Liverpool 3 Leeds 1 - Reds rebel against mid table mediocrity
Posted by Barrettski on October 25, 2003, 05:15:35 PM
I've always wondered what it would be like to be a fan of an average side. I?ve imagined what it would be to wallow in mid table mediocrity and hope for a decent cup run and a win in the derby to put a smile on my face. After the Portsmouth game I was practically there. Two of our players had bothered to turn up, the three points went begging and the season was over before our more traditional dismal patch in November.
So it was with a degree of trepidation that I returned to Anfield, knowing full well that if Batty played as he did against United and Smith fulfilled his promise I could well be calling a Villa fan for advice on how to get through the week.
Maybe that?s melodramatic. Leeds are a poor side these days, a pale imitation of the force that once charged through the Champions League. They may have improved in recent weeks, but their league position looks justified. In fact this was probably just the match we needed at this time. Add to that the (premature) return of Michael Owen, the form of Stevie G and a lucky Main Stand sausage roll at half time and the points were safe, surely?
The Liverpool line up looked familiar enough. Owen and Heskey were in front of a midfield of Kewell, Diouf, Gerrard and Smicer. No doubt they would defend flat and attack as a diamond, with Stevie unlikely to drive as far forward as we?d like. Riise and Finnan flanked Hyypia and Biscan at centre back and Dudek completed the team.
If your cup is half full you?ll see the return of the Premiership?s most dangerous striker to link up with the Premiership?s most imperious midfielder, the continued development of the Beckenbauer-esque Igor and attacking combinations on both flanks to rival any team in the league.
However, if your glass is half empty you?ll have spotted the defensive weakness at left back, not helped by a less than confidence inspiring centre back partnership. You?ll also have noted that Diouf?s honeymoon start to the season is over (Portsmouth), that Vladimir can do both Kenny Dalglish and Jimmy Carter impressions with consummate ease and that that we rely too much on Michael?s ability to score. But most of all, you?ll cringe at Emile Heskey in a Liverpool shirt.
Meanwhile Leeds turned up with Smith (suicide blonde) and Viduka (fat boy) upfront with Batty (Venables fan) holding a midfield of Johnson (Seth), Milner (definite potential) and Pennant (Gooner on tour). The defence of Kelly (hernia), Olembe (talent), Matteo (familiar) and Camara (not Titi) completed the 4-4-2 that Reid prefers with Robinson in nets. The bench included Barmby (he?s red, he?s white? etc etc) and Sakho (Diouf?s mate), both of whom featured.
The game kicked off with the Reds attacking the Kop. We?d had heavy rainfall before kick off and so the ball zipped across the bowling green with all the slippery greasiness of a Tory leadership candidate. Much like a pompous Conservative, it didn?t help. Within seconds Stevie had pinged one to Smicer who?d miscontrolled and Heskey had fallen over.
Things improved dramatically though as most of the players found their feet and Liverpool attacked with ambition and purpose. Kewell drove forward down the left, Smicer produced some nice touches and Heskey was on the end of one of a number of crosses. In fact we were putting so many balls into the box (including corners) without scoring that I was wondering if we?d practised them at all in training this week.
Our best chance of scoring seemed to come from running at the Leeds defence. Camara and Kelly looked content to close the channels off and show the inside. Owen, Smicer, Diouf and Kewell all took opportunities to run with the ball, with some success. However, there were few clear cut chances being created and Robinson was only called into action for long range drives from Smicer and Riise. At the other end Viduka had a solitary effort well saved by Dudek.
A goal was coming, you could feel the air of expectancy around the ground (except perhaps in the Annie Road End where the Leeds faithful were busy singing about signing-on and slums). It came from some neat interplay in midfield that culminated with a cross that found Riise in the area. John had made a number of runs into the box and it was no surprise to see him there again. His header guided the ball back to Owen who fired past Robinson. 1-0, which in fairness was scant reward for the possession and territory we?d had.
1-0 at half time would have done but we were about to see the other part of Riise?s make up. I?m sure jockeying, guiding a player wide and not diving in are all part of the schoolboy full back manual. But what are they in Norwegian? A simple ball to Pennant looked defendable with Riise goal side. But he committed his body weight, Pennant dropped his shoulder and turned to head to the goal line with Riise flailing to get a challenge in. The cross was simple and all Smith needed to do was get ahead of Biscan, his sparring partner for the afternoon. This he did, and with Dudek helpless it was 1-1. A mass of Burberry went wild to our left.
Once again it looked like our inability to capitalise on long periods of supremacy might cost us dear. It was time for half time and the lucky sausage roll.
Leeds kicked off the second half towards their Neanderthals. Harsh? Well OK, fair play to them, they sang their hearts out for the vast majority of the game and you can?t say the same of the Kop. Choruses of ?Harry, Harry Who?? were matched with ?Harry, Harry Kewell? from all corners of the ground. It?s lovely when we all sing the same song isn?t it? Ditto ?There?s only one greedy bastard? vs. ?There?s only one Peter Ridsdale?. Fortunately we don?t have a version of ?Marching On Together?, not at home anyway.
Meanwhile, on the pitch we?d entered the dodgy part of the game, the part where we lose our way a little. Maybe the concentration goes, maybe the energy levels are suffering or maybe we?re just missing the experience that a Gary Mac once brought. Whatever it is, it?s not comfortable for the fans. At 1-1 we don?t like to sit back. At 1-1 we don?t like to see the opposition getting back into a game that should already be beyond them and at 1-1 we certainly don?t like to see Viduka with the ball at his feet and only Jerzy to beat. Thankfully the narrow eyed convict pinged his shot close enough to Dudek for him to close his legs and make the save. Collective sighs of relief echoed around L4. Or was it just wind?
It?s at these points in the game I wish someone other than Gerrard would take the game by the scruff of the neck and take some initiative and turn the tide. So it?s congratulations to Stevie Finnan who continued to offer options on the right and provided a new threat. On one such occasion, with Leeds closing the channels once more, he headed goal wards, played a neat one-two with Kewell on the edge but failed to keep his shot down. But it was enough. The players around him seemed energised by the surge and once again a goal seemed to be coming.
By this stage, Murphy was on for Smicer (unidentified injury). It?s good to see the player of the year back, not least for the set piece options he brings to the game. I particularly like the ?right footed 40 yard inswinger to Hyypia that I?ve mis-hit and cunningly fooled the keeper into leaving it, oh I?ve scored?. It was the kind of luck that seals victories. More specifically, it?s the kind of Cudicini / Lehman / Seaman howler that Danny Baker puts onto videos. From my angle it looked like it was hit unintentionally low, evaded a crowd of players and made it through the hands of a late diving Robinson. He?ll be wide awake for most of tonight, but Danny Murphy will count it as one towards the ten he?ll want this season. 2-1.
A one goal lead will never be enough for this team until it matures. I really don?t think we have the experience or the ability to convert a one goal lead into three points like championship sides do. It was therefore heartening to see the Reds continue to attack with some gusto, albeit after another ?dodgy period?. But Leeds offered little and by now Batty, Smith and Co. seemed more enthusiastic about putting in late challenges and picking up yellow cards than turning the game.
Michael Owen was switched for Pongolle on the hour, who definitely added something to the game. We know he has confidence and talent but he also has a strength and resilience to him. In fact he?s possibly harder to knock off the ball than any of our other forwards. Pongolle?s inter play is also good, especially with Kewell who had by now stepped up a gear. A close encounter with the Leeds front row had raised the temperature and the volume inside Anfield and this in turn seemed to fuel his fire. His running off the ball was pulling Leeds out of position and the Denilson step over routine had Kelly looking like a chump and an ageing one at that.
The third goal was part route one and part striking brilliance. Heskey flicked on a long Dudek clearance for Pongolle to chase. If you?d have reversed those names I?d have expected Heskey to give up the chase and for Robinson to have collected, shielded by the chasing defender. But Pongolle chased, overtook the defender (Matteo?), held him off and rifled a stunning drive past the Keeper. How Heskey must have wished he could do that. He probably could if he put his mind to it.
3-1 at the final whistle and enough points in the bag to put us in the chasing pack for fourth place [hark at me with the Villa lingo]. Given our start to the season and the exposed frailities of our squad, it?d be churlish to suggest we deserve more. It?s clear to me that we?re still on one long journey, Zen and Houllier?s Art of Winning a Championship we?ll call it. I wonder if patience will run out before we get there. We may well sign the likes Boumsong and Cisse soon but there are many more things required of this team. Experience is one of them, consistency and passion are two more.
I didn?t call the Villa fan in the end. I think I?ll get through the week OK without his advice, but I think I?ll keep his number just in case.
How the Redmen rated
Dudek: Two quality saves and some safe catches. Helpless and blameless for their goal. Overall a sound performance.
Kirkland: Fabulous to see him warming up
Finnan: Some passes went astray, somewhat uncharacteristically I think but overall a good performance both defensively and going forward. Looking increasingly like value for money.
Hyypia: Imperious in the air, solid in the block and sound in possession and leadng the back line. My only query is cover. As Pennant went past Riise, I knew noone was going to be there or have a hope of getting across. Once again I have to say he looks more comfortable with Henchoz alongside him.
Biscan: Keeping Henchoz out of the side now, possibly for tactical reasons. Biscan can recover better than either Stephane or Sami, which with Riise and Finnan going forward leave the back two less exposed. He?s also a better ball player and less likely to launch balls forward. Today?s performance was sound, despite the goal he had the better of Smith and a few petulant moments from Smith proved as much late on.
Riise: Do you play him or don?t you? Well yes if Carra is out and Vignal has gone. Today was a case in point. He provides long throws, athletic running, an attacking option? and a distinct lack of defensive nouse. Today he was worth a goal at each end, which says it all.
Murphy: Neat and tidy when he came on, flukey goal but the one thing he exposes is the lack of thinking among some (not all) of the other players. He knows where everyone is and which ball needs to be played. He has a footballing brain which we may have missed without realising over the past few weeks.
Gerrard: Imperious and in a rich vein of form. Found a happy balance between Hollywood balls (to Diouf) and crisp balls (Kewell / Smicer) but didn?t seem to have Owen on the same frequency today. Maturing into the first name on the team sheet for me. Man of the Match too.
Diouf: Had a howler against Portsmouth but came back well here. Showed confident running and good tracking back, the hall marks of Diouf?s great start to the season so far.
Kewell: Excellent game and stepped up a gear at the end, the likes of which only Gerrard was worthy of comparison. Always providing a threat and worked well with players coming through notably Finnan?s effort). Didn?t seem likely to score though and one or two crosses / corners were wanting. Overall though this was quality and this season?s success could well depend on him repeating this kind of performance consistently through the winter.
Smicer: Someone mentioned after the game that Vladi would have fitted well into the 1988 team. I agree, he often reflects the performance of the players around him. Today was a good day for him though, some neat touches and with his now customary drive and shot, he?s over due a goal. Not sure what the injury was though.
Owen: Short of match fitness (no surprise) and didn?t connect with Gerrard like he normally does. But, like an aging Sheringham style forward, put him in the right place and he?ll do the business. Still worth a bet for top scorer this season, if only he?d sign that contract before Christmas.
Heskey: Once again, making us play a certain way, you may have guessed I?ve lost patience with him now. It?s like an overdue library book. The fine is huge but if you take it back you have to pay it. Similarly, the loss of face in dropping Heskey after all this time could be huge, but it?s too late now, Ged has his colours tied to the Heskey mast. Personally I?d do it. We won?t win the Premiership playing like Auxerre. We have a ball playing midfield, so why encourage them to lift it up to the big man? If we can have the 2001 Heskey back then maybe, until then noone with ball control that poor should be wearing the shirt.
Pongolle: Great goal, great finish, loved the confidence too. A bit more Premiership nouse and with ten or so games behind him he?ll be a star. Almost erases the misses at Fratton Park, but not quite.
Le Tallec: Looking more comfortable and would have loved to have seen the late volley go in, mind you it would have done on a soggy Sunday League pitch.
Kop : Poor.
? Barrettski 2003
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