After the Tottenham game just over a week before, I was really looking forward to my final visit to the London Stadium for our last game of our inaugural season there. I was full of trepidation when I knew just how many of our first choice players were not available for the match, but nonetheless we had many missing against our old enemy, and everyone stepped up to put in our best performance of the year. And for the first quarter of an hour or so, it looked like we might put in a similar performance again. Byram might have scored, or should at least have hit the target, to finish off an excellent swift passing move early on, and Fernandes hit a shot that had Mignolet scrambling to turn it away.
But then Liverpool scored an excellent goal, so well taken by Sturridge who just about managed to stay onside. The way he took the goal was reminiscent of Jimmy Greaves at his best. I am old enough to remember watching Greaves live, but you can look back on old footage of the way, when faced with a one on one with the keeper, he almost always dribbled around him to put the ball into an empty net. So many strikers in modern times when in this position, shoot as the keeper advances. Sometimes it goes in but frequently it hits the legs or body and a goalscoring chance is wasted. Of course players have to have the necessary skill to go around the keeper, and Sturridge demonstrated the confidence and ability to do it with ease.
At that point the heads appeared to go down, and we surrendered the ball tamely on frequent occasions, and never really looked convincing or up for the fight. When the second went in, after another bout of giving the ball away, the game was really all over. A brief resurgence of effort should have resulted in a penalty when Reid was assaulted in the area, and for good measure they really tried to give us a penalty by handling the ball as well, but the referee (and his assistant who was also well placed to see the incident) was oblivious to what everyone else in the stadium could see, and incredibly allowed the play to continue. Liverpool did not put the ball out of play as we had sportingly done on two occasions before in the game, and the incompetent referee also appeared to forget that head injuries can be a serious matter, and failed to stop the play. In a matter of seconds a third goal had gone in, and it was well and truly over at that point.
I am not trying to suggest that we lost the game because of this one incident, but had the penalty been justly awarded, we might have seen an improvement in effort if we were just one goal down. We have really seen some scandalous decisions go against us in the past couple of seasons, and this was another to add to the list. I find it hard to remember the last time we benefitted from a poor decision given against our opponents.
So many of our players gave up at this point, and where I had seen so many of them fighting to demonstrate that they were worthy of a place in the squad for next season in the Tottenham game, they showed equally why they were not in this match. One player I would excuse was Feghouli, who was a free transfer signing in the summer, but who showed great skill and commitment to try to get us back into it in the half-hour or so available to him. Cynics will say he was putting in the effort for personal reasons, but I am one (and I accept there are not many who agree with me) who really believe he is a good footballer, who given a decent injury-free run in the side, will one day prove all the doubters wrong.
Of course another turning point in the game, when we were just one down, was when Ayew somehow contrived to miss an open goal twice! This was amazing for a Premier League striker (whether he cost £20 million or not), and perhaps he will get the publicity given to Rosenthal, and be forever shown when you see clips of incredible misses. I’m sure he was just a panic buy at the end of the summer transfer window to appease fans after the board had talked about a marquee striker. I’m not sure I understand how the term marquee came to be used in a football sense, but assume the derivation relates to tents? If so, then his performances are more closely related to a wigwam.
So we now sit in twelfth place in the table with just the trip to Burnley left. That won’t be an easy game, but even if we somehow do win, our poor goal difference means that we cannot get into the top half of the table whatever happens elsewhere. With the points we’ve dropped from winning positions we could have even emulated or surpassed last season’s seventh place. But have we really progressed from last season? To the contrary, I think we’ve gone backwards. And it’s nothing to do with an un-named Frenchman either.
And on a final note, I’m not sure when the end of season awards dinner was held at the club last season, but if my memory is correct it was in the week prior to the game against Swansea, when we were unexpectedly hammered 4-1. This time, in the game after that event, we once again conceded four goals in a tame performance. As a club we don’t learn from our mistakes easily, but I would suggest that next season it is held at the end of the season when all the games have been played. I know that the players want to get off to the beach quickly once the season is over. In the Liverpool game some looked as though they were already there! But remember last season we bounced back for a terrific finale against Manchester United. Perhaps we can do the same at Turf Moor? I won’t hold my breath.