Barclays Premier League – February 2nd 2008 – Result
Liverpool 3 Sunderland 0
Liverpool fans left Anfield with smiles on their faces tonight as the Reds finally brought their run without a league win to an end. And a sizeable number of them left well after the game ended, as the planned 15-minute stay-behind protest was a clear success.
Defeat for Manchester City and a draw for Everton meant Liverpool went into this game knowing a win would regain some of the ground lost in recent weeks, and a side showing more confidence than Reds supporters have seen in some time managed a 3-0 win, all the goals coming in the second half.
Peter Crouch was given another chance by Rafa to show why he should start more often – and this time he took it in style. His goal got the Reds on their way, but his all-round performance was a vast improvement on the anonymous display we saw against Havant last week. Fernando Torres was back on the scoresheet too, and looked dangerous throughout. The third goal came from a Steven Gerrard penalty, probably on the eve of his being announced England captain, after Jermaine Pennant was fouled in the box.
Referee Rob Styles, remembered at Anfield for his unbelievable penalty decision against Chelsea earlier in the season, seemed willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the Reds on at least one occasion. The ball hit Carragher’s armpit in the penalty area as he tried to block a Sunderland shot; it wasn’t deliberate, but it was far more a penalty than the last one Styles had awarded here.
The players were strongly backed by the fans, who were united in their role of being that twelfth man, urging the players on. But carrying out that role doesn’t have to mean the protests against the owners have to stop. It’s possible to be behind the team yet against the owners, as was demonstrated tonight.
A big thank you has to go to Setanta Sports, who were showing the match live in the UK, because they ensured the protest after the match got some decent coverage. It would have been easy to ignore it, but they showed images from it repeatedly in their post-match coverage.
The only criticism of Setanta’s coverage would be the comments made by former Liverpool player and childhood Evertonian Steve McManaman. McManaman grumbled about the protests, gave credit to the Americans for paying off £100m debt and said these protests mean the club will be in the headlines tomorrow for the wrong reasons. For a former player who often gets credit for supposedly being more intelligent than the average footballer, it was amazing that he got the facts wrong on how much debt we had before the takeover (£45m, not £100m) and also even implied that the owners had paid it all off! In fact they turned £45m debt into £350m debt without a single benefit visible for the club in return.
McManaman was the first player to leave Anfield on a Bosman when the ruling first came in, the first high-profile player to take advantage of the option for an out-of-contract player to go elsewhere for free. Even now it’s unusual for players at the heights of their careers to betray their clubs by letting their contracts run down before leaving on a free transfer. But McManaman did, losing the club an estimated £12m when he moved to Real Madrid on a contract so lucrative that he remained there for the whole length of the deal, despite spending much of it out of favour and out of the side. Manchester City fans saw their club pay him yet more money but get little in return. He could hardly be more different from his mate Robbie Fowler.
Liverpool’s return to winning ways will be as big a part of tomorrow’s headlines as the protests, although with more revelations expected about what’s happening behind the scenes at the club the off-field happenings are not going to go away from the back pages quickly. If the supporters get their way – and they intend fighting very, very hard to get their way – the off-field headlines won’t go away until the owners – one in particular – go away.
After the game the players and their boss weren’t going to discuss the off-field happenings, but Rafa praised the fans anyway: “I want to say thank you to our supporters because when we needed them they were behind the team,” he told Setanta Sports. “This is really, really important for us.”
After four successive draws then a defeat Liverpool knew that they had to start putting chances into the back of the net: “When you score the second goal you kill the game, and that was the situation for us today,” Rafa said. “Today we knew it would be a tough game and at half time we knew our supporters were waiting, so we started the second half really well and they were behind us, and there was a massive difference. As soon as we scored the first goal the game was open. When you have your confidence low it is important to win, so there are a lot of positive things today.”
Asked if he’d like to see the off-field mess out of the headlines, he answered diplomatically: “I would like to see the team in the headlines because we are scoring goals and playing well, but we must try to do a good job. We will try to enjoy this week and see what happens next weekend.” Let’s be honest, Rafa would be delighted to see his arch-enemy Tom Hicks gone from the club – he’d probably join the vast majority of Liverpool fans in a mass victory-dance they day his ownership ended.
Peter Crouch looked hungry and deserved his goal, as Rafa recognised: “At least today he was good for us. He was an important player.”
Cynics might say Crouch had an eye on the forthcoming England friendly, but there’s no arguing that he earned another chance to start in the next Reds game: “I’ve just got to keep my head down, work hard and try and impress the manager. Hopefully I’ve done that tonight and I may get a few chances over the next couple of games.” We’ll see.
Captain Steven Gerrard was happy with the win, but wasn’t ready to relax, saying this was the first step towards the club recovering from the owner-induced slump of this season: “The win is nice and the clean sheet is nice, but we can still play better. Winning breeds confidence and confidence is a bit low at the moment so that certainly helps. We’re happy with the win, we go on international duty now and then we play Chelsea next weekend and we can look forward to that.”
Jamie Carragher played at right back, setting up Crouch’s opener with a cross that he should be proud of. He was just glad of the points: “We haven’t won for five or six games so it was important we got the three points with the Manchester City and Everton results going for us.” As for the penalty claim: “I threw myself at the shot, it did hit my arm but I didn’t do it deliberately. If we’ve been fortunate – fair enough.”
Sunderland boss Roy Keane was calm after the game, if not so much during the game. He reflected on the defeat: “Disappointment, especially to lose 3-0 – that’s harsh on the team. We conceded the first one ten minutes into the second half and it was always going to be hard from there. I don’t want to sound like it’s sour grapes, but we didn’t feel the decisions went our way today. It would not necessarily have changed the game too much.
“The bottom line is the score is 3-0 and we have to lick our wounds before a big game next Saturday. Anything we could have got today would have been a big bonus, but the first goal was always going to be tough to come back from.
“You’d always expect home advantage to be important, but our performances away have improved a lot.”
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 23 Carragher, 4 Hyypia, 37 Skrtel, 12 Aurelio (3 Finnan, 45), 16 Pennant, 8 Gerrard, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas (11 Benayoun, 61), 15 Crouch (18 Kuyt, 83), 9 Torres
Unused subs: 30 Itandje, 19 Babel
Bookings: Finnan 84
Goals: Crouch 57, Torres 69, Gerrard 89 (pen)
Sunderland: 1 Gordon, 26 Bardsley, 5 Nosworthy, 44 Evans, 15 Collins, 16 Chopra (39 Waghorn, 83), 8 Whitehead, 12 Miller, 10 Richardson (45 Prica, 7), 11 Murphy, 17 Jones
Unused Subs: 32 Fulop, 23 O’Donovan, 6 McShane
Bookings: Miller 22, Gordon 88
BBC Stats: (Liverpool – Sunderland)
Possession: 61% – 39%
Shots on target: 11 – 3
Shots off target: 3 – 3
Corners: 4 – 1
Fouls: 8 – 10
Setanta Stats: (Liverpool – Sunderland)
Shots on Target: 6 – 2
Shots off Target: 4 – 3
Blocked Shots: 6 – 2
Corners: 4 – 1
Fouls: 8 – 10
Offsides: 0 – 1
Possession: 60.8 – 39.2
Referee: Rob Styles