Ipswich Town 1 Liverpool 1
We should take it as a compliment that of the many different sides available to the increasingly mad swivel-eyed Frenchman, he chooses to put out his match-killing line up for little old Ipswich. Not even the defensive-lineup-plus-Michael-Owen which he fielded in Barcelona to try to nick the away goal, but the full monty Central European All-Star Match-Killing Select XI: almost an entire team of Transylvanian giants who you tried to pass at your peril. The sole tactic for these monsters was to hoof it forward to Emil Heskey. And we thought John Beck was at Cambridge… The flair (Owen, Fowler etc) didn’t get off the bench, and even Steve Gerrard was only permitted to wander into our half about twice in 90 minutes.
Against that giant brick wall, there was little chance of Town getting more than three or four chances, so when Marcus miscontrolled a half-chance in the first half and Scowie spurned an easy headed opportunity later on, you knew we’d blown it. Add to that the defence deciding to start the second half a minute after Liverpool (which was all Heskey needed, thanks), and we were our own worst enemies.
That’s not to demean the result. Giants they may have been, but Liverpool were not slow, and closed us down everywhere – they were as effective at what they tried to do as anyone we’ve seen in the Premiership. They were strong (far stronger than us) but never dirty, and apart from the ever-irritating Heskey, you had to respect what they did. They also weren’t petulant primadonnas like Moan Utd, they reminded me more of a well drilled bunch of stormtroopers just acting under orders. Very intimidating. And hats off to the boys for holding their own.
Burley tried to play football against them, keeping it on the deck, but we were closed down so much that first-time passes were much in evidence, many of which went up in the air. And with the awesome Hyppia winning everything within 25 yards all evening (up there in the three best performances against us I’ve seen this season) we were never going to get far once the ball was at head height. The tactics needed Jermaininho to be sharp (he wasn’t) and for the ball to be delivered to Marcus’s feet a lot (it wasn’t). Admitting defeat on this one, George brought on Scowie, who made quite a difference (we started to win 30% of the balls in the air instead of 0%), but it was the added flair when Fab came on which really (and belatedly) lifted our game. Never mind, we can be proud of the performance, it’s yet another result we wouldn’t have believed at the start of the season.
Wright 8: Little to do, surprisingly, but an extra point or two because he really started to command his box again, very encouraging. Would have been disappointed by the goal, but it’s the defence you’ve got to blame for that one really
Makin 8: I’ll forgive him for not being sharp enough for when Heskey went wide for once, and scored, otherwise a terrific performance. Burley may well have rediscovered his magic touch in the transfer market again, Chris is everything Crofty should have been – a real full-back which gives us a wonderful full-back/wing-back option with Fab.
McGreal 7: Had to work really hard alongside the stuttering Titus, but put some nice balls in and seldom made any mistakes.
Bramble 4: Made several good saving interceptions, but normally only after his own mistakes had made them necessary. Generally given a torrid time by Heskey, and his passing was often atrocious.
Hreidarsson 6: Didn’t get involved quite as much as we might have liked; I’d have hoped HH would have been the least intimidated of the defenders by the size of the opposition, but he seemed a little reticent.
Wright 5: Never got it together, passing was loose, and on a night when his link play was absolutely crucial top our game plan. Damn!
Holland 7: Covered more ground than anyone else on the pitch, never shirked a challenge either, but had his work cut out to hold his own and wasn’t able to offer anything past the ball-winning role.
Magilton 6: More impressive than many performances recently, at least offering a bit of presence. Got forward a few times too, but how predictable was that blast over the bar?
Reuser 7: Worked hard when he remembered to, and responsible for just about all of the balls into the box which stood any chance of getting results.
Armstrong 6: Never really got into things, and apart from the top goal, never really got away from the defenders.
Stewart 5: So disappointing. Sure, the service was non-existent, but Marcus makes the service by offering himself so well with intelligent running normally. It just didn’t happen last night, he was all over the place, and nobody else going forward seemed to know what he was doing. A one-off I’m sure.
Subs: Scowcroft 7 (made a real difference) Wilnis 7 (made an even bigger one!)
Ref: 8 (let it go all the time and didn’t book anyone!) Crowd: 7 Heskey: Git