Sunday, September 26, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 2 Sunderland

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard once again came to his side's rescue but it was referee Stuart Attwell at the centre of attention with an erratic display in Sunderland's 2-2 draw at Anfield.

The official, who awarded the infamous "ghost goal" in the Championship two years ago, allowed Dirk Kuyt's opening strike to count after ruling Michael Turner had taken a free-kick when he appeared to roll it back to goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Darren Bent hit back with a penalty and a header either side of half-time before Gerrard nodded in Fernando Torres' near-post cross to salvage a point.

Reds manager Roy Hodgson had stressed his side should not be judged by the second-string's Carling Cup defeat to League Two Northampton in midweek but his first XI were almost as bad.

They were gifted one goal but managed to create little themselves and were again indebted to their inspirational captain for only briefly dragging them out of mediocrity.

Torres also played his part early on but cut an increasingly frustrated figure as Liverpool seemed to go backwards.

Only two minutes in he had the ball in the net after controlling Gerrard's free-kick on his chest and volleying in only to be denied by a very marginal offside decision.

His next intervention three minutes later had far more impact, although he was given a huge helping hand by Attwell.

When Sunderland were awarded a free-kick 10 yards inside their half Turner tapped the ball back towards Simon Mignolet, presumably intending for the goalkeeper to take it.

Torres turned to look at Attwell, who was in charge when Reading 'scored' at Watford on September 20 2008 despite the ball going yards wide of the post, who immediately waved play on.

Mignolet stood on the edge of his penalty area raising one arm aloft in the vain hope Torres would take pity but the 26-year-old was not in a sympathetic mood and rolled a pass for Kuyt, back in the side after a quicker-than-expected recovery from a shoulder injury, to slide a shot into the net.

Turner's challenge on the Spaniard in the 17th minute could have resulted in a penalty but, considering his earlier decision, the 27-year-old Attwell ignored appeals.

Everything seemed to be going in Liverpool's favour but, as been the case on several occasions already this season, they conspired to shoot themselves in the foot.

Gerrard's weak header back towards his own goal would have put Bent in had Jose Reina not dived feet-first to clear the danger.

If it was a warning to tighten up the Reds did not heed it as Attwell was called into action again in the 25th minute, although this time his decision was a little more straightforward as Ahmed Elmohamady's cross hit Christian Poulsen's arm.

Bent's penalty went under the Reina's body.

Things went from bad to worse as Paul Konchesky had to be replaced by makeshift left-back Daniel Agger before half-time and then Sunderland went ahead just after the interval.

Nedum Onuoha's right-wing cross was a good one but Glen Johnson was caught ball-watching the wrong side of Bent as the striker nipped in at the far post to head his side in front.

Even the usually reliable Reina was rattled, scuffing one clearance straight at Jordan Henderson who almost punished the error with a long-range shot.

Torres' temper was bubbling over and after diving in at Onuoha he was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after visibly showing dissent to Attwell.

Hodgson made a positive substitution by replacing defensive midfielder Poulsen with striker David Ngog, bringing Meireles inside and moving Kuyt out to the right.

But with the game seemingly drifting away from them, Liverpool's two star players dragged them back into the contest midway through the half.

Torres beat Bardsley close to the right touchline and swung over an inviting cross which Gerrard headed in at the near post.

The England midfielder was booked for catching Danny Welbeck in the face with his arm as they challenged for the ball as the atmosphere began to heat up.

Liverpool, at least, were now showing some desire and Ngog forced a low save out of Mignolet, Kuyt fired just wide, Turner cleared off the line from Ngog and Agger headed wide.

But the result did little to lift the growing feeling of discontent in and around the club and sit-in protest against unpopular American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett at the final whistle only highlighted problems yet to be overcome.

Konchesky Injury Latest

Paul Konchesky is set for a spell on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring strain in our 2-2 draw with Sunderland on Saturday.

The left-back had to leave the field early in the first half against Steve Bruce's men - and Roy Hodgson now expects to be without him for the next two games at least.

The manager said: "He's got a hamstring strain. I couldn't tell you exactly how bad it is yet. I don't think it's extremely bad but I certainly think it would rule him out for Thursday and next Sunday.

"Hopefully it won't be much more problematic."

Gerrard To Retain England Captaincy

Steven Gerrard is set to claim the England captaincy from Rio Ferdinand on a permanent basis.

Ferdinand was forced to withdraw from England’s World Cup campaign in South Africa because of an ankle injury.

And that paved the way for Liverpool skipper Gerrard to lead his country.

Initially, England boss Fabio Capello insisted that Ferdinand would be restored to the role once he regained his fitness. But Ferdinand, who has been troubled by injuries and illness this season, is only just returning to club action with Manchester United.

