Sunday, 27 September 2009

07: Liverpool 6 - 1 Hull City - 26/09/2009

Let's get one thing out of the way quickly - Fernando Torres is the finest centre forward in the world. Nobody can or should take anything from his brilliance, a brand of striking brilliance which was on devastating show against the Tigers.

But the City defence is its own worst enemy, and Phil Brown said so afterwards. The back four, one containing essentially three brand new players, was a mess, a disorganised, unmotivated shower. And the manager needs to take responsibility for it.

Yes, players have to do what is necessary once they cross the white line, and certainly the back four should, when assessing parts of their performance on Merseyside, be prepared to indulge in some self-flagellation. But they were on a hiding to nothing in any event.

Only Andy Dawson, at left back and the most blameless of the culpable quartet, has any real familiarity with the team around him, even though his six years at the club has seen goodness knows how many defenders go through the revolving door while he sturdily carries on with his job. But even he yesterday must have looked at what was going on next to him and wondered how all would cope.

Ibrahima Sonko, a sluggish loanee considered not good enough for Stoke City (but considered good enough to captain Hull City); Liam Cooper, a youthful and bouncy streak of eagerness making his Premier League debut; and Paul McShane, a fine defender but adamant that his main function at Anfield was not to stop the ball reaching Torres, or even our net, but to fight with anyone dressed in red kit. Thiwas all Torres had to deal with. All his birthdays had gathered together.

Cooper made errors but human decency alone means he has to be excused, and indeed for a fair chunk of the game he was City's better defensive performer. But one has to question the wisdom of throwing him in alongside Sonko, a player expected to guide the teenager through life repelling great centre forwards when evidently he hasn't the ability or nous to look after himself.

The rest of the team was almost as expected, though a collective groan could be heard around the away-friendly pubs surrounding the ground when the name of Kevin Kilbane appeared ahead of Dean Marney or Tom Cairney in the midfield. Clearly once a fine footballer, Kilbane simply isn't any more. Perhaps picking the raw but enthusiastic Cairney in midfield would have been going too far with Cooper also drying his ears for the occasion, but he would still have been better than Kilbane.

A boisterous away crowd added some much needed noise to the stadium of quiet reflection that is Anfield, though it seems really difficult to debunk football's great myth that Liverpool fans are amazing supporters. They may love their team but, well, we don't actually hear the evidence of it very often.

Steven Gerrard tried to send Torres clear from the kick off, but Boaz Myhill was alert to the danger and plunged on to the ball before the Spaniard could get close enough. It didn't take very long for Liverpool to take the lead, however, and way too much space was given to Albert Riera as he reached the line and found Torres with a cute lay back. The Spaniard made room with his first touch and placed a perfect shot wide of Myhill with the second.

So, an early goal had been conceded and everyone held their breath. It could become one of those resistible afternoons where City, still pretenders and upstarts to the many, are given a footballing lesson and told exactly where they belong. But not a bit of it. Three minutes after going behind, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed McShane's cross back across goal and, after Kilbane failed to connect, the late arriving Geovanni approached the loose ball with real purpose and smacked a low volley into the corner.

An excellent equaliser and a hopeful sign that the heroics of Anfield the season before could repeat themselves. Certainly there was a decent spell for City afterwards, though opportunities to take the lead were nil and soon Liverpool recovered their composure.

Riera's shot was deflected wide by Sonko after a swift counter attack by the hosts, then Myhill held a low Lucas shot well and Dawson stepped in to clear calmly as Dirk Kuyt approached a Torres pass with a shot on his mind.

Sonko got unwittingly but effectively in the way of a Martin Skrtel volley as City desperately tried to see it through to the break, but eventually Torres got the better of the whole defence - literally - by waltzing through a succession of legs and even whipping the ball around Myhill on the edge of the six yard box before prodding into an empty net. It was class at work and nobody can argue, but he should have been taken out at the expense of a penalty long before Myhill had to dive at his feet. Defenders shouldn't stand and admire, they should do what's professional. A penalty is missable, an open goal when Torres is hugging the ball is not.

The whistle for half time did, nevertheless, offer some optimism for the Tiger Nation as they enjoyed Anfield's facilities, which mainly seems to involve being thrown out of the ground by uber-zealous stewrds if you consider standing up to go use them. Stewarding is a hot topic, and ground safety is something Liverpool will always have to observe to the letter when recalling a sad history. But there's a difference between ensuring crowd safety and just victimising people. The stewards at Anfield are a total disgrace.

So, keep it tight in the second half and then see what's available on the break. That must have been the instruction for the team for the game's resumption. Instead, Torres completed his hat-trick with depressing ease as he ventured in from a flank, exploited the space given to him with demoralising respect by the City back four, and thundered a shot beyond the helpless Myhill.

All hope for a rescue act gone in an instant, and now a very long half of football awaited us. If Liverpool felt the inclination, they could cause our team, our confidence and our goal difference some serious damage. And they really did feel the inclination.

Gerrard got the fourth with some fortune, getting the ball back from his own cleared corner and despatching a second cross which became a shot as Myhill stretched to reach it and failed. Torres and then Gerrard both then departed, their work done with still a very long period to play. It was too easy for Liverpool. They would have expected this, their fans certainly would have demanded nothing less, but we gave it to them as much as they forced it upon us.

If City did gain possession, it didn't last. The only time Liverpool looked lightly rattled was when Skrtel shoved an elbow in Vennegoor of Hesselink's face and seemed a little fortunate to only see yellow. Geovanni's consequent attempt at goal from the free kick was diabolical. Later, Jose Reina rushed out of goal to clear as Kamel Ghilas chased, but didn't get the ball into Row Z and Stephen Hunt had thrown the ball to Ghilas' feet with the Spaniard miles out of goal. However, his attempt to find the empty net from distance was poor, to put it charitably.

Liverpool proceeded to batter the City goal for the remainder of the game. Glen Johnson put a curler wide, subs Andriy Voronin and Ryan Babel both sent shots over and George Boateng cleared from under his own bar from a Riera centre.

Eventually, the fifth did go in and it was too easy for words, with the towel long thrown in by City's alleged rearguard. babel sent Kuyt down the right and then deftly and flamboyantly flicked the return ball past Myhill. In four minutes of purgatorial injury time, Babel got in the way of Riera's fizzing shot to claim a fortunate second since his introduction and Liverpool's sixth.

This was thoroughly depressing. Few could sanely expect anything other than defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, but last season against this and other teams of top standing we enjoyed glorious losses. The heart, the spirit, the organisation, the fight, the technique - it's all gone. But for a blinkered, simpering chairman and the fact it was Liverpool away, not Wigan at home, the manager would be collecting his personal belongings, even though most City fans would prefer to have a fresh chairman rather than a fresh manager.

But next week it really is Wigan at home. No hiding places behind exceptional Spaniards at this one. This should be Brown's make or break game. It won't be, whatever the result, but it should be.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua, Lucas, Gerrard (Mascherano 74), Benayoun (Voronin 77), Riera, Kuyt, Torres (Babel 67). Subs not used: Cavalieri, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Ngog.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Sonko, Cooper, Boateng, Kilbane (Marney 64), Hunt, Ghilas, Geovanni (Altidore 83), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Cousin 63). Subs not used: Warner, Zayatte, Olofinjana, Barmby.