Get the earplugs out, because it’s going to get loud. The natives are restless.
Something awful must have happened to dim the Maradona-mania in Gerrard’s eyes, made his time reversal performance academic, made the memory of an incredible derby shellacking an irrelevance.
The sumptuous taste of victory against an Everton side that was definitely going to win at Anfield this time (no, honestly) suddenly turned into the retching, wretched aftertaste of castor oil and vinegar.
And what happened? We didn’t sign an unpronounceable Ukrainian who most couldn’t pick out of a line-up and never beat Albion? If there were a conscience within football, fans would be more concerned with the news of Evertonians being pinned to walls outside Anfield, mere yards from the Hillsborough memorial. They’d have been aghast that a Liverpool FC employee could speak so easily and greasily about “latecomers”.
No, we didn’t buy anyone and that got everyone frazzled instead. Who knows if the craving for new blood would have become parasitical had the blues taken advantage of what always seems a fragile defence or its paltry midfield barrier.
The reaction to every dropped point from now on will border on feral. Those who instead backed the players and manager who got us here in the first place made their case well, but they’ll be piddling into a gale-force wind.
When news broke that Dnipro’s owner simply refused to sign the papers out of thwarted autocrat spite, Twitter’s reaction was “yeah but still… y’know… grrrrrr!”
Why did we leave everything so late? There’s the real frustration. An afternoon watching Cissokho trying to cross and Toure self-implode only exacerbated matters. That’s before we even begin to dissect Rodgers’ curious craving for a winger.
Having a pint on Saturday meant keeping close tabs on the other gravy train hobos and it became thoroughly nerve-wracking. At one point the hope that Villa, Stoke and Hull could hold onto great results for us got me thinking it was better when we weren’t bothered.
For a few seconds. We waited four years for these exasperations to return, and they only get stronger when our game’s on. It’s worse still when your next opponents are leaking like a sieve after you’ve had your best result of the season. Mentally, those points were bagged, and as we all know that’s when Liverpool turn into a circus act, ripe for national humiliation.
Karma spotted Rodgers’ dig at Everton about how humble we are so we won’t bring out a 4-0 DVD, and made him pay. Someone obviously briefed him about the blues’ past penchant for hubris and embarrassment. Quite a few experts pronounced they were probably out of the fourth-place race now after Tuesday.
That’s what makes them experts I suppose.
With one win in three months for Albion, even hard-core red pessimists let their guard down. The first half saw little or no danger to this casual arrogance. Sterling was up for it at least and all anybody was concerned with was their fans’ curious “hoof” shouts.
Coutinho was dozy all game, and even during the first-half domination Toure looked like an accident waiting to happen. We just expected it from one of those rabid-dog dashes up the pitch, not from a careless gift to an anonymous ex-blue who’s never done anything before now and will never do anything else again.
The phrase ‘there are no easy games’ should be updated; ‘unless you go 2-0 up’. That’s when you can take breathers. Perhaps we’d done too much in the derby, but kill the game first and then rest.
Albion fought for their lives. They got up to a bit of naughty stuff, but who can blame them for that? They’re desperate for points.
So are we, it just didn’t show.
This month marks the 25th birthday of the fanzine Red Issue, to which I have been contributing since 1992. The anniversary issue went on sale last week with a cover featuring a fan groaning to Fergie “It’s like being back in 1989,” to which Fergie replies, “Back then, I used to dream of a season this successful.”
It’s a timely reminder that we’ve all been here before. Well, at least those of us who are no longer kids, anyway.
In the middle of the fanzine, there’s a special 16-page pull-out full of material from those early Fergie years spitting with rage but also bubbling with black humour just like the bars and internet message boards have been this past weekend following the abysmal afternoon in Stoke.
Rants against the Glazers today; spleen vented upon Martin Edwards then. Hatred of Neil Webb in 1992; loathing of Tom Cleverley in 2014. Old snarls at tinkering Fergie; new despair at dithering Dave... you get the picture.
At the centre of it resides the one unchanging element: the United fan. A cartoonist portrays a traumatised Red sitting on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest, with arrows helpfully pointing out all the bodily signs of impending collapse. The tagline underneath? ‘MUFC really screws you up’. The reference to the then-Government’s anti-heroin campaign dates it, but the sentiment works just as well today.
The performances and tactics at Stoke were quite evidently totally unacceptable, although some minor allowances ought to be made for the double injury and playing conditions hardly conducive to sophisticated football. Not that United have played very much of that kind of elevated game for the past two and a half years, even when conditions were perfect but the poverty of our ambition has been cruelly exposed by being stripped of the clothing provided by Premier League points.
