Prem Result: Middlesbrough 1 Liverpool 1

Barclays Premier League – January 12th 2008 – Result

Middlesbrough 1 Liverpool 1

Another day of despair for Liverpool supporters as another two points were dropped against Middlesbrough. It was all the more disappointing given that two of the three teams above them that were also playing today dropped points too.

Manchester City were beaten by Everton, but more importantly Arsenal were held at home to a draw against Birmingham – so it’s not just Liverpool that drop points at home against so-called easy teams. A win would have seen the Reds move slightly closer, ten points behind with a game in hand. As it is though the gap stays at 12 points.

Liverpool’s problem is that they’ve dropped two points too many times this season – that’s nine draws in 21 games. In fact Liverpool have now drawn four games in a row, including the FA Cup stalemate with Luton last weekend.

The bigger problem for Liverpool though isn’t what is happening on the pitch, although that is clearly being impacted by the off-field problems. The club were asked last night to comment on the widespread reports that Jurgen Klinsmann turned down a contract to become Liverpool boss in the summer – they refused. Rick Parry’s had all day to issue one of his “utter rubbish” denials, but instead has kept quiet. It’s another inconsistency in the club’s recent policy of denying stories – they denied stories Fabio Capello had been offered the job, but their silence on this suggests nothing other than it being true.

Moral at the club is dropping through the floor, even the world-class goalkeeper Pepe Reina made some errors of judgement today. This suits the owners of course – low moral leads to poor results, which will finally give them the excuse they’ve been waiting for. And they’ve been waiting for the excuse since the very early stages of the season, well before any football reasons could have been used.

Liverpool have some good players, and a couple of players that are world-class or thereabouts. Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres would all attract interest from top European clubs should they ever become available. It was a world-class player that got Liverpool a point today, Fernando Torres with a wonder strike on 71 minutes. But it’s not just a lack of world class players in more positions and in more depth that’s hurting Liverpool. It’s the way the whole team just look like they’d rather not be there. They’ve also realised that the new owners have been a change for the worse since they arrived, particularly over the course of this season, and the feeling of being part of a special team seems to be going away from them.

Rafa made an important change at half-time, Ryan Babel replacing Arbeloa, Riise moving back to left-back. It’s unusual for the manager to make tactical changes at that point in the game, and it was a welcome sight to see him accepting that changes were needed. The team seemed brighter in the second half, and although Boro were surprisingly threatening on the counter-attack Liverpool were creating more chances.

Rafa’s working his hardest to bring success to the club. He works around the clock, lives for the game and for the club, and despite his denials knows he’s on borrowed time. Last week he had to prepare for the Luton match with negative headlines above claims from a so-called “close friend” that he was telling everyone his time was nearly up. He denied having anything to do with those stories, because Rafa is now working as hard as he can to stop the owners having a reason to move him on. However he can’t have been helped at all today by more negative headlines. The Klinsmann story was big news and despite the German denying he’d been offered a contract the club did nothing to deny it either. How much of a boost to the players would a denial of that tale have been? How much of a blow must the silence have been?

There’s still a hope that the owners will drop their ridiculous asking price for the club and clear off. Whether Rafa would be able to win the league with better financial backing and more importantly better personal backing from owners with more knowledge of the game is something we might not find out, but to expect him to win anything at all under these circumstances is really asking too much. If Rafa walked out today he’d probably win a case for constructive dismissal.

Liverpool’s next match is the FA Cup replay against Luton, and the demoralised state of the squad means that an upset could be on the cards. If the supporters can get behind Rafa then perhaps the team will find some motivation, but until the owners take the club and its manager out of limbo we’ll continue to see the team unable to get started. With some luck Daniel Agger will be fit enough to start that game, and maybe the season can get back on track, but that’s going to be difficult until these owners stop hiding behind selective denials, weasel words and the distance from England.

Middlesbrough: 1 Schwarzer, 2 Young, 31 Wheater, 14 Huth, 40 Grounds, 4 O’Neil, 7 Boateng, 10 Rochemback, 19 Downing, 11 Aliadiere (36 Hutchinson, 73), 17 Sanli
Unused subs: 21 Turnbull, 5 Riggott, 18 Lee, 28 Johnson
Goals: Boateng 26
Bookings: Huth 50

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 3 Finnan, 23 Carragher, 4 Hyypia, 6 Riise, 17 Arbeloa (19 Babel, 45), 8 Gerrard, 20 Mascherano, 11 Benayoun (14 Alonso, 59), 10 Voronin (18 Kuyt, 75), 9 Torres
Subs: 30 Itandje, 5 Agger, 14 Alonso, 18 Kuyt, 19 Babel
Goals: Torres 71
Bookings: Alonso 79

BBC Stats: (Boro – Liverpool)
Possession: 48% – 52%
Shots on target: 3 – 7
Shots off target: 5 – 7
Corners: 3 – 9
Fouls: 4 – 11

Referee: Andre Marriner
Attendance: 33,035