Crouch is main topic once again

Peter Crouch’s infamous lack of a goal for Liverpool continued last night despite him being declared man-of-the-match by many, including his manager Rafael Benitez. The fact that Crouch is taller than just about any other Premiership player, and is Liverpool’s tallest-ever player, gives the headline-writers easy headlines. The fact that he’s a striker who’s not yet scored in his 16 appearances for the Reds gives them that little bit more ammunition. Those who like to have a go at Liverpool are enjoying the simple statistics showing his lack of goals, but Liverpool fans are enjoying the effort the player is putting into his performances.

Crouch is now an England player, and as such is part of the routine that the press in London engage in with England players. Some players are built up to be knocked down, others are just knocked down. If they are playing their football outside of the capital then there’s all the more reason to knock the player.

Thankfully though not all of the press are after Crouch’s blood. Oliver Kay, a Liverpool-supporting reporter from The Times wrote for the official Liverpool FC website earlier in the week. Speaking about Crouch, he said: “I would love to say that I don’t think there’s a media agenda against him, but in reality there is. It’s not one that I or any of the journalists that cover Liverpool on a regular basis have bought into, but it is there and it irritates me that people are trying to poke fun out of someone who is not only a very nice guy but also a very good footballer.”

Stuart Pearce is the next manager with the fear that it will be his team being the first to allow Crouch to score for the Reds. Pearce’s Manchester City play host to Liverpool at the weekend and Pearce says he would have liked to have made a move for the player himself in the summer. It was only a lack of funds that stopped him, and he explained how he rates the striker: “I can see why people don’t like him He is not very pleasing on the eye and he is not silky, but in football, you have to be effective and you have to be a team player. I can only go on what I see and he was the best player on the pitch at Anfield last night, so he has to be doing something correct. He is the right age, has the right ability and is a current England international. I was interested in him during the summer but at the time we had not sold Shaun Wright-Phillips and there was no money available.”

The attitude that has impressed Liverpool’s supporters has also impressed Pearce: “What you have to admire about Crouch is no matter how the game goes, or how his form is, he will not hide. He is under the microscope for England and Liverpool because he has not scored but he showed no sense of anxiety all last night and deserves great credit for that. From what I have been told, he is a great lad to have around.”

Pearce agreed that Crouch will soon break the duck and people will forget all about it, but hopes he has at least one more game without any luck: “People say he has no confidence but he carried on knocking away and once he mishits one into the corner, he will be off and running. Having said that, I will dislike him intensely on Saturday and we want to stop him, even if it takes a pair of ladders.”

Crouch himself admitted he was frustrated, but is more concerned about the results. After last night’s game he said: “Of course it’s frustrating but the result was the main thing. We were always comfortable and I thought we deserved to get a win. I keep getting in the right places and I’ve always said that I won’t hide and just hope that the goal comes.”

His manager, it could be argued, has to defend his own purchase, but with Rafael Benitez you always feel he says what he means. After a summer of evading questions about the possible arrival of Michael Owen, it’s inevitable now that the first question he’s going to be asked is whether the striker he did get was worth it or not. Rafa is still pleased with his signing though: “If he continues playing as well as today I must be delighted because we will continue to get some good results. That’s the most important thing for me. He’s played really well at Aston Villa and he played well on Saturday. If he’s playing well it would be better to see him scoring but you can see what he gives to us and you can see him playing well.”

When people talk about dedication to the cause and the right attitude amongst Liverpool’s players, the first name that springs to mind is Jamie Carragher. Carra’s performance in Istanbul, particularly towards the end of the final when he was clearly in pain, will stick in the mind forever. Crouch has all the makings of performing similar heroics when the time’s right, just at the other end of the field. Carra has actually scored more than Crouch this season, after not scoring for years, but he’s happy to defend his club and country team-mate: “We keep saying strikers are always judged on goals but he has got a lot more to his game than that.”

Also signed in the summer was Bolo Zenden. The former Middlesborough and Chelsea player seemed to be struggling himself in his initial Anfield career, but has settled down well now and become an important member of the squad. He says that the attention on Crouch’s lack of goals must be putting pressure on his team-mate, and says there’s an urge from the whole squad to help him: “Everyone is talking about Peter Crouch so it’s becoming a bigger thing. Each week it becomes a heavier weight on his shoulders. We’re trying to help him and get him in as much as we can. When you get that first goal, you know more will follow. He’s still hungry and he’s putting in the effort. What more can he do? Chances are coming and I’m sure the goal will come.”

