Stoke City 1
So, business as usual. Another result, which many will still see as unbecoming of Liverpool, lending itself to more speculation about Rafa, the club and it’s players. Had Dirk Kuyt’s last ditch, diving header been an inch or so to the left perhaps things would have been different?
As it is it’s more of the same. Apparently now, according to the News of the World, the fans also want Rafa out. Really? “Yes” says a poll they conducted. Which self respecting Liverpool fan would ever, ever cooperate with the News of the World? It was also conveniently forgotten that Rafa’s name was chanted after this game which I would suggest, as it involved fans who had actually bothered to make the trip to Stoke, is more of indication of the support he has.
However, let’s face it the more this goes on the more Rafa’s position will be undermined. Yet for all the picking and speculation I simply cannot see any changes until the summer, if at all. The only thing that will remove him is if he himself can’t take it anyone and starts to crack under the speculation however so far he’s proved to have the hide of rhino!
The old bloody mindedness surfaced again as Rafa missed an opportunity to inject interest into the game by keeping Maxi Rodriguez and Aquilani on the bench. If Rafa treats Rodriguez as he has Aquilani then no doubt we can look forward to seeing him as a regular in September 2010! Darby, despite a decent performance against Reading in the first game, was also kept on the sideline when he could have filled in at right back meaning Carragher could move to the centre to partner Skrtel thus edging out the so far unimpressive Kyrgiakos.
No doubt Rafa will say he was saving Wednesday’s tired legs for Spurs however this is not an option he has to play with. We are not in a position to prioritise games now and our exit from the FA Cup will give us breathing space when others are involved?
As expected Stoke came out of the traps with great tenacity however, once the initial burst had been weathered we settled down in quiet a decent pattern of play. Perhaps we could have made more of the opportunities we had? Alan Hansen on MotD highlighted a number of openings we could have created on the break however, it’s easy to be authoritative, not to mention smug and wise, after the event and in all honesty it is only to be expected when the side is missing three key players and is lacking confidence and continuity.
Much attention was focused on two penalty claims. Both involved Lucas who was firstly bought down by Higginbotham. The referee, when everyone else (27,000 minimum, according to Rafa) seemed to think it was a penalty, disagreed and, to add insult, booked the Brazilian for simulation. Compare this incident to the Reading penalty on Wednesday! Sometimes you just despair! The second incident in which Lucas was barged, as Kuyt was busy fluffing Aurelio’s cross, was simply overshadowed by the despair at the situation we had allowed ourselves to get into. Had it been awarded we would have probably missed it anyway, such is the way of things these days!
Overall I guess there were some things to be positive about although it is faint praise. We applied ourselves and in a match where physicality was the key word, proved more than willing to get our hands dirty. However, it was scrappy stuff which was typified by our goal. In the fifty sixth minute Aurelio flighted in a free kick, Sorensen failed to collect choosing to weakly parry, no pat, the ball, Kyrgiakos eventually got the final touch from the ensuing scramble.
Even though we had got our noses in front there was always worry. Tuncay nearly undid us from a free kick that was back headed on to him, then Fuller, from another set piece, produced decent header across the face of the goal that thankfully ended up travelling directly at Reina.
Rafa then wheeled Maxi Rodriguez, or simply “Maxi” as his shirt said, for the last ten minutes or so. However, rather looking at how he did most of my mind was on us just keeping Stoke at bay and avoiding yet another last minute cave in. Stoke pressed and pressed Reina punched away a decent cross with Stoke players swarming around him. He then rose like a yellow salmon to pluck a dangerous corner out of the sky. Then another punch on the edge of his penalty area as another Stoke bomb was launched, and again from the another corner. It was heroic rearguard stuff, whatever happens for the rest of season if Jose doesn’t get our Player of the Year there will be no justice?
The equaliser? These days it would more of a surprise if it didn’t happen? This time it was Huth on the near post after Higginbotham headed a Stoke corner back across the goal, yes another set piece. There were five minutes of added time giving us a chance to retrieve things however also time for Stoke to win it! Kuyt nearly provided a gloriously inappropriate climax to what was in all honesty a dog’s arse of a game. The same could be said of the season?
Stoke: Sorensen, Higginbotham, Huth, Shawcross, Faye (Wilkinson 26), Diao, Whitehead, Sanli, Delap (Lawrence 24), Etherington, Sidibe (Fuller 66) Substitutes:Simonsen, Collins, Wilkinson, Whelan, Lawrence, Pugh, Fuller
Liverpool: Reina, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Carragher, Degen (Maxi 78), Skrtel, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Ngog (Aquilani 87) Substitutes: Cavalieri, Darby, Aquilani, Riera, Maxi, Spearing, Pacheco