Nobody got too carried away by the victory over lowly Cardiff and Mata’s debut last week. Nobody was relying on one signing to transform us overnight, despite our flickering hope that some kind of Cantonesque alchemy might eventually take place.
I could repeat the usual litany here: substandard legacy; still not got the central midfielder plus two defenders Moyes has wanted from the start; too much dependence on meat n’ potatoes crosses and not enough imaginative work through the middle; uninspiring coaching; some players not good enough or too old, etc ad nauseam. But we go through that Groundhog Day after every defeat and we all know the script by now.
The only thing that does change a little every time — and we’ve now had five of these breast-beating navel-gazing sessions in just one month — are the proportions of the legions involved.
By legions, I mean the number of Reds in the three squabbling camps. First there’s those who’ve settled their minds that Moyes needs to be given until at least Christmas come what may.
Then there’s those who’ve long since decided they want him out.
And then there’s those veering between the two, bashed about by the emotions engendered by each defeat-victory-defeat triptych.
My best guess is that the middle camp contains between a third and a half of the fans, most of whom continue to express support for Moyes inside the stadium, despite their oft-resurgent reservations outside it. But a politician would call them floating voters and Moyes could quite conceivably lose them if he doesn’t start showing some unmistakable signs of being up to the job by the summer. Even arch phlegmatists like me wouldn’t argue that he’s in the credit column still, whilst the debits mount almost weekly. As Mr Micawber would say, the end result of that is always misery.
The Gunners were so off the boil for the first 45 minutes at St Mary’s last Tuesday that a stranger would have been forgiven for thinking Pochettino’s high flyers were the league leaders. At least we pulled our finger out for a scintillating second half, as MeSut Ozil produced some mesmerising stuff. The big question was, in the absence of Wilshere and Ramsey, who was going to make those bursting runs into the box so our German playmaker might dissect the Saints defence.
We didn’t even get to finish our “top of the league” chorus at St Mary’s after turning the match around when the home side caught us napping with the equaliser. But, by the end of the evening, we couldn’t really feel too hard done by as our trip to the south coast could have ended in a far more depressing defeat.
After dropping two points and being deposed at the top by City’s relentless onslaught at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night, it felt as if we badly needed the psychological boost some transfer deadline day action can deliver.
Instead we somehow ended up with the exact opposite with the Kallstrom farce. It added to the sense of Wenger trying and failing. Let’s face it, our frugal manager was never going to pay an extortionate premium for Draxler and Arsene’s interest will guarantee we end up being gazumped by one of the other big hitters in the summer.
Yet while Dick “by name and nature” Law, our “chief transfer negotiator” ended yet another fruitless international foray, I wonder why the Gunners have nobody with their finger on the pulse of the lower league market where we might actually have achieved a couple of useful signings without breaking the bank. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken much to persuade Kevin Doyle to opt for North London instead of heading West with Harry Redknapp. I’d have much preferred to have the industrious Irish striker as an option, compared to our disdainful Danish lump of lard who I really can’t envisage saving our bacon.
Shane Long is another grafter who could’ve come in and done a job for us, along with any number of players on Friday’s transfer merry-go-round, who might have jumped at the opportunity to be involved with this squad. Sure they might not rate alongside the likes of Aguero or Suarez. But should our campaign flounder on Bendtner’s shoulders or if we’re forced to throw Sanogo into the fray, we might regret not propping up the foundations of our squad with some experienced journeymen pros.
If the shelves in any other multi-million pound business were left empty and the buyers had nothing but excuses they’d be out on their ears in an instant! This fiasco only heightened the sense that we really couldn’t afford to slip up against the Eagles on Sunday, and for 45 minutes it felt as if the chickens of le Prof’s parsimony were coming home to roost. However with the Ox coming to our rescue, playing in a more advanced role after the break and unsettling Pulis’ well-organised defence with his pace, mercifully we found a solution.
Nevertheless, I fancy it’s going to become increasingly hard to keep replenishing our slingshot in this David v Goliath battle, as the relentless run of fixtures take their toll. And yet with each passing week we continue to defy the odds, there’s an increasingly satisfying feeling to sticking two fingers up those who continue to suggest it can’t be done.
There’s a burgeoning backs-against-the-wall spirit in the Arsenal camp which is increasingly evident in the clean sheet strut of our centre-backs as they go about their consistent business and the longer we continue to maintain this momentum, the more we acquire the aura of winners and the sense that perhaps, just perhaps, we can go all the way.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved