by STEVEN SCRAGG
A CUP TIE tie lost but momentum maintained and a readjustment of mindset. I’m trying to grasp the vibe I’m meant to be experiencing after we tumbled out of the FA Cup to Arsenal at the Emirates.
On one hand, I will never do anything other than demand we win all trophies possible. On the other, I wouldn’t trade Arsenal a place in the quarter-finals for the three points we bludgeoned them into submission for eight days prior to the FA Cup 5th round encounter. Juggling the conundrum back towards the original hand – I wanted, and perhaps even expected, both.
There’s no worse a believer than an ex-non believer? My name is Steven and its 20 days since I shook off the last remaining shackles of disbelief and mistrust of Brendan Rodgers and his brave new era of progressive attack-centric football, making that crucial leap of faith required. The first step is the hardest. Enlightenment is nirvana. Can I get an amen? I feel the time is nigh to testify.
Up to the 93rd minute on Sunday I felt confident that we would still pluck a replay from the jaws of defeat. Up to around the 88th minute I still thought we’d win it.
When the final whistle blew, by which time neither the winning goal or even the bare minimum of an equaliser had materialised, I was however still missing the final piece of the ‘belief jigsaw’. That feeling of utter devastation that only total blind and unremitting faith of the final outcome of a football match can bring you.
At times this season has felt like 1987-88, but its clearly still not quite 1987-88. Yet.
Doc Brown’s DeLorean needs the finishing touches. Marty McFly will have to hold his horses. Old man Peabody’s scarecrow isn’t in danger of being the victim in a hit and run just yet. I still found degrees of ‘meh’ creep up on me come the final peep of Howard Webb’s selectively-blown whistle. Not at the performance, you understand, but more as a result of the deep-seated layers of protection from disappointment I’ve applied to my exterior over the near quarter of a century since we last won the league title.
It will, perversely, take fewer defeats for that old childlike to adolescent sensation of sorrow-laden mournfulness to return as a reaction to Liverpool defeats. You know, the concept of a loss managing to ruin an entire week to come, or at least until the Reds take to the field again with the opportunity to right the unacceptable wrong of losing a football match?
The increase in the quota of games Liverpool have lost since we won title number 18 has only resulted in the desensitising of defeat. The less we lose games, the worse the sensation will become again. The worse I’ve ever felt on the back of Liverpool losing a football match came on Sunday, March 20, 1988, when we lost 1-0 to Everton at Goodison Park in what was to be our record-breaking 30th league game unbeaten from the start of the season.
I can remember quite readily just how much that stung, while I can also balance that by the sensible thought that, yes indeed, watching your football team of choice lose when you’re aged 13 should hurt more than it does when you’re 39. It doesn’t mean that all these years on I still haven’t got a disproportionate dislike of Wayne Clarke.
I can find many positives in the face of the defeat to Arsenal. Despite noises proclaiming the contrary, I had worried in the days before the game about just how weak of a line-up Rodgers might be tempted to field. Was he going to go down the route of slapping FSG across the cheek with the ‘look how threadbare my squad is’ tactic? Would he field players that ordinarily spend league games sat on the bench (if they’re lucky) while fans sit and cringe about the prospect that they might actually get on to the pitch? We don’t have to name any names here do we? We all know who they are.
The manager – happily – resisted this particular course of action. He named a relatively strong line up. The fear of a loss of momentum in the 11-day break of league proceedings between the win at Fulham and the visit of Swansea City to Anfield had preyed on my mind. A weakened line up for the cup tie at Arsenal would leave the 11-day league break feeling a little like an international break. International breaks this season haven’t been our allies. In the two games directly after each of the September, October and November international breaks, totalling six games in all with a possible 18 points on offer, we yielded just six points.
One win, three draws and two defeats. Losses of momentum have had an acutely negative effect on us this season. Our opponents in these games haven’t been that bad either. In September it was Swansea away and Southampton at home. in October it was Newcastle United away and West Bromwich Albion at home, while in November it was Everton and Hull City – both away.
After this 11-day gap between league games we’ll be up against Swansea at home and Southampton away. The two teams we faced after the September international break. It’s going to be an interesting test to see if we’ve learned enough about the need to hit the floor running again and not come out sluggishly once more.
Too much now depends upon it that we should be allowed to falter once more. Every ‘next game’ we have on the horizon is the most important game of the season. We must embrace them accordingly. 12 league games to go and no external distractions. We can be single minded and completely blinkered. I’d have loved a return to Wembley and another cup final on a sunny Saturday in May, but if we’re honest about it this squad of players should have no right to be in with a shout of the title. They are in with a shout of the title though. So let’s roar them on and make it a loud one.