Missing in action – Liverpool report

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Latics 0-1 Liverpool
Saturday 11th February 2006

The headlines for this one will no doubt concentrate on that unused plane ticket, but Henri Camara wasn’t the only player who didn’t turn up yesterday. The game was rumoured to be between the European Champions and the Premier League’s fairytale team, but what we got were two teams trying desperately to prove who was worse. A lack of strikers on Latic’s part didn’t help but the big disappointment has to be the lack of application from a Liverpool team chasing second place in the league and further glory in Europe.

The game was characterised by the inability of either set of forwards to hold onto the ball for any length of time, or make the most of what few chances that were provided to them. Criminal when your forward line has the supposed class of Morientes and Fowler somewhat more excusable when your front two is cobbled together from a centre half and one of those is he/isn’t he midfielder/forwards.

There’s no doubt that the first half belonged to the visitors but to say they dominated would be misleading. Possession alone doesn’t win games and when it’s combined with the general lethargy that Liverpool showed then it rarely bares fruit. Gerrard could have shot, but preferred to go for the showpiece Fowler goal, the ball not even making the striker.

That effort was sandwiched between two opportunities for the returning ‘god’ of Anfield. Firstly a good headed chance was weakly headed into Pollitt’s hands. Fowler had time to do better and there’s little doubt that he’d have been less kind a few years back. The second chance came as Fowler’s perfectly timed run put him onto a Gerrard though ball, his strike partner hadn’t been so cute though, and thankfully Morientes tried to get involved after starting in an offside position.

Somewhat ironically the breakthrough came from a move involving two centre halves. A hopeful ball from Carragher finding Hyppia whose turn and scuffed shot was enough to find the back of the net. The goal wasn’t even Liverpool’s best chance of the half. That fell to Morientes who with only Pollitt to beat hit the ball too close to the keeper’s body giving Pollitt a good but fairly easy save.

It wouldn’t really be exaggerating to say that the only really incident of note in the first half from a Wigan perspective was Zeigler’s hopeful long range shot that ended up over the bar. That’s not to say there weren’t plaudits to be handed out. Praise has to go to Scharner and Johansson, just for keeping at it. More so to Zeigler who played as much a part in keeping the Liverpool captain quiet as did the fact that he was still carrying an injury.

The second half was a different prospect, and the immediate change in approach from Latics gave a massive clue to the direction of Jewell’s half time talk. Straight from the kick off Latics were more direct, showed more energy and started to get our wide men involved in the game. Perhaps unsurprisingly, following his recent form, it was Teale causing most problems where he wasn’t getting crosses in himself he was a sufficient enough distraction to give others the time to.

In addition to Teale, Bullard, Jackson and Zeigler all had turns at putting excellent balls into the box. First thoughts turned to Grahame Jones and what a striker like him would have done with those crosses and then you remember the situation a wonder what any striker would have done with them. As it stood only two came to anything, Scharner and Johansson both extracting saves from Dudek, Scharner being incorrectly ruled offside in any case.

As improved as the performance was, you were never really convinced that Latics would muster a goal from open play. Set pieces were equally hard to come by. From the few that were earned, De Zeuuw looked a threat and he was presented with two chances that he really should have done better with, disappointingly neither effort troubled the keeper.

Latic’s good patch started to want as players on both sides started to tire. The pitch, looking worse than ever, taking its toll. More passes were misplaced than found their mark and the game just faded into a nothing last 15 minutes. When the whistle finally went you could feel the relief from both players and fans. Liverpool will be pleased with their 3 points, but it would have been wrong for us to expect anything anyway. Neither side can be too proud of the way they played.

And then again there were plus points. The back four and Teale came out of it with some credit and the hard work of the front two deserves a mention. In some ways this was better from our perspective than the game at Anfield, but that doesn’t say much. This was hardly the form you’d want to be showing as you head into your first showpiece final, but is that really the concern? Our league form has been poor since Christmas and the good work in the first half of the season seems to be coming to little.

A 17th place finish is still good enough for me, but expectations are a little higher with others. The further we fall the more frustrated those people will come. It also opens the door for the pundits who wrote us off early on, to get another snipe in. Both of those will distract from the real story of the season, which is one of success, it would be nice to top that off with a touch of glory but on this form there’s a real job on to manage anything like that.

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