West Bromwich Albion 2 - Liverpool 2
Our win at Old Trafford last week meant that I was really looking forward to today. Despite the return to fitness of Evans, Big Dave kept the same team that played so well last week which I think was the right decision. Liverpool played a strong team so we had a big task ahead of us.
I thought we stated a bit slowly but, irrespective of that, the first goal was poor from our perspective with (I think) Phillips selling himself too easily and then us being so deep that Liverpool patiently picked us apart in 3 passes. It was a poor goal and we'd made a tough job even tougher.
In truth I thought we were really on the back foot for the first 20 minutes - our shape looked okay but Phillips and McClean dropped really deep, so did Brunt and Livermore and we chased shadows - but for a great save from Foster and a poor header from Ings it couldv've been 2 or 3 goals. In this spell I thought Livermore was really bad - he hardly touched the ball and when he did he gave it away really cheaply.
But we did manage to grow into the game - the infectious relentless running of McClean, the refusal to stop plugging away running the channels, the fighting from Rondon and Brunt managing to get hold of the ball more contributed - and Livermore did start to press a bit more further up the pitch.
From then on we gave as good as we got - Liverpool's movement was still fantastic and they kept the ball well but we snapped away and started to get decent change through Phillips and McClean who were able to get at their fullbacks and win set pieces or get the ball across.
We had a spell of consectutive corners and pressure from which we probably should have done better but couldn't get on the end of.
That spell lifted our confidence and Phillips in particular became a real threat, beating his fullback at will.
We ended the half well but with regret that when we did get into pockets well, or win the ball high on the break we made the wrong decision - examples such as JRod picking the wrong pass or dribbling when it was worth a shot and Nyom shooting from the halfway line instead of lifting the ball through for Rondon to chase in a 50/50. There were also two flashes across goal, one on the volley from McClean, that we really had to finish.
Second half was more of the same. I thought we were pushing well and as the half went on Phillips really put Moreno to the sword. The attacks and set-pieces kept coming and we'd pressed well enough to a point where we were managing Salah well - there was onyl one moment when Nyom made a right hash of a clearance when he was last man defending a break from our corner but all players showed great desire to get back.
If anything it felt like we might score if we kept going, so it was a surprise when McClean made way for Evans - was this down to injury? Our left side had looked pretty solid considering and I thought the sub weakened us, with Gibbs pushed to the wing.
In Liverpool's first attack follwoing the sub Evans didn't do enough in his first challenge and about 10 seconds later Salah was through to finish brilliantly - his run was Messi-like in that everyone knew where he was running and what he would do but he did it in a flash.
I thought the crowd's reaction to the second goal was something to be proud of - it felt like everyone could see the players were having a go and giving it their all, and our singing drowned out Liverpool's celebrations.
Burke came on for Gibbs on the left (but he ran about everywhere) and we kept going and playing decent stuff. From another good set play the ball bobbled about and Livermore slammed home form close range.
The goal lifted us some more and once again we gambled, pressing high and trusting Brunt to get us going. Liverpool looked to kill the game by keeping the ball but every player kept running and chasing - and our equaliser epitomised that desire.
Burke gave chase to a 50-50 with absolute desire, nicked the ball and tried to stay on his feet whilst being fouled before doing the same again moments later in the same passage of play. His sheer determination to fight and try won a set play.
Chris Brunt rubbed down 'old reliable', and with the waaaaaand sent in a perfect free kick at pace and optimum height that allowed Rondon to steam in ahead of his marker and power a header home.
I went delerious for a moment because it was no more than we deserved - for the players, the coaches and the fans. It's also fair to say that Rondon had kept the fight up all day despite some pretty unfair refereeing in which every 50/50 decision seemed to go against us. Mostly these were against Rondon but there were other examples, one being right before their first goal.
JRod made way for HRK in the final sub-I -wouldn't-have-made and we had a go but the game slowed down to a close.
We weren't quite as good as last week and Liverpool were much more high-tempo and agressive than Man Utd, but this was still a good performace that was built on a very basic and understandable plan coupled with hard work, fight and playing as a team.
As week lastly I think the performance and result reflect very badly on Pardew and Pulis again - despite our problems we went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league and got something. Why we didn't get rid of Pardew after Barcelona, then after Southampton after Barcelona, then at basically any point between then and when we finally did is the probably the biggest failing in a season of poor decisions. It took practical mutiny to get him out.
Massive credit to Big Dave and his coaches for getting the positivity back - I think he's too green for a job of this size but he has to stay on in some capacity.