In fact, Ferdinand has already lost the United captain’s armband to Nemanja Vidic.

And Gerrard has produced a couple of ­inspirational performances for England this season in back-to-back European Championship qualifying victories over Bulgaria and then Switzerland.

That has led Capello to confide in close friends that he will find it extremely difficult to justify relieving Gerrard of his duties, despite the potential return of Ferdinand for the game against Montenegro on Tuesday October 12.

Ferdinand’s confidence of being automatically restored to the role has not impressed Capello either, who believed players have to earn the right to wear the armband.

Ferdinand’s injury-ravaged days appeared to play a part in Ferguson’s decision to opt for Vidic as United skipper.

Ferguson said: “What we wanted was someone who was consistently available for us.

“Everyone recognizes Nemanja would always be there.

“He has been fit all season and you don’t leave him out of the team unless you are going to rest him.”

Hodgson Calls For End To Liverpool's "Ownership Problem"

Roy Hodgson called for an end to Liverpool's "ownership problem" on Saturday after his misfiring side was held to a 2-2 draw by Sunderland at Anfield.

Gloom has enveloped Liverpool after an embarrassing League Cup defeat by League Two (fourth division) Northampton Town on Wednesday and last weekend's defeat by Manchester United. Saturday's result left the 18-times league champions languishing in 15th place.

Some 10,000 fans stayed behind at Anfield to protest against American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, and manager Hodgson said he sympathized with the supporters.

"I don't think anybody at the club wants anything but a solution to the ownership problem," Hodgson, whose side have managed just one win in six Premier League matches, said on the club's website (

"The fans here are very passionate and care an awful lot about this football club.

"You cannot criticize them for showing their displeasure about the situation, because like ourselves they want to see the club moving forward and not sort of stuck with owners who are trying to sell the club."

Gillett and Hicks put the debt-laden club up for sale in April but a prospective takeover by Chinese businessman Kenny Huang failed to materialize last month.

With uncertainty hanging over the club off the pitch and a playing squad that looks ill-equipped to break back into the top four of the Premier League, Hodgson faces a tough task and he called for patience on Saturday.

"It's quite simply the 'Rome wasn't built in a day' adage," Hodgson said after another scrappy performance. "There are lots of things I see in the game that I think we need to work on.

"We need to work more together; we have a lot of new players coming into team. We haven't had that much time with matches in the Europa League and the league.

"But I think that the more we work and the more the team plays together, the better we will become.

"These are games we all need to win, but the league is very, very tight. If we had won today we could have found ourselves in fourth or fifth place. I don't think we are playing like a team in fourth or fifth just yet, but that's how close the league is. There's not a lot between teams and it should be seen as how hard the Premier League is."

Liverpool Face Up To The Threat Of Administration As Crisis Deepens At Anfield

The sense of looming crisis threatening to engulf Liverpool deepened on Saturday as Roy Hodgson’s side stuttered to a 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Anfield and it emerged the Royal Bank of Scotland has not ruled out the possibility of Kop Holdings, the company which owns Liverpool, going into administration.

RBS holds the majority of the £282 million debt laden on to Liverpool by the club‘s current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and is due to call the loans in on October 15.

The bank, which is 84% government owned, introduced Martin Broughton as the club’s chairman and appointed Barclays Capital, the investment arm of the high street bank, to identify replacements for the Americans as owners in April.

That search has proved fruitless and, though managing director Christian Purslow suggested this week “a small number” of groups were conducting due diligence on the club’s accounts, it is believed no live bids are currently on the table.

Meanwhile, Hicks has explored a number of avenues that would allow him to refinance that debt but is yet to secure the necessary funding. He informed the club’s board last week that he was negotiating a deal with GSO Capital, an arm of the hedge fund Blackstone, but sources at the company have since insisted they are not intending to take the matter further.

That leaves RBS facing a choice as the deadline approaches between calling the loans in or offering Hicks and Gillett a short-term refinancing in order to continue the search for a buyer.

Should the bank opt for the former, it would put Kop Holdings at risk of going into administration, though Liverpool as a club is solvent. Though that would not automatically result in a nine-point penalty, as suffered by Portsmouth last season, Liverpool is the company’s only asset and, as such, the Premier League would be likely to examine the matter.

Such a prospect, even if it entailed a penalty which would all but end Liverpool’s season, though, is not as unappealing to the club‘s supporters as may have been assumed.

A poll conducted by Vizu for the supporters’ website revealed that 97.6 per cent of Liverpool’s fans believe administration is a better option for the future of the club than seeing Hicks and Gillett allowed to remain in control beyond October.

