It was a grand day out: I enjoyed watching both sets of supporters applaud a besuited Steven Gerrard as he walked round the touchline, smiling and singing autographs; I enjoyed seeing as many of ours applaud the traditional Gerry & The Pacemakers singalong as booed it, and I enjoyed seeing Liverpool fans applaud the superb touches of Stéphane Sessegnon (one Sunday paper’s rating of 5/10 was laughable). And Pete Sixsmith took enormous heart from a tremendous Sunderland fightback: for once, as he put it to me afterwards, deserving the cliché “very much a game of two halves” …
Another game with the once mighty Reds gets mired in controversy. We’ve had the beach ball, the back pass and the dive, which made it 2-1 to Liverpool on iffy decisions. Our turn this time, as Phil Dowd gave Kieran Richardson a considerable benefit of the doubt and showed him a yellow instead of a red.
Good job Phil isn’t a JP in Haringey, as some of those who were redistributing wealth last week would be writing out 100 times “I must not burn down houses” rather than preparing for six months in Wormwood Scrubs.
We got away with it. I couldn’t see anything other than a red: home crowd, clear run on goal, about to go past keeper – it had to be a red.
But maybe Dowd saw that Suarez did not have full control of the ball and that there was the possibility that he may have let it run too far wide, so he saw Richardson’s attempts to make up for his shocking error as careless rather than malicious. Had Kieran hacked at him from behind, it would have been a red; as it was, he fell into Suarez, knocked him over and got a yellow. On such things do games turn.
So, 2-2 in controversial decisions and we rode our good fortune in the first 35 minutes. The penalty kick was awful but Suarez showed his quality with a fine goal a few minutes later, when he got ahead of er, Richardson (not one of your better 45s Kieran) to give Liverpool a deserved lead.
For the next 20 minutes they ran us ragged. Carroll rightly had a goal disallowed for a gentle nudge on Ferdinand and Downing’s screamer hit the bar. Two down and we were out of it; at 1-0 we always had a chance.
And so came the second half. They ran out of steam and ideas, we began to play. Cattermole had got his booking out of the way (a nasty tackle on Suarez; not proud of that) and began to show what a good player he is, working along the line, picking up loose balls, bringing Sessegnon into the game. If only he didn’t have that nasty streak in him. He can be very hard to defend at times – although not in the Joey Barton class as complete and utter t***.
Larsson came into the game, Gyan worked really hard up front, pulling their central defenders out of the middle, and we conjured up an equaliser that was certainly the best goal scored on the opening day. Good back heel by Gyan to Elmo, great cross to the far post and a wonderful finish by Larsson. Quality or what?
From then on, we controlled the game. Colback got involved after a first half where he looked as far out of his depth as Boris Johnson on Clapham High Street, Sessegnon carried the ball well and Brown was simply magnificent at the back.
He rarely missed a tackle, completely subdued the Gateshead Mauler (who once again reminded me of Kevin Kyle with a pony tail), and oozed calm and class throughout. That the home crowd stopped booing him tells you how well he played. I always think it’s petty booing players who come from your rivals. You wouldn’t catch me hooting at Carroll and Enrique!!
Brown was clearly our best player, but his confidence has rubbed off onto Mignolet, who had an excellent game in goal. In the second half, when Liverpool resorted to crossing the ball in a vain attempt to find the lumbering oaf aka Carroll, he handled very well and used the ball effectively. The long kick to Elmo so he can flick it on could well be our equivalent of the Delap Throw.
We need a bit of tuning before next week. Vaughan came on for the last 10 minutes and did what he is very, very good at doing – not losing the ball and making sharp, accurate passes. There should be a place for him against the Mags, maybe at the expense of Colback. Vaughan gives us an element of creativity that was missing on Saturday.
After his first half nightmare, Richardson had a much better second, although how much of this was due to him and how much to Liverpool tiring is debatable. The young right back, Flanagan (maybe they could sign Swansea midfielder Joe Allan for a musical duo; crazy idea, I know), switched roles with Kieran. He had looked good in the first half but had an awful second, vice versa for KR.
We came out into the hordes of football tourists masquerading as Liverpool supporters, with smiles on our faces. What was basically last year’s team had taken a well deserved point from a team who had spent in excess of £100m in eight months. What’s not to be pleased about?