Thoughts are elsewhere despite distraction aplenty

AT LEAST we can concentrate on the league.

There is the wispiest possibility of that line being selected for the Examiner supplement’s “football columnists are utter gimps” segment after last night’s events.

Then again I might have won the lottery, handed in my notice and whisked myself and Christina Ricci off to the Bahamas on the back of a gryphon. It’ll be best for all concerned if we kept some semblance of realism for the moment.

On a day like this we’ve got bigger, more momentous things to worry about. Our European exit will have been a bitter blow and our title chances are still in the balance, but our thoughts today are elsewhere and football becomes the distraction that it is.

As distractions go, however, it’s still one of the best. The thought of even challenging for the title has camouflaged my naturally cantankerous demeanour beneath a schoolboy’s giddiness.

So much so I can honestly claim not to have been unduly perturbed by last week’s mauling, which is what it was, the score not coming remotely close to signifying the force of the shellacking we took.

Chelsea played very well whilst it would be hard to name a single player in red who did himself justice. Much was made of Hiddink’s (ahem) tactical masterstroke, but it’s not as he’d suddenly invented the wheel.

What it ultimately meant was a straight midfield tussle between Lampard/Ballack and Alonso/Lucas. You may already have spotted the flaw there, exacerbated by Xabi barely turning up and Gerrard failing to keep his supposed marker fully occupied.

Add the gift of two goals, just one of which could have caused the damage, and we might as well have paid for their Barcelona flights and packed their bags. Once again, we must reluctantly salute the evil genius who invented the away goals rule, because even the first effort damaged our morale.

Of course the knives were out for zonal marking again, tapping into modern football’s predilection for ill-informed mischief.

In how many games have Liverpool successfully defended set pieces? “Irrelevant”, say the game’s opinion shapers. Well, if you say so, over and over again until Rafa relents and plays the game your way. How likely is that after five years, do you think?

Besides, check the photograph of the equaliser. Ivanovic is the only player looking at the ball; every Liverpool player is squirming with his eyes shut. No system could work with such incompetence or cowardice.

I like Hiddink, he seems a decent man. Far too decent for them. Terry’s hypocritical bleat about his moronic yellow card just about sums them up. It’s always a moment to savour when we make this overgrown brat blub uncontrollably, but Messi and Henry will be worthy understudies.

We took our frustrations out on Blackburn despite the best efforts of their manager, the self-proclaimed major tactician.

Allardyce spoke of Benitez liking a good whinge. It is traditional to say of such wretches “take a look in the mirror” but who could be that cruel?

Rovers had players missing but that surely doesn’t prevent the ones that were left putting a shift in. The second half was so perplexingly limp that at one point the words “gambling syndicate” popped into my head. Aren’t you supposed to be fighting relegation?

Torres was a marvel obviously, but our finishing again left something to be desired. It must seem churlish to berate the league’s top scorers after getting four, but it has been a weakness for some time and not every opponent is so generous.

Mascherano’s madness entertained us sporadically, showing how much he was missed against Chelsea. Agger scored a beauty then collapsed with cramp. His contract demands are not as justifiable or so clear cut as he’d have us believe.

The journey home was spent hoping for a miracle from Sunderland. Our renewed optimism means we can still take heart from just how laboured United have become. Obviously we would love the late face-saving goals to evaporate but there’s time enough for that. There is an assumption they’ll find a second wind, simply because they always do. I may break a lifetime’s habit and support them tonight, knowing more games in the schedule will contrast sharply with our own relatively sedate run-in. Fat lot of good that did Martin O’Neill though.

Wanting United to win? This season just got stranger. I didn’t think that was possible. I just wish there were a certain 96 people here to share it with us.

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