Season Goes From Bad to Worse

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Roy-hodgson-manager-liverpool-2010Last week I said that a top four position by the end of November is not out of the question. Right now I’m not so certain we will even be in the top half of the table by the end of the month. I am a Liverpool supporter, I will never stop cheering for the team and being positive about the club. That being said, being a Liverpool supporter does not mean that I have to support the manager any more and I simply cannot continue to do so. Roy Hodgson is clearly not the right man to take the club forward, I thank him for trying his best and taking on the job in the summer, but now it is time to say goodbye and keep some semblance of dignity. I don’t expect him to come out and publicly start slagging off his players, like he did to Glen Johnson a few days ago, but coming out and saying things that aren’t even true just embarrasses everybody. Here are a couple of his latest pearls of wisdom after the Stoke game.

“We did okay in the first half. We dealt with the pressure of the throws, the corners and the long balls forward reasonably well.”

“I don’t want to be seen to be making cheap excuses. We lost to a strong team who out-battled us in certain occasions.”

Roy has now won just eleven away games in six seasons as a Premier League manager with Blackburn, Fulham and Liverpool. In December 1998 he was sacked by Blackburn after a poor start to the season and unfortunately too much damage had been done and they were relegated. I know that a few players like Shearer had departed but this was still a club that had won the league just four seasons earlier. Armed with information like this surely the alarm bell must be ringing loudly around Anfield and amongst the owners. If they are not then I am seriously concerned about what direction the club is heading in. John Henry has made numerous comments in support of Roy, saying things like how he has been a great teacher in the ways of football. These don’t sound like the comments of a man about to sack the manager. If things are allowed to continue we will be very lucky to even have Europa League football to offer players next season, forget about Champions League. If we cannot offer top level European football we cannot expect to attract the very best players available, nor can we honestly expect to keep the best players we have, no matter how loyal they may appear to be now. Man City have shown that by offering ludicrously high wages and paying over the odds in transfer fees, you can still attract decent players without Champions League football to offer. We do not have that kind of unlimited wealth at our disposal to be able to do the same, though to be honest I don’t really a want a bunch of money grabbing mercenaries at the club anyway. Regardless of the money situation, Man City have something else to offer that we cannot do, that is the strong potential to be amongst the top four in the league and playing Champions League football in the near future. We on the other hand look to be at least two seasons away from being there, and in my opinion that would take a lot of work and a completely new management structure in football terms.

I am currently very concerned about where the club is heading and continuing to trot out that tired cliche about there still being loads of games to go isn’t going to wash with me any longer. I can clearly see a pattern emerging this season that I believe will continue, unless drastic measures are taken quickly. We will probably beat West Ham next Saturday and Roy and his pals in the media will say we have turned a corner, then we will get walloped by Spurs the following week and we will be back where we are now. I can’t see anything other than the odd win here and there mixed with draws and defeats for the rest of the season with Roy in charge. This won’t get us relegated but it will not see us any higher than mid table mediocrity, just like Fulham which I think has now been conclusively proved is about Roy’s level.

A Game Too Far?

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Gerrard_post_WiganThe title of this article was almost ‘From Heroes to Zeroes’, but that would have been harsh, after all we didn’t lose to Wigan. After the performance against Chelsea on Sunday, the one on Wednesday was a real shame, for every wonderful pass and move against Chelsea, there was just as many poor passes and misplaced clearances against Wigan. We have played poorly at times this season but I can’t recall us passing the ball so poorly in any other previous game as we were doing at the D.W Stadium.

The game started brightly, with some nice passing and energy. Lucas hit a brilliant shot that needed the Wigan keeper Al Habsi to make a great save to turn the ball over the bar. Minutes later we were provided with some memories of golden times when Gerrard produced a magnificent through ball for Torres to run onto. Nando produced a brilliant first touch before poking the ball into the corner of the next from just outside the box. It was a wonderful goal and after the way we started the game it appeared that it would be the first of many goals.

That was not to be however as we started to make sloppy mistakes, giving the ball away far to easily and allowing Wigan to attack us constantly. Konchesky was constantly caught out and N’Zogbia looked like a world beater with the amount of space he was afforded to get crosses in. We were lucky to go into half time still in the lead but it was surely only a matter of time before Wigan equalized. The moment came just seven minutes into the second half when Rodallega fired home after Reina had dived and pushed away a low cross into the Columbian’s feet. We were then lucky not to fall behind when Rodallega (who was a constant threat) almost took the ball around Reina. We had two moments later in the game when Kuyt had an offside goal disallowed and Gerrard hit the bar with a chance he may have done better with. Overall after the way we played we have to be pleased to have come away with a point while frustrated we couldn’t keep our winning run going.

