WBA (A) - Road Trip!
Posted by Rhi on September 27, 2012, 02:37:50 PM
Five years ago, almost to the day, Sarah, Phil, Emlyn and I had just undertaken a 1300km road trip from Santander to Oporto (and back!) to see the Champion’s League Runners Up play Porto in the group stages of the Champion’s League. It was a poor match, as I recall. Dirk Kuyt scored, and Jermaine Pennant got sent off. But it was an away draw, the weather was glorious, the Super Bock was flowing in gallons, and both Porto and Santander were great cities. A picturesque, if long drive through the mountains got us in between the two – considerably more enjoyable on the way to Porto than the hungover drag back. It was a good trip, though. They always were. Our team was full of top internationals (Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Sami Hyypia, Alvaro Arbeloa), and we approached these games not with hope, but with expectation. And when we didn’t perform, like that night in Porto, it came as a shock.
Yesterday, five years later, with Emlyn half way across the world, Sarah, Phil and I embarked on another adventure. A 2 hour slog down a rain-battered M6. In rush hour. To West Bromwich. To see a team of teenagers play in a cup whose name we couldn’t even remember (Capital One – what the fuck is that all about?). In a tie which couldn’t sell 25,000 tickets at £15 a pop.
How the mighty have fallen.
So yeah, it wasn’t lovely Northern Spain or Portugal. It wasn’t the European Cup. There was no sunshine to be seen. And there was certainly no Super Bock on tap. But West Brom’s got one thing that Porto hasn’t. Chicken tikka and naan bread kebabs.
After stuffing our faces with BBQ Indian food and a quick pint for the non-drivers, we took the short walk from The Vine to The Hawthorns. There were at least 3 occasions where we thought we were going to get run over by a train, or an escaped mental patient was going to jump out with an axe. Apparently they don’t have street lamps in the West Midlands, and the path that leads to the ground is more than a little sketchy.
The game started poorly, with a Brad Jones error costing us an early goal.
“You’re going down with the Villa” and “You’re shit and you know you are” sang the Baggies...
The away end rolled its eyes and sighed, before breaking into song. It wasn’t the best away atmosphere, but there is a real belief amongst the match-going support that Brendan Rodgers’ team is moving in the right direction – from the youth through to the first eleven. Even when a goal down, you can see how we’re trying to play, and how it will be successful. That’s something I’ve not seen in a Liverpool team in several years. An identity, a style, control, flair.
Directed by the supremely talented Nuri Sahin, we slowly got ourselves back into the game. When Ben Foster – who had a poor game all around – saw the ball slip through his hands and in to the back of the net, the writing was on the wall for West Brom. It was still early on, but after Sahin’s goal, they never really looked like getting back into the game. Liverpool kept the ball well, with the youngsters impressing further.
Yesil made his first start, and looked comfortable, quick and intelligent. Robinson has been accomplished each time I’ve seen him play at left back, and Wisdom appears to have become “the new Martin Kelly”, while Kelly himself is still only a relative youngster. While I’m on the subject of Wisdom – the “foul” for which he was booked? Lunacy from the ref, who was once again absolutely appalling. Luckily it didn’t cost us this week, but the recurring theme is becoming more than a little frustrating.
On the left hand side, Assaidi was a constant thorn in West Brom’s side. He’s quick and tricky, and seems to have the delivery too. I like him a lot, and in him and Sterling we have two wingers who offer genuine pace and an unpredictability that has been so often lacking in recent Liverpool squads.
As the second half wore on, and Liverpool dominated possession, we saw Ben Foster almost palm or deflect into his own net a couple of times. The most comical of these was a shot from Yesil which seemed to bounce through Foster’s legs and over the bar! He partially made amends for the poor show with a good stop from short range from the impressive Sebastian Coates, who got on the end of a brilliant Sahin free kick.
Eventually Rogers made a few changes. Pacheco – who had one of his best games for us to date, with plenty of effort and pressing to go with flashes of quality, and the tiring Yesil were replaced by Suso and Jerome Sinclair. The pair hadn’t been on the pitch long when they played a part in a brilliant team goal to win the match. Coates found a bit of space to play the ball to Suso, who drove forward with real authority. Sinclair makes a brilliant run, which drags a defender out of position, and makes the angle for a pass to Assaidi, who looks up and crosses for man of the match Nuri Sahin to tap home.
A slightly nervy last 10 minutes followed, but excitingly, an experienced West Brom side never really looked a threat for a Liverpool team that had an average age of about 13. And an average confidence level that’s through the roof.
It’s hard not to get carried away, and we have to remember that there’s a long way to go before these kids are ready for first team action week in, week out… but it’s promising to see that sort of playing philosophy starting to become embedded back into the team. It’s perhaps even more promising that the Liverpool support seem to have really taken to the Brendan Rodgers bandwagon in recent weeks.
After running the train-track-gauntlet once more, we made it back to the car without any axe-murder-incidents. That almost came as a surprise, as that walk was pretty much made for a horror film. But with a slightly quicker M6 dash northbound, we made it back to Liverpool by midnight, safe in the knowledge that the future’s looking bright. And genuinely looking forward to seeing what this talented group of youngsters serve up in the next round against Swansea.
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