Date: Sunday 16th November 2008Gloom lifted, sitting in the mid-table, two wins on the bounce and even the odd sprouts of optimism springing in what looked like being another winter of discontent. It’s the kind of thing that would’ve gotten you sectioned had you suggested it two weeks ago, but Megson and his (now slightly more merry) men once again came good just at the time when it looked as though he’d reached the point of no return.
While the wins at home to Sparky’s workshy Brazilians and away at Hull against a side clearly on the downward slide will hardly be remembered as famous victories in years to come, they certainly came as a welcome boost for the ever-popular manager.
But could it last against a Liverpool side, top of the league and tipped for the title? Surely not?
Well, it didn’t. And you can’t help but wondering ‘what if’. What if Gardner had started? What if Rob Styles had a clue? What if Elmander hadn’t spent half the first half playing left back? What if Gardner could’ve stayed on his feet for an extra second? What if it’d been Elmander, Smolarek or Riga on the end of the two chances that fell to the Jamaican?
While the above may be sources of conjecture over the next week or so, what cannot be in doubt is the fact that Megson got his starting XI hopelessly wrong. I’ve scarcely seen a side as badly set up and without a clue as the one that contested most of the first half. Indeed, had Sammy Lee dozed off in the opposition dugout, he may have woken up thinking that the last year had been a dream and he was still in charge, such was the disorganised mess that lay in front of him.
It has long been accepted that Elmander is neither a workhorse, nor a target man and that the only way to allow him to show any kind of quality is to get the ball to his feet. Obviously Megson missed this particular e-mail, as the Swede found himself thrust from his usual position of being 20 yards ahead of everyone else, to now being farmed out on the wing. How he must have been rueing the day he heard the name Bolton Wanderers as he spent the first 45 minutes marking Jamie Carragher.
And so it transpired, that after a promising opening, we reverted to type. Standing by idly as Liverpool pushed forward and giving the wide-men freedom of the pitch. It was clear that Megson had studied his old mate Tony Pulis’s Stoke side's battling draw at Anfield, where they allowed Liverpool to cross the ball in the box at will, content in the knowledge they could deal with it in the middle. The difference between the two sides being that Stoke hadn’t conceded at least half a dozen goals this season from free-headers. So it was no surprise when Dirk Kuyt finally put us out of our misery, wandering into the box unmarked, before patiently waiting for the ball so he could nod it home.
By now the grudging goodwill afforded to our manager was fading, and fast. But for once someone was on hand make sure that Megson was not the villain of the piece, as Rob Styles once again excelled himself into a new stratosphere of incompetence. Quite how (at the time of writing) this man still has a job completely baffles me, though you’d suspect he probably wouldn’t be had he denied one of the top four in the way he has us over the past month or so. Nevertheless, he found fit to disallow a perfectly good (if extremely undeserved) goal on the stroke of half-time to deny Bolton parity, but surely save Megson from the boo boys at the interval.
Despite the misjudged tactics at the start, Megson was quick to make changes when he realised that the disastrous excuse for a Plan A had been torn apart, and for that he deserves credit. What the half time team-talk consisted of we’ll never know, but it certainly (along with the overdue introduction of Ricardo Gardner and the switch to 4-4-2) inspired the side into action. Straight from kick off we began to throw the kitchen sink at the Scousers, with a blend of both physicality and some decent football thrown in to boot. The crowd were back behind the team, Elmander found his way into the game, and there was a renewed belief that this could be our day. Even after Ricardo Gardner somehow conspired to collapse in a heap after a rounding Pepe Reina, it felt as though it was just a matter of time before we got the equaliser.
That was, until the defence once again was found wanting at the crucial moment. After Andy O’Brien had compounded his error of directing his header towards Torres by winning the ball and giving it back to the Spaniard, everybody’s favourite cheat Steven Gerrard found himself all alone in the box to nod home. We’ve conceded 15 league goals this season, and seven have been from headers, not including near misses like Jason Roberts and Geovanni's effort last week. Definitely one for the training ground, otherwise one of them will find themselves out of the door in January.
All in all, it was a decent game, one that could’ve finished 2-1 to us, 2-2, or even 6-0 to Liverpool had the sitters both sides had not been missed. Of course it is almost a given that you will lose to the big four, and the two wins before it certainly ensured that the game was more a bonus than a must win. However you can’t help but feel that there was an opportunity missed today, with Megson's tactics at the start, Gardner's misses and of course Rob Styles playing their part. All ‘what ifs?’ now though I suppose.