Thursday, 21 January 2010

The holy trinity is still alive and well at LIVERPOOL FC

Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur

AT a football club, there's a holy trinity - the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don't come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.

Never have these words from Bill Shankly been more apt. As George Gillett's voice droned across the airwaves thousands of miles away from Anfield in a pointless radio interview, the people that mattered were preparing for battle.

With flak flying from all directions, the 'holy trinity' had closed rank. It was time for a siege mentality. Supporters' union Spirit of Shankly rallied the fans, spreading word to arrive early for the crucial match with Spurs and cheer in the team as their coach pulled up at Anfield.

Flag-waving fans lined Anfield Road over an hour and a half before kick off to show the manager and players that while the rest of the world might have given up on them, they hadn't.

As boosts to the confidence go, it has to be right up there and Rafa Benitez showed his appreciation with a thumbs up to supporters as the coach crawled towards the Shankly Gates.

Come kick off, and with Benitez's job done in picking the team and explaining the tactics, it was the players turn to show they cared.

It's safe to say they do.

The spirit and fight on display in the unfortunate draw at Stoke were again on display against Spurs and top of the list for passion was stand-in skipper Jamie Carragher.

Just 11 months ago, Carragher clashed with Benitez when asked to play right back against Middlesbrough.

But there were no complaints this time from the Bootle-born defender, who led by example from first whistle to last in his unfavoured position.

With just three minutes on the clock, Carragher had launched into a full-blooded double tackle, crunching into Wilson Palacios before downing Niko Kranjcar.

It set the tone for his evening, and for Liverpool's.

Carragher has admitted his reading matter is almost exclusively about sport, so he may not be up on his Mark Twain.

If he was, he would be well within his rights to reel off the infamous line: "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Just four months ago, people were queuing up to write Carragher off. One person even left a comment on this blog saying "he's finished". But the vice-captain has reacted by doing what he has done throughout his Liverpool career, proving people wrong.

Carragher later left Jermain Defoe on his backside with another shuddering tackle but his performance was summed up in the 47th minute when he won a header in midfield, chased it down and outmuscled Gareth Bale as he scurried after what looked a lost cause, before retrieving the ball and firing it against Ledley King to win a corner.

It had shades of a January game at Anfield 22 years earlier when, also on the stroke of half-time, Steve McMahon chased a ball that looked destined to trickle out for an Arsenal throw-in. The Halewood-born midfielder kept the ball in on the line before his momentum almost sent him crashing over the advertising hoardings. He then turned, picked up the ball, drove for the line and crossed for Peter Beardsley whose shot was blocked by John Lukic, only to be turned in by John Aldridge.

Incidents like that can fire up the crowd and set the marker for team mates. And for the record, Liverpool nearly scored from the corner Carragher won, too, with Dirk Kuyt's header cleared off the line before Martin Skrtel blasted the rebound over the bar.

Carragher wasn't the only one wearing his heart on his sleeve. Sotirios Kyrgiakos's signing was met with shrugs rather than cheers when he was brought in to to bolster the central defensive options following the departure of the much-loved Sami Hyypia from Liverpool.

But the Greek is fast winning over the critics. After a courageous show against Stoke, the big defender again won ball after ball in the air, ensuring Peter Crouch did little to worry his former employers. And the former Rangers man also offered a threat at the other end of the pitch and was unlucky not to get on to the scoresheet.

Heart and passion are a given for the energetic Javier Mascherano but he was also back to his battling best and Dirk Kuyt also deserves a mention. He's had a tough season and for some has symbolised the flaw in Benitez's make up - stubbornness.

But the Dutchman toiled away all night, finished his first goal well and held his nerve to convert a twice-taken penalty. With better finishing he could have had four but it would be churlish not to suggest he displayed great character to bounce back from his heartbreaking last-gasp miss at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

The Reds are now just a point off fourth spot and the hope now is that the side can pick up momentum and string a much-needed run of results together.

It might have been more fight than finesse that secured victory over Harry Redknapp's top-four hopefuls, but that was exactly what was called for with key players Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Yossi Benayoun all sidelined.

Replicating Brazil 1970 isn't going to happen anytime soon, but with Wolves, Bolton and Everton the next three games on the fixture list, spirit and hard work are exactly the characteristics that will be required to prove this isn't another false dawn.