COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
After not having a shot on target in the last two derby games it was great to see Big Vic have their keeper diving full stretch to his left to palm away his goalbound grasscutter within the first minute. This seemed to set the tone for the display we got from the Blues for the rest of the evening. It was in this first half that saw a good cross from Big Vic find the head of Cahill which brought another very good save from the keeper.
We were causing them some trouble on the break and with some good build-up stuff from midfield yet the chance of the half went to them when Hyypia played a straight ball that bisected our central two and Torres was through, all breath was held... he beat Howard but — Phew — he missed. That was around the half-hour mark and they did press more but floundered on the rocks of what was a resolute back four, only a shot wide after a slip by the excellent Hibbert caused concern.
Half-time: so far so good. The sleet and snow got heavier and that wasn't all that came down on us during the game. Liverpool kicking toward the Kop started the second half by upping their tempo but to no great avail against a team that defended and closed down from front to back. Torres took a tumble in the box with Jags in very close attendance; thankfully the ref waved away the penalty shout.
It took until about the hour mark for Howard to have a meaningful shot to deal with when he went full length to deny Gerrard but could only palm it to the feet of Hyypia with the goal gaping... "Oh no" we thought, but from nowhere Baines sliding with some velocity swept the ball from his toe for a corner.
We still pressed when we could and good carpet football and good old hoofball were used as and when required. We were now getting a bit more in midfield after the initial burst from the home team and their frustration was showing when Torres chose to fire in from long range rather than take on our rearguard; he fired well over.
On the 70-minute mark the Liverpool bench were forced to make the first change to try to get at us more. The announcer stated that it was Robbie Keane coming off, this surprised me greatly as I have to admit I did not know he had been on the pitch.
We continued to attack when we could, Big Vic powered past Skrtel into the box, Skrtel pushed him over, "Penalty!" yelled the faithful; sadly the ref did not agree. Our players protested and this was to be our undoing as we never really got organised as Liverpool broke down their left, too many players followed the ball and allowed Riera to roll it to Gerrard some 25 yards out and not picked up for the one and only time all night.
He hit a sweet daisy cutter that found the corner of our net, bang went our clean sheet record and it was our own doing — I bet Moyes would be furious in the manner that was given away.
We had twenty minutes left to try and get back in. We needed a bit of help. But a look at our bench and I agreed with the manager: stick with Plan A as Plan B was on the treatment table — not the bench.
Eventually we did get help but it was from a strange source, non other than 'Rantin Rafa' himself. He had put on Benayoun for Keane and he proved to be good at giving free kicks away in dangerous areas. Then he took off Torres who had looked dangerous all night and at that moment I saw players in red shirts wilt a little and players in Blue shirts have their eyes light up.
We pressed harder, Benayoun gave away another free kick in a dangerous area. Arteta spotted the ball, Cahill was darting all around the box with Skrtel in hot pusuit until he became dizzy just as Arteta hit hard and waist height into the box, a mellee of players but it was the stooping Cahill, now free of marker, who powered home and that corner of the Anfield Road end let out a roar that shamed the Kop.
Final whistle after just two minutes of added time, no bragging rights, probably a fair result but somehow to me seeing our patched-up team taking a point away to the would-be champions was almost as good as a win. I thought the ref had a good game, not least for not allowing Gerrard or Carragher to ref it for him.
The Blue choir sang in response to some of their low efforts by suggesting 'Rafa's cracking up' and 'Gerrards going down' What could they mean?.
Man of the match? Hard to call when ours was a front to back team performance but I would give it to Cahill although that is probably doing a disservice to many other of our lads... but looking at their back four and our attacking options I wondered how we might even trouble them. Well, Cahill did all night by harrying, closing down, jostling and just sheer cussidness which seemed to rub off on all the others.
A word on Big Vic, who showed power and pace but not the right application of it. However, if he could just get some of Cahill's drive, tenacity and savvy he could yet develop into a top striker. If I could take one player from them to us it would be Torres as I am sure he would thrive in our present set-up.
FA Cup to come on Sunday... another game, another scenario but if we haven't taken too many nasty knocks and put in the same shift, you just never know.... A lot of Blues were hoping for a draw to get them back to the 'Old Lady' but me —I'll take a win.
See you there UP THE BLUES
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