I have to say that I was starting to warm to Roy Hodgson in recent weeks as he seemed to have stopped making stupid insensitive comments in his press conferences and the team were playing a lot more positive football for longer periods. However I thought he made mistakes in the Wigan game with not only his tactics but also the substitutions. I know that he had to make the changes due to tiredness, and illness on the part of Meireles. I was fine with Shelvey coming on for the second half but I was absolutely fuming when Poulsen came on for Kuyt. This reminded me of the Houllier era when we would try and hold on for draws too often. When Eccleston came on as the third sub I was really upset too as surely Ngog should have been on the pitch. I would have brought on Ngog for Kuyt as we needed to keep going and provide Torres with support up front. When the young Frenchman came on at Bolton I think it changed the game in our favour, so there was no reason to think it couldn’t have had the same effect at Wigan. After the game Roy was quite correct in things he was saying about how we have injuries and illness in the squad and we don’t have a  lot of players to choose from right now which is causing tiredness in the squad. However he could still have rotated a bit and brought in maybe Jovanovic who is available. Roy was complaining a few months ago that we had too many players and Insua and Aquilani were shipped out on loan.  Maybe they should be brought back if possible if we are struggling to rotate the team?

The most frustrating aspect of the result for me wasn’t the performance, as tiredness was obvious, it was that we blew the chance to go fifth in the league. Other results midweek went in our favour but it was perhaps a game too far after the efforts on Sunday for us to capitalize. However looking on the positive side we have still come along way in just a few weeks having been second from bottom in the table just three weeks ago. We are only one point off the teams above us now and as we know things can change really fast. Let’s hope that we have a fit and positive team out there against Stoke on Saturday and who knows where will be on Saturday night. A top four position by the end of November is not out of the question with the games we have coming up so let’s be positive and keep on cheering the Reds to victory.

A Game of Two Halves (and One Man)

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Stevie_napoliAs I sit here typing, the Napoli game has just ended about 15 minutes ago. The post game highlights are playing in the background and I’m finding myself quietly punching the air constantly every few seconds. That is now three victories in a row and the manner in which we finished the game tonight we are going into Sundays big clash with Chelsea full of momentum. I’m not going to get carried away right now and start making stupid predictions, however I am really looking forward to the game now and feel that we are quite capable of doing the business if we are as positive as I think we will (and should) be.

Just a week ago we were in the relegation zone in the Premier League and we were all struggling to stay positive, especially about Roy Hodgson. We pulled out a fantastic victory at Bolton on Sunday which we got despite not playing that well. This to me was a sign that we might just have turned a big corner on the season. Then tonight in the second half we saw more signs that the players are feeling happier and playing with a lot more hunger and positivity.

I thought we started the game quite well tonight, but after about ten minutes we started making mistakes and the poor misplaced passing that has characterized this season came into effect. Therefore it wasn’t a big shock to me when Napoli took the lead courtesy of some sloppy positioning from Glen Johnson. For the remainder of the half I wasn’t impressed at all as Spearing and Poulson were both pretty awful in the middle and not getting anything on the game at all. I am getting sick to the back teeth of how many times Poulson passes back to Reina and struggles to make any impact at all on games. Jamie Carragher had one of his better 45 minutes of the season as he anticipated things and read the majority of danger really well, which helped keep the scoreline down.

Then at half time Roy made an outstanding substitution and brought on Gerrard for Jovanovic, who had struggled to get into the game. Stevie made an instant impact on the team and were far more positive and dynamic throughout the second half, leaving Pepe Reina to be a bit of a spectator for long periods. Jon Jo Shelvey was superb I thought, his range of passing was excellent and he made some really positive and intelligent runs that created space for others.

Clearly the man of the match was our captain fantastic who stood out head and shoulders above every other player on the pitch. Once again Stevie proved that how vital he is and I’ve lost count of how many times he has saved us almost single handed. He will be on top of the world tonight after that hat-trick which he took with his usual aplomb. Credit should also go to Lucas, on as a late sub, for his tackle that led to Stevie’s third goal. Stevie now has thirty eight European goals for Liverpool and assuming we now go on to get the one point we need from the last two games, he has a great chance of reaching the magic forty mark before the end of the season.

A lot has changed at Liverpool since the summer, we have a new manager and  new owners, but what doesn’t change is that we have one of the best players in the world as our captain and that is something I hope never changes.

Support the Red Men

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roy-hodgson_1670858cI recently received an e-mail by an influential member of the Liverpool support, Graham Agg, containing a link to the Liverpool Echo in which he was quoted before the Blackpool debacle as saying that Liverpool FC should immediately rectify their monumental mistake in appointing Roy Hodgson and replace him with Kenny Dalglish – this after seven games of the season. The fact that he said this before the game gave great credibility to his quotes after.

