“IN my era, there was no better football club in the world. These supporters have seen some of the best football ever.”
Those were the poignant words of Blackpool manager Ian Holloway early yesterday evening, as he tried to explain what it meant for him to be in charge of a team that had beaten Liverpool Football Club – once the doyens of the beautiful game – at Anfield.
When Holloway was playing, Liverpool collected league championships with glorious regularity and added other pieces of silverware at will; they were a team that made the people of their city proud and puff out their chests.
How things have changed. How the mighty have fallen. Liverpool are no longer the best football club in the world, more a laughing stock that lurches from one calamity to another; according to the current Premier League table, they aren’t even the best team in the city.
Anger, frustration, bitterness and despair now rule the red half of Merseyside and those emotions are only going to become more acute the longer Liverpool remain in this harrowing state of flux – for some, enough is enough.
The sound of The Kop chanting ‘Dalglish’ in the final moments of a 2-1 defeat to Blackpool that has shaken the foundations of this footballing relic was the clearest sign that a significant number have lost faith in the current regime and it is not hard to see why.
Having gorged themselves on a menu in recent years that has included a 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid, a win against Inter Milan in the San Siro and a 4-1 dismantling of Manchester United, supporters want change if the future is going to consist of the slops of the last month.
You may raise an eyebrow at the ‘slops’ reference but think about it. Tumbling out of the Carling Cup against League Two opposition; failing to raise a gallop in bore draws with Birmingham and Utrecht; losing to a poor Manchester United side – it is damning evidence.
Roy Hodgson has not helped his cause with some odd statements and those who have been ambivalent towards him from the start now want quick, decisive action taken to stop the rot spreading any further.
But ask yourself this: is Hodgson to blame for everything that is currently wrong with Liverpool? Absolutely not. Would bringing in Kenny Dalglish suddenly catapult Liverpool from a basement battle to a title fight? Again, absolutely not.
Hodgson might appear to be a rabbit caught in the headlights right now but you have to accept he is working with a squad which is short of quality and is trying to go about his daily business while the club’s owners continue to be the worst type of nuisances.
Everything starts from the top and, as more demonstrations against Tom Hicks and George Gillett proved yesterday, Liverpool will remain in dire straits until they have been moved on – one thing they can’t be blamed for, though, is the performance which was produced here.
Starting slowly and getting progressively worse, it defied belief that Christian Poulsen emerged for the second half, having plodded his way around in the opening period, never once threatening to make a significant contribution.
To think he is Javier Mascherano’s replacement. All summer everyone knew Mascherano would be leaving and it is now being shown up precisely what he did for the team; Poulsen is older and slower and can’t provide the infectious energy that Argentina’s captain did.
Yet it would be wrong to say he was the main reason for Liverpool remaining in the bottom three – Glen Johnson, after all, was culpable for both the goals that led to the Reds’ worst day at home in 18 years to continue his wretched form.
Supporters of a certain vintage can remember only too well the torrid start to the 1992-93 campaign when Liverpool slipped to the cusp of the relegation places following three consecutive September defeats against Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Wimbledon.
There were howls of disbelief on the Kop the day John Fashanu, Robbie Earle and company raced into a 2-0 lead – they eventually won 3-2 – but this, without doubt, surpassed the events of that dreaded day.
Quite frankly, the first 45 minutes were embarrassing. Bar a spirited opening to the second period, the rest wasn’t much better. Blackpool played with the swagger and confidence of a side that had nothing to fear while Liverpool, by contrast, were clueless and lacked direction on and off the field.
Trailing to a Charlie Adam penalty, needlessly given away by the completely out of sorts Johnson, the manner in which Liverpool fell further behind was truly alarming, as Blackpool effectively walked through their defence before Luke Varney smashed in from 10 yards.
All credit to Blackpool. Refusing to panic when Sotirios Kyrgiakos pulled one back, they mirrored the style of their enthusiastic manager and richly deserved the ovation they were given by The Kop at the final whistle but what will live longest in the memory is the booing which preceded it.
Anfield has turned on its managers before – think back to 1994 when Graeme Souness saw Liverpool’s FA Cup dreams ended by Bristol City or 2004 when Charlton Athletic hammered the final nail into Gerard Houllier’s coffin – but never so soon.
Hodgson has only had 14 games to try and steady the ship – that, after all, is what Liverpool’s board wanted in the summer when they parted company with Rafa Benitez – but the ship is listing so badly now it is almost capsizing.
If it is not to fully submerge, Hodgson absolutely needs certain players to recapture their sparkle ahead of the next Premier League game but, above all, he needs to oversee a win at Goodison Park to keep his head above water and Liverpool away from the abyss.
Then again, even if he does that, Liverpool will still be a million miles from the club which Holloway talked so fondly about. Can it get any lower? We will find out on October 17.
“We were anxious to get back on track, but no words or anything I can say will change things or make it any better.” – ROY HODGSON appreciates the depth of unhappiness and frustration on the Red half of Merseyside
“The fans were singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, my dad’s favourite song. He is no longer with us. I was so emotional and singing along with them. To then be applauded off in what is almost the home of football makes the day so special,” – the ever-quotable IAN HOLLOWAY
LIVERPOOL: Reina: Johnson, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Carragher: Meireles, Poulsen (Jovanovic 60), Gerrard, Cole (Rodriguez 89): Kuyt, Torres (Ngog 10). Subs: Jones (GK), Spearing, Kelly, Jovanovic, Lucas..
BLACKPOOL: Gilks: Eardley (Phillips 46), Evatt, Cathcart (Keinan 21), Crainey: Vaughan, Adam, Grandin (Southern 63): Taylor-Fletcher, Campbell, Varney. Subs: Halstead (GK), Ormerod, Slvestyre, Harewood.
GOALS: Adam (29 pen), Varney (45+1), Kyrgiakos (53) .
CARDS: Booked – Reina (45+1), Krygiakos (64)
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Cheshire).
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