“We had the same two choices on the poll as the RBS decision makers will have next month,” said Jim Boardman of

“Fans have chosen the uncertainty of a bank takeover and the real threat of administration over the depressing certainty of what would come from more time with Hicks and Gillett at the helm. The message to RBS in particular is clear: Do not refinance that debt.”

Thousands of supporters remained behind at Anfield after watching Steven Gerrard rescue a point for Hodgson’s side to voice their discontent at the Americans’ regime.

Further direct action has been planned by the supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly, including a march before next Sunday’s visit of Blackpool, to increase pressure on the owners and RBS.

Liverpool Campaign Out To Sabotage Hicks

Angry Liverpool fans have mounted a concerted campaign to sabotage co-owner Tom Hicks’ attempts to stay in control at Anfield.

Hicks has spent the last week in his native USA desperately trying to persuade major financial institutions like Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan to repay the £280million owed to the Royal Bank of Scotland by their October 15 deadline.

But Liverpool fans have flooded US media outlets and financial centres with e-mails outlining their disgust at Hicks’ attempts to cling on to power.

The fans have warned potential investors that their wrath will come down on those who are sympathetic to the hated Hicks. The American is prepared to buy out Liverpool partner George Gillett and hang on to the club in the hope he can sell for a huge profit. Unless he can raise the necessary cash to pay off the RBS then the club could fall into the hands of the bank.

The RBS would then have to swiftly find new owners - but at a knockdown price of £300m.

That is why all interested parties are holding off in the knowledge they could get it on the cheap.

Liverpool Sinking Towards Meltdown As Fans Went Fury

The corporate man at Anfield -- and there are a lot of them these days -- was getting worked up at half-time. He grabbed a minion on the stairs in the Main Stand. "Of all the days to be showing a great game of Benitez's, today is not the f***ing time." Sky were showing Liverpool's Champions League victory against Olympiakos which started Liverpool's improbable journey to Istanbul and this was not a day for a history lesson.

When Steven Gerrard celebrated his equalizer against Sunderland at Anfield yesterday, he did so with almost the same passion he had shown when he scored the crucial goal that put Liverpool into the knock-out stages six years ago. Liverpool's priorities have changed.

Liverpool has one win in six Premier League games this season but that is not their crisis. Exiting the Carling Cup at home to Northampton is not their crisis either. Roy Hodgson might have been going too far when he said afterwards that "I cannot see the drama" of that defeat but, equally, winning the Carling Cup and the FA Cup wouldn't solve Liverpool's problems.

At the end of the game, the PA announcer at Anfield announced that the club was aware that "supporters were planning to peacefully demonstrate in respect of the ownership situation" and asked the crowd not to behave in an uncontrolled manner. This was astonishing: the club was sanctioning a protest against the owners of the club.

In the corporate boxes and in the stand they chanted and turned to the Kop where thousands remained and sang, "They just care about money, they don't care about the fans, Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands."

The Liverpool players, on the field to warm down, did not know what to do. They had dropped more points and they were in the middle of a club sinking in every possible way. Carragher and Gerrard applauded the Kop as they jogged by but they were entitled to be confused.

In the city centre yesterday morning, the supporters' group, Spirit of Shankly, met to discuss their options as Liverpool teeter on the brink. They will protest but also they will look for fan ownership in the club.

Within weeks, Liverpool could be owned by the British taxpayer, in the form of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and they may also enter administration and face a nine-point penalty, which would leave them on minus points. Most Liverpool fans would probably prefer that option to the continued involvement of Hicks and Gillett.

They are said to be exploring ways of avoiding that penalty which would surely lead to a legal challenge from Liverpool's rivals. At the moment, that challenge is more likely to come from a relegation candidate than a Champions League side.

Liverpool is now astonishing for many reasons, few of them good. The club that has won the European Cup five times is now weeks away from meltdown. The destruction of England's most successful club is not Hodgson's fault. But he is not the man to create the illusion on the field that it's not happening.

Benitez's achievement in keeping Liverpool competitive while Hicks and Gillett destroyed the club for all but his final season is now looking even more remarkable as things enter a vital endgame.

Sunderland were the better team yesterday. Until he scored, Gerrard had been just another anonymous player for Liverpool, out-thought and out-played by Jordan Henderson

Liverpool's opening goal was bizarre. Sunderland's Michael Turner rolled the ball back to his goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, intending that he would take a free-kick. Instead he had already taken it. Torres took the ball and set up Dirk Kuyt. Sunderland came back when the dreadful Christian Poulsen handled the ball and then took the lead before Gerrard's equalizer.

"We're not playing like a fourth or fifth place side at the moment," Hodgson conceded. He then pointed to the strange results across the league as some justification for what had happened yesterday at Anfield. The problem is there was nothing strange about Liverpool's result.