Nugent 62, Hreidarsson 78.
Aurelio 69, Kuyt 85, Torres 90
One wonders, when our season is looked back on, just how much importance this game will assume?
On the positive side his was yet another demonstration of sheer force of will and spirit, refusing to lie down and not for the first time, snatching victory from defeat and despair in the most entertaining way. Everyone loves a last minute winner just ask Everton. Thankfully it was our turn today!
However, this was close and dangerous stuff. Rafa’s approach was baffling and frightening. You might add “brave” though many would prefer to say “reckless” and the debates will continue to rage over whether he was vindicated. In short he fell off the rotation wagon big style!
Why does Rafa continue to put us through this? And, once more how did he manage to snatch absolution from the jaws of abject condemnation? Six changes from the Everton game Torres, Kuyt, Riera and Alonso on the bench. Effectively we had a back three with Dossena and Arbeloa in more advanced roles. Ngog was on his own up front with Benayoun and Babel in support. Even though Pompey are out of sorts that’s a hell of lot of changes and why introduce such an alien system to a game that we needed to win?
Rafa’s excuse that players were tired after the Everton game, which went into extra time, was hardly going to get any sympathy, we don’t play our next match until 22nd February! His simplistic notion that Carragher retained his place whilst others didn’t was because centre halves don’t run around as much as forwards certainly gave food for thought. Surely centre halves run as much as forwards, it’s called “marking” isn’t it?
The first chance was from Benayoun getting on the end of long ball from Agger but he scuffed his shot into the side netting. Then Aurelio curled a free kick onto the outside of the post, he’s getting closer! Mascherano’s straight shot tested James forcing him to concede a corner. However, this wasn’t a particularly impressive haul of opportunities considering the amount of bodies we attempted to commit forward. We controlled the game and had plenty of possession pinning Portsmouth back into their own half for long periods. The movement and passing was very easy on the eye however, even allowing for the chances, we were lacking in the final third.
At half time one wondered if Rafa’s tactics were to see out the first half and then bring on the big guns having given them half a games rest. However Torres and Kuyt continued to scuttle up and down the touch line in their big black padded coats, some rest! On the hour Kuyt came on for the ineffectual (and out of his depth?) Ngog. Kuyt was involved immediately crossing to Babel. Although Babel was incorrectly flagged offside, he made a complete hash of converting what was an open goal which basically sums up where he is confidence wise at present?
Inevitably Portsmouth were going to get a chance at some stage and sure enough it came. Crouch’s ball found a way through the three centre backs to Nugent who, as an Everton fan, no doubt relished sticking the ball past Reina. Rafa’s response was to bring on Alonso clearly he wanted Torres to rest for Spain’s game against England in midweek!!!!
Crouch nearly put Kuyt in with a bad back pass but James, in trying to sort out the mess, touched the ball. The resulting indirect free kick from twelve yards out was thrashed home through Crouch’s legs by Aurelio. Thanks Peter!
After that we pressed and pressed. Torres finally got on with fifteen minutes to go. However, his arrival was greeted by a sucker punch. Sadly the circumstances were all too familiar. What is it about us and set pieces? Many talk about zonal or man to man marking but with us it doesn’t seem to matter! This time an untracked Hreidarsson headed Belhadj’s ball home. Was Reina at fault? The bounce was awkward, right in front of him but perhaps he could have got it? However, surely the initial blame should be with the players in front of him?
Kuyt’s equaliser still probably didn’t mean absolution for Rafa. Torres seized on Distan’s shocking non clearance. He found Kuyt who was forced out wide but was still, after what seemed an age, allowed to smack the ball into the roof of the net past a helpless and presumably exasperated James. All that was left was the final iron to be pulled out the fire. Benayoun crossed for a scandalously unmarked you know who to rocket a header home. Phew and fury towards Rafa turned to well, I still don’t know what!
So what does this say about Rafa’s decision making and the strength of our squad? It was an enormous gamble. No doubt he will point to the result and say that he used his squad to best effect giving the big guns some rest? However it must privately concern him that he still needed to call on them, albeit for the last half hour, to dig him out. Perhaps it’s a lesson learnt (thankfully not an expensive one) but will it be heeded? Rafa has, and always will be, his own man. An admirable trait, most of the time, but as we nearly saw today, there is sometimes a price to pay and, at the risk of sounding a killjoy, the elation at the manner of win should not be allowed to hide this?
Oh sod it YESSSSSS! What a game!
Portsmouth: James, Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson, Basinas, Davis, Mullins (Kranjcar 46), Belhadj, Crouch, Nugent.
Subs Not Used: Begovic, Lauren, Mvuemba, Pamarot, Kanu, Gekas.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Dossena (Alonso 67), Arbeloa, Mascherano, Aurelio, Babel (Torres 76), Ngog (Kuyt 56), Benayoun.
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Riera, El Zhar.