Liverpool are still some way short of playing as well as they can, but can take a lot of positives from this win. They need to take those positives too, because a lack of confidence had started to take over from injuries as a major handicap to the side.
The critics will say the sending-off of Stephen Ward is what swung it for the Reds – ignoring the fact it was the threat Liverpool were posing that caused Ward to commit the two bookable offences.
Christophe Berra was initially booked for what was Ward’s second yellow-card foul, but Berra’s card was rescinded when the referee realised he’d got the wrong man. Should Berra’s yellow card have stood though? Unsporting behaviour is a cautionable offence of course and it was hardly sporting the way he accepted Ward’s yellow.
Wolves fans were accusing Liverpool ‘keeper Pepe Reina of the unsporting behaviour for running 70 yards to point out to the linesman and referee how they’d got the wrong man. But this wasn’t a case of Reina telling the ref to book a player, just to book the correct player.
Talking of unsporting behaviour, it clearly wasn’t cricket when McCarthy put his reserves out against Manchester United recently but the former Ireland boss probably considers sporting behaviour to be to do whatever it takes to win a game, and to grumble when it goes against you. Wolves nearly got a break, but were rumbled. He turned this round as the break going to the Reds: “They needed a break and they got it.”
It wasn’t just Reina and other Liverpool players trying to make sure Ward and Berra’s poor sportsmanship didn’t go unpunished – fourth official Phil Dowd also made sure Andre Marriner was told of his mistake. But McCarthy was more annoyed with Liverpool’s players for not letting his player get away with it – and manager Rafa Benitez, who allegedly pointed out the error to Dowd in the first place.
McCarthy suggested Dowd didn’t know it was the wrong player until the Reds bench told him: “I’m not convinced it was a sending-off. I’m not sure how much contact there was. The referee eventually got the right guy, but he got a bit of flipping assistance, didn’t he? I’m not sure the fourth official, Phil Dowd, knew who it was, but they quickly let him know. He wasn’t sure, but they told him. They sent the reinforcements in.” That suggestion should land McCarthy in hot water with the FA, implying as it does that Dowd took the word of LFC’s bench rather than going with what he’d seen himself.
But even if Dowd already knew, McCarthy suggested he still should have stood by and done nothing: “I don’t know if Phil Dowd told the referee who it was and if referees can get assistance from the fourth official, perhaps Ireland should still be in the World Cup.”
Benitez said it was Dowd who told him who’d committed the foul: “The fourth official kept saying, ‘it was the number 11, the number 11’. It was clear it was a sending-off.”
But even if Wolves had got away with that card, if Liverpool carried on playing the way they did it was only a matter of time before Ward was either sent off or left in the dust of a Liverpool player heading past him towards goal. The opener came from a run down the opposite flank though, Emiliano Insua putting a brilliant cross into the box that was met by the determined head of Steven Gerrard, looking more like his old self than he has for some time. He was perhaps as relieved as he was delighted, but Liverpool were in front and certainly deserved to be so.
This being Liverpool a one-goal lead is never comfortable, and so when Yossi Benayoun’s deflected goal made it 2-0 there was even more relief for the Reds.
Liverpool had spells in the game where it looked like being another miserable day, but as the second half went on they’d started to show signs of confidence. McCarthy thought differently though: “We were comfortable for an hour,” he said, presumably about the 51 minutes before the red card.
It was a first league start for Liverpool’s £17m Italian signing Alberto Aquilani. The midfielder showed glimpses of why the Liverpool manager was prepared to take a chance on buying a player already carrying an injury, but clearly needs more games to both build an understanding with his team-mates and to adapt to the much faster pace of the game in England. Benitez said: “He was okay; he had good vision and tried to be involved.”
Torres struggled for most of the game, Marriner offering him no protection at all from the attentions of the Wolves defence. Sometimes Torres uses the annoyance of these tackles as a driver towards embarrassing the heavy-footed opponents by scoring a couple of goals. Other times he just gets annoyed and does little to threaten their goal – this was one of those games for Torres.
But Liverpool got the win, a win they desperately needed, as Benitez said: “We needed these three points. We had to win. We won: a clean sheet, two goals, some chances and we have to go forward. The main thing was to get three points. We will see if we can beat Aston Villa and stay closer. We were trying to do well but to win. We have done this.”
And the Reds captain, Gerrard, admitted the players were still a little shaky: “It was all about waiting for that breakthrough. We were nervous at times and the crowd were getting on our backs and it was important that we just kept going. But we were confident the goal would come and it did.
“When you’re not getting the results that you expect, it’s always going to affect confidence and we want to put it right. The players are hurting at the moment but we’re fighting and we’ve got the confidence that we will turn it around. With the attitude that we showed we’ll slowly move up that table and we know where we want to be.”
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua, Lucas, Benayoun (Spearing 88), Aquilani (Pacheco 84), Gerrard, Aurelio, Torres
Unused subs: Cavalieri, Darby, Skrtel, Ngog
Goals: Gerrard 62, Benayoun 70
Wolves: Hahnemann, Stearman, Craddock, Berra, Ward, Foley, Henry, Milijas (Mancienne 62), Jarvis, Ebanks-Blake (Iwelumo 66), Doyle (Elokobi 58)
Unused subs: Hennessey, Surman, Castillo, Maierhofer
Referee: A Marriner