for the fight.
His good work continued throughout; gaining confidence with each successful pass and clean challenge.
There were also two terrific crosses either side of half-time – one, delivered with his right foot, teed up Fabio Aurelio, the other picked out David Ngog – to show there was more to his game than just tackling. He thoroughly deserved his standing ovation.
That Liverpool were not trailing by the time of Kelly’s first significant intervention, though, was only down to some inspired keeping from Pepe Reina, the Spaniard plunging to his left to keep out Lisandro’s bullet header after Cissokho had scampered free.
If only a few further up the field could match Reina’s consistency; during a fraught opening to the campaign, he has done as much as anyone to try and turn the tide, always there to snuff out the first sign of danger.
Had Liverpool fallen behind at such an early stage, there is every chance they would have found it extremely difficult to mount any kind of fightback, as those already low levels of confidence would have plummeted even further.
Fortunately, Reina’s thinking was as bright as the jersey he wore and that timely intervention enabled his players to be able to shake off losing Gerrard, whose movement appeared restricted from the first whistle.
Many will have feared another grim evening was on the agenda when Gerrard walked gingerly to the tunnel but, rather than wallow in self-pity, it actually seemed to be the moment when many felt enough was enough.
The Kop found its voice, there was a snap in tackles and a fizz in the passing once again; true, it was nothing that you would describe as ‘vintage Liverpool’ but it was a sign that there was a response to the manager’s pre-match challenge.
When Yossi Benayoun put the finishing touch to a move that was started by a Jamie Carragher tackle, it seemed as if the Reds had laid the foundations to victory. But, for some puzzling reason, they retreated into their shell.
And it all went wrong. Badly wrong. Lyon had been poor for the first 45 minutes and looked a pale imitation of the side that is carrying all before them once again in France but they emerged for the second period with the appetite for destruction.
You didn’t need the shrewdest football brain to realise that anxiety would eventually creep into Liverpool’s play the longer they only had a one-goal lead and the nerves filtered from pitch to stand and back again.
There is no stadium in Europe that can match Anfield for atmosphere on a big Champions League night but there are times when the weight of expectation becomes a burden on the players’ shoulders and that was the case here.
Instead of running the extra yard and working tirelessly to protect the slender advantage, strides shortened, passes missed their target and the situation which everyone was dreading unfolded.
A chorus of boos, inevitably, greeted the final whistle but then there was an outbreak of applause; this, you see, is no time for rebellion. Not yet anyway.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina; Kelly (Skrtel 74), Carragher, Agger, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Kuyt, Gerrard (Aurelio 25), Benayoun (Voronin 85); Ngog.
LYON (4-4-2): Lloris; Cris (Gonalons 43), Toulalan, Makoun, Cissokho; Reveillere, Kallstrom, Pjanic, Ederson (Gomis 61); Govou, Lisandro (Delgado 86). Goals: Benayoun (41), Gonfalons (72), Delgado (90 +1). Bookings: Cris (34), Ngog (45), Govou (55), Reveillere (90)
REFEREE: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
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From LFChistory.net - Last time Liverpool lost four games in a row:
22.03.1987 0 - 1 Tottenham White Hart Lane 1st Division
28.03.1987 1 - 2 Wimbledon Anfield 1st Division
05.04.1987 1 - 2 Arsenal Wembley League Cup Final
11.04.1987 1 - 2 Norwich Carrow Road 1st Division