Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Insua
Kuyt Mascherano Lucas Benayoun
Kuyt 63’ 89’
The scariest 3-1 win against ten men ever. An absolutely awful, uncoordinated, embarrassing first half capped off with a brilliant strike by Alonso in the 45th – a strike that Liverpool should never have had the chance at. And after a red card, after a second goal, Liverpool still found a way to make hard work of it.
The opening 10 minutes of the first half were pretty much par for the course: a couple of early chances (a fancy Torres strike just tipped over in the 7th and a mazy Benayoun run ending with a shot chipped onto the roof of the net three minutes later) and a bit more possession than the opposition. And then it all went to shit.
The defense continued to frighten as routine clearances became a Sisyphean task. And Hull were reclaiming possession as the three-man midfield was increasingly overrun. Reina had to claim a dangerous cross in the 14th before Carragher’s header out fell to Geovanni, whose return volley wasn’t far wide of the top corner.
The defense looked shakier and shakier as Hull continued to press, and Lucas and Mascherano began retreating deeper to block off the build-