Malcolm Dawson writes…..Anfield is not my favourite ground. I’ve nothing against the Scousers or the city of Liverpool but after an horrendous experience a few years back when my “restricted view” ticket meant a “no view” ticket I vowed never to go back until they improved the sight lines. And now it’s even worse as I’m at an age where my knees won’t allow me to stand for a full 90+ minutes and these days it seems that sitting down at away grounds is rarely an option for a Sunderland supporter. Pete Sixsmith is made of sterner stuff and used our away game as an excuse to take in Rugby League on Friday and Fleetwood v Shrewsbury on his way home today. A point is a point so they say but it seems our scribe might be joining me and a few Merseyside reds in boycotting the ground if his latest report of yesterday’s game is anything to go by.
I first went to Anfield in October 1965, travelling by train from Darlington to Lime Street and looking for Maggie May, the lovable mop tops and eyeing up the Judies in the coffee bars. Those were the days of standing areas, “ee-ay-addio, we won the cup” and jovial policemen. It was Bill Shankly v Ian McColl. Two Scotsmen, the former a feisty former coal miner, the other a suave and smooth operator who had managed Rangers and the Scottish national side.
Monty played a blinder that day and won an ovation from the Kop for the series of spectacular saves that he pulled off and, thanks to George Herd and Neil Martin, we came away with a point which was no mean feat against a Liverpool side made up of the likes of Roger Hunt, Peter Thompson, Ron Yeats and Billy Stevenson.
Fast forward half a century, and my latest (and probably last) visit to Anfield saw a similar journey and a similar result. This time the train was Merseyrail’s electric service from Southport, stopping at such exotic locations as Freshfields, Waterloo and Bootle Oriel Road, depositing me at the far more prosaic Sandhills, where the Soccerbus took me up the hills to Stanley Park and from where I walked through the kind of streets where Yosser Hughes lived, to Anfield, where the new Main Stand towered over the existing one.
While the media attention has been aimed at the entirely justifiable protests about the £77 tickets for the new Fenway Stand (or whatever it will be called), little has been said about the ridiculous pricing system for away fans. Maybe the home fans are not aware that Sunderland (and Newcastle and Palace and Stoke) supporters are charged £47 for a poor view with a hopelessly inadequate concourse area –admittedly not helped by our usual idiots who think it is clever to throw beer around while others are trying to use the single block of male toilets.
If I were tempted to pay £77 for an ordinary league game, I would expect something better than the poor game that unfolded before the crowd on Saturday. We sat deep, happy to defend and try to catch Liverpool on the break. For the opening half, we defended competently, with O’Shea and Kone forming a very solid partnership and Kirchhoff carrying on where he left off on Tuesday. Liverpool huffed and puffed but lacked imagination and created nothing worth worrying about and we were exactly the same.
If we have Cattermole and M’Vila as essentially defensive midfielders, we look solid. But when we have to push forward, Cattermole in particular, looks totally inadequate. At the moment, his shortcomings outweigh his strengths and the number of misplaced passes that he makes is increasing by the game. M’Vila, while still an asset to the the team, has also slipped back a little bit, although his crisp and precise tackling makes up for his occasionally wayward distribution.
The loss of Borini before the game and Watmore twenty minutes in, also took pace out of the team and Allardyce’s choice on N’Dore to play a Danny Graham role on the right was a strange one, especially when we had Johnson on the bench.
Half time came and I imagine thousands of Liverpool supporters were looking forward to the 77th minute, when they could legitimately leave the ground and begin their journey home. Their lack of thrust and the potential disaster that is Sakho, meant that we still had a chance of that desperately needed win.
But Klopp’s assistants sent the home team out with instructions to put us on the back foot and keep us there. This they did and they took the lead with a well worked goal. James Milner was allowed far too much time and space and he whipped in a fine cross for Firmino to head in across the valiant Mannone.
If that was a good goal, he second was an absolute disaster. Billy Jones gave the ball to Firmino and the Brazilian played an inch perfect pass across the penalty box for Mr Nivea (aka Adam Lallana) to sweep it into the net and seemingly put the game out of our reach.
It wasn’t a good day for Jones. He knows that he was very close to being replaced in the transfer window and if Yedlin could tackle, he would be out of the team. He is an honest player (Aguero may not agree with that) but his limitations are clear and he will be targeted by opposing coaches whenever he plays.
The symbolic 77th arrived and a good 20% of the home crowd headed for the exits, presumably feeling that the game was over. Some Sunderland fans went at the same time, less concerned with FSG’s ticketing philosophy than the fact that the team looked dead and buried.
Adam Johnson had replaced a tired Jan Kirchhoff between the goals and gave us a spark. A free kick was awarded outside the box by the quietly impressive Bobby Madeley, and Johnson stepped up to curl the shot around the wall and beat the despairing dive of Mignolet to give us a lifeline. It was a lifeline that we grabbed hold of. There is always one other chance to come along and it was taken by Jermain Defoe after good preliminary work by Wahbi Khazri. The ease with which Defoe shrugged off the challenge by Sakho and crashed the ball into the net in front of a half full Kop showed that had we had a little more ambition, we could have taken all three points.
It was a decent draw. The point just about kept us in touch with Norwich and Newcastle but wins are needed if we are to survive for yet another season. No team looks as if they are going to get dragged into the mire – West Brom and Palace have accumulated sufficient points and Swansea are consistently picking them up so we have to start winning to avoid a day at The Pirelli Stadium in Burton-on-Trent.
The train back to Southport was full of grumbling Reds and exhausted shoppers. I celebrated with a couple of pints in The Tap and Bottles before an excellent meal in a French restaurant and then a splendid pint of Moorhouses Black Cat Mild in The Guest House. There may be no more trips to Anfield and if that is the case, it was good way to finish and with a lovely symmetry; first visit drew 2-2; final visit drew 2-2.
If only all things in life were that straightforward.