Brendan has already captured the game very well, but I would just like to comment on the pitch. Here we have a team stacked to the gills with talent, with a chance of winning the Champions league and they can't perform on a pristine, billiard table surface because it's 'too dry'. Does that whining twat Klopp expect us to take him seriously? Apparently the commentators do because they couldn't stop talking about the lack of watering, which was slowing the ball down to West Broms advantage. What a load of old cobblers.
I couldn't help thinking back to the pitches in the Birmingham works league in the sixties; either grassless, rutted and bone hard or ankle deep in mud, as undulating as Augusta's greens and steep as the Lickey hills. Now they would have slowed Salah down.
Whilst the display against Liverpool might not be enough to tempt Arsene Wenger to B71 for next season, it's a good bet that the Frenchman would not have come out with the nonsense that Klopp uttered in summing up the game.
Perhaps the German's claim that it was a "useless comeback", a nonsense compounded by his "I don't think that point will help West Brom massively, it is a complete waste of points. They don't need it, we would have needed it," quote, might be seen as an attempt to explain that clubs near the top should expect those at the bottom to simply roll over and so allow him to field a side with five changes and still come away with the points.
Indeed it's a shame that no-one thought to ask Klopp whether he really believes that his best hope of a place in the main European competition next season lies through winning this season's trophy or merely as a sop to a top four finish in his domestic competition, especially as I'm sure Roma will already be considering using Albion's "dry pitch" strategy as a way to combat the mighty reds.
First game I have seen in a long while, although I did hear the World Service radio coverage of the win at ManU last week, so it was something of a shock to see us concede so early and with such a poor defensive showing, with Rodriguez running out wide to put pressure on the ball after a short passing development of a Liverpool set-piece, only to have the other defender (Dawson?) who had started to come towards the two Liverpool players to drop back so as to take up a position inside the six-yard box, which allowed the attacker who had by-passed Rodriguez to simply saunter into the box and cross into the usual morass of bodies, whereupon Ings, one of the five changes getting a token run-out, stabbed home his first goal for so long that his celebration suggested he'd scored a blistering injury time winner in a major European final rather than a three-yarder against a team propping up the division, but it would be churlish to begrudge him his unbridled joy.
As with many Albion games in recent memory, it wasn't readily apparent that "going behind early doors" actually made much difference to a slightly different version of our old "keep it tight and look to nick something" game plan - different in that Albion now not only look to "keep it tight" be also seem to want to "keep it" when they do finally get it - and certainly Klopp's second stringers never looked up the challenge of going on to run riot, although both sides would have chances to score as the game meandered into the final twenty minutes, whereupon Darren Moore decide to spice things up a bit by withdrawing the excellent McClean so as to give Evans and end of season run-out.
Can't say that I have any idea as to the thinking behind this change as all it merely seemed to do was to confuse Dawson so much that, once again, he elected to remain in the centre rather than track Salah as the later ran in acres of space just outside the line of the six-yard box and it came as little surprise to see a player who has excelled all season in creating something in tight spaces, making full use of a complete lack of attention to overcome the vagaries of a dry pitch and calmly chip the ball over Foster.
Going two down would see Big Dave forced into undoing his earlier withdrawal of a winger for a defender, by now bringing on a winger, Burke, for a defender, Gibbs, and, within a couple of minutes, Liverpool would concede an almost identical goal to their first, with Livermore reprising Danny Ings's "haven't scored in ages" role by poking home from close range after a bout of pinball in the box in the wake of a set-piece, although Jake's display of delight was a pale impression of that of the former Burnley man.
It might be possible to make a claim that what was, effectively, a swap of McClean for Burke, ultimately led to us getting the goal that gave us the point which, according to Klopp, we didn't actually need, in that I can't believe that the Mad Dog would have gone to ground as easily as Burke when "earning" the free- kick from which Brunt's wand was able to deliver the inviting ball onto which a diving Rondon would be able to power home a diving header inside the near post, but such a claim would be merely be a knock to the reward that the Venezuelan got for another display of tireless running across the front.
And of course, despite what dummkopf Klopp might think about our "useless comeback", our dream lives on, courtesy of Man City repaying us for handing them the title by trouncing the Swans and, even if that dream doesn't come true, would it be too much to dream instead that Liverpool miss out on a top four spot by the same two points they dropped against us, as a resurgent Chelsea start to make up the ground by trouncing an ever more jittery Swansea in the next round of games? Yes, I think it probably is but whatever, here's to reading about a few more useless comebacks before the curtain falls, for which many, many thanks to Brendan Clegg, for his continued output.
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