I was surprised to read this from Graham having met him in Liverpool a few years ago with Alan Jackson and the BBC Radio Merseyside team and being always impressed by his efforts to establish and grow the link between LFC and Borussia Moenchengladbach. He is a regular member of the football phone in show in Liverpool, chairman of the German reds branch, is well respected and is often quoted in the local and national press in England about all matters LFC – as a voice of the fans.

This comes on the back of the turbulent few weeks that have seen Liverpool plummet into the relegation zone, after a series of woeful league displays together with the calamitous exit of the League cup to Northampton Town of the old 4th Division – this cup being widely seen as our greatest chance of success this season. After the Blackpool result and the chants of ‘Dalglish’ by the Kop towards the end of the game, we now have fans of LFC openly calling for immediate and direct action.

The question as to why LFC fans have arrived so soon at the point of changing the manager and why we have seemingly shed the unique make up of what it means to be a red is not immediately easy to answer. You could say the answer is obvious and is that we are in the bottom three and out the cup which is difficult to argue against. You could also add that Roy Hodgson’s biggest achievement was finishing mid table and getting to a Europa league final with a modest team, forgetting the season before when he escaped relegation on the last day, but it may go deeper than that in the fans psyche. It is entirely plausible that the current distaste stems from the departure of the former manager, a man still revered by a large contingent of the reds fans – Rafa Benitez.

Last season a divide was created in the fan base and is one that still simmers. It was the fans for and against Rafa and for anyone who cared to read the letters from the Liverpool Echo and other fan sites and for those with an ear in the City it was impossible to miss. Pick your side and nail your colours to the mast. This is not the time to debate the reign of Rafa but the fact that he departed (and Purslow’s and Benitez both gave their versions last week as to how it was handled) caused a lot of upset to a lot of people.

Roy Hodgson, the current Premier Manager of the year was the early and obvious replacement. The club is to be sold and was (and is) in a state of civil war with the fan base divided. A ‘steady pair of hands’ as chairman Broughton put it was required to sail the good ship Liverpool through the stormy waters – certainly until new owners are found. Kenny Dalglish – charged with assisting Christian Purslow (the man who was recently labelled by Benitez as knowing nothing about the game along with Broughton) looked at the shortlist and left unimpressed, advised the board to appoint himself instead. The fans loved this idea, steeped in nostalgia, thinking back to the heady days of the late eighties and our last championship (won by Kenny) in 1990. The board however has other ideas for Kenny, ideas which involve him being an integral part of the club for years to come and not as a day to day manager in the short term. This together with the fact that he has not been in a managerial role since he replaced John Barnes at Celtic in 2000 meant he was ruled out.

So Hodgson got the job and LFC fans either agreed under the circumstances (Deschamps, Redknapp and Rijkaard were either uninterested or unavailable), or remained silent at least. Now to the present day.

To have the fans questioning the appointment of the manager so openly after seven games together with the recent insults from certain sections of the fans and so called fan websites to members of the Liverpool board is distasteful and unwelcome – very un-Liverpool like.

Liverpool’s fans have long been known as ‘the most knowledgeable’ and fair, with traditions developed over the last 50 years still evident today. At every game you will see the Kop applaud the opposition goalkeeper as he run’s to guard the Kop goal – every keeper. I remember being part of the crowd that stayed to a man to applaud Blackburn and Arsenal off the pitch after they had secured the league title at Anfield. For anyone who witnessed the Arsenal triumph in 89 and what had preceded it that year that gesture was breathtaking. You can also go back to ovations given to the great Leeds side and the famous Benfica after securing impressive victories at Anfield and even as recently as last Saturday the Kop afforded an ovation to Blackpool followed by Holloway talking warmly of Liverpool afterwards.

Liverpool fans are known and respected throughout the world for their sportsmanship and often sing about being “the famous kopites”.  We should remember that and pass it on.

There was a man called Bobby Wilcox who travelled everywhere to watch the reds with his plastic bag. Not much else, but he went to watch and support his team – anywhere and everywhere – never missed a game until he died last year of cancer. Carragher said that if Shankly was the best manager, Kenny the best player then Bobby was the best supporter. He upheld and pushed the meaning of what it meant to be a red and to support your team – not just with mindless noise, but in the unique Liverpool way. He led the way with the lads in the Albert pub behind the Kop and on the road, even arranging his own tours to away games to make sure that groups stayed together. Some Liverpool fans have forgotten what it means to be a true red and to back the team – no matter what – and as Bobby said if you can’t manage that then stay away until you can. We did it last season, we did it during the Souness years and we must do it now.

Whether Roy Hodgson is the best man for the job remains to be seen. Giving opinions in the pub is one thing but having a platform and then going public is entirely different be it as a respected voice like Graham Agg in the press or the Kop on match-day. Now is not the time for open warfare on the manager and players. Now is the time to stand behind the team and give it all we’ve got as standing together is the only way we’ll move forwards.