Former Sunderland and City hero Niall Quinn was watching the game for Sky Television last night, and was impressed with the skill shown by Crouch. He put it quite simply: “If he keeps playing like that, he doesn’t need to score goals.”

As for the press, Oliver Holt, Chief Sports Writer for the Daily Mirror, was impressed when he saw Crouch’s game up close: “If he keeps playing as he played last night, the goal he craves will come soon. For now, the fates are firmly against him. His consolation is the fans, far from losing patience, have remained commendably encouraging. They are aware he is mocked by rival supporters and have closed ranks around him. Perhaps because in every aspect of his play apart from putting the ball in the net, Crouch is performing well.”

Holt says that Crouch is doing everything right, he just needs a change of luck: “His approach work last night was excellent again. He held up the ball well, made space and chances for others and won countless flick-ons. Most of all, Crouch needs a change of luck. Midway through the second half, he lashed a left-foot volley, defender David Rivas flung out an elbow to deflect the ball to safety, the referee decided it did not warrant a penalty. For the 16th time this season, it just wasn’t his night.”

His colleague at the Mirror, Robbie Fowler’s friend David Maddock, has less patience. Perhaps Maddock is frustrated that his friend’s Anfield career was cut short during the Gerard Houllier / Phil Thompson days, but he hints that Liverpool’s current strikeforce is simply not up to the job: “As the holders contemplate their qualification for the knockout phase with this point against Real Betis, they will know further progress is unlikely if they continue to be so wasteful in front of goal. Peter Crouch’s problems are well documented, and here he missed a flurry of chances in four minutes in the first half – when it truly looked as though the gods had conspired against him – and again after the break. Liverpool have qualified easily, and if they hold out at Stamford Bridge in the final group game they will enter the knockout phase as the seeded team. But to go further, they will need to score goals, and that might require a signing in the transfer window.”

For Stuart James of The Guardian the cause of Crouch’s problems is both bad luck and a poor final touch: “Last night’s contest will be remembered largely for the mixture of bad luck and poor finishing that continues to afflict Peter Crouch. His search for a first Liverpool goal goes on, though he could hardly have done more here to end a drought that now stretches to 16 appearances and surpasses the 20-hour mark. Two first-half headers narrowly missed the far upright while a well-struck volley midway through the second half appeared goalbound until it hit the Betis defender David Rivas on the arm, though no penalty was awarded.”

Andy Hunter of the Independent feels that two minutes in the first half could be used to explain what has been happening with Crouch this season: “Those who have remained immune to the story of Liverpool’s season need only study the 120-second period between the 24th and 26th minutes of last night’s goalless draw to bring themselves completely up to date with the good, the bad and the ugly misfortune of Crouch’s Anfield career thus far. The £7m striker brought a timid contest to life when he initially won two aerial challenges, hooked the ball away from David Rivas and then forced the first save of the game from Betis’ Antonio Doblas with a half-volley from 25 yards. Thirty seconds later he met Steven Gerrard’s corner with a header that would have been described as textbook had it not bounced an inch outside the post and then, following a glorious far-post cross from the Liverpool captain, Crouch spurned the easiest of his three successive chances when he turned a diving header wide from four yards.”

Hunter also finds room to praise the way Crouch still won’t let his head drop: “In fairness to Crouch, the psychological impact of going 20 games without a goal for club or country has not dulled his contribution to Liverpool, and he remained the home side’s most potent outlet and creator as Liverpool dominated a Betis team remarkable only for the lack of ambition they displayed in a game they had to win to retain any hope of qualification.”

Oliver Kay, back in his day job for The Times, was happy to report on another hard-working, performance from Liverpool’s number 15: “That they did not win will inevitably be attributed to the failings of Crouch, who, according to Uefa’s post-match statistics, had no fewer than eleven opportunities to score his first Liverpool goal in 16 appearances, but that does not tell the whole story of an evening when he caused untold problems for the Betis defence. Benítez hailed him as the man of the match and, while he continues to be defined by a lack of goals, his all-round contribution, which had been questionable until the last few games, was excellent, just as against Portsmouth four days earlier.”