League Cup Semi Final Second Leg, 25/01/05, 7.45pm
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Mourinho sleeps soundly
By Martin Blanc
Well, that was quite something, wasn't it. The noise, I mean - the support, the atmosphere, the attendance. And the icy temperature.
The game? That was something else. I remember saying about Anfield all those years ago that we could only beat the eleven they put in front of us. And that's probably still true. Nearly. The difference this time was that we only had the beating of ten of the eleven they put in front of us. The eleventh, even crocked, had to carry the other ten past us. Again. It is no exaggeration to say that absolutely nothing of quality, and very nearly nothing at all, came from any of the rest of the Reds all night. Poor Stevie G may be taking on messianic status to the Anfield faithful, but his body-language and facial expressions all pointed to him feeling the Calvary episodes in Jesus's story.
It started messily and coldly but at least we were used to it you imagine this isn't what Morientes had in mind when he signed his contract. Maybe Michael Owen, so steeped in 'Pool history, had talked so much about Dalglish and Barnes and co, old Ferdy thought they were still in the team. If only. None of their anonymous successors looked remotely up for a cup-tie, so the ten-man midfield batted the ball back and forth, our five penetrating marginally more than their five, but nerves or ice getting the better of Bouazza, Ards and Darlington, who ran at the box all night like a mini-Ashley Cole. H wasn't getting the aerial service he'd have flourished on, so he belted around after the ball often effectively and some lovely moves were only broken by the linesman's flag.
This continued for nearly half an hour. Twenty-seven minutes it was before either side had a shot and when the first one finally trickled past Jones' post, it was such a dribble it seemed like someone could be in need of those spam email offers to boost shot quality (don't think they had football in mind, but heck, any port in a storm...). We had a couple of narrow escapes courtesy of Stevie G's forlorn hope that if he passed to a teammate, something useful might come of it. We made a few more fantastic defensive interceptions, and then, finally, with the first half petering out and us realising this would be the best of all possible times to score, a penalty shout that only the blind and the terminally Premiership-biased could have denied. So, needless to say, it wasn't given by Mr Riley.
Finding an unexpected KitKat in one's overcoat pocket at halftime is all very pleasant but it couldn't convince me to believe in its lucky powers. The second half mosied along as unprettily as the first, with Danny Webber rightly thrown on for his extra gumption and skill after Bouazza hadn't read his part in one of the sweetest moves we mounted and let a through-ball from H drift out of play in the Liverpool box. The front two, however, were still having to feed off scraps as the Liverpool midfield closed us down without actually doing anything with the assets they'd stripped. Stevie's goal was to some extent inevitable in as much as the penny had to drop some time with him that if you want something done, you just have to do it yourself. It dropped, he slotted home, and we played out time with only H's header looping over the bar to show for it.
So we laughed and gasped at what Liverpool have become, and patted the boys metaphorically on the back for getting this far and yet, somehow, when we might just have squeezed a bit more quality from our ranks, coming up a teeny bit short. It was a fun night, if you discount much of what passed for a match - and, in any case, both teams could all too clearly only have been playing for the runners-up spot at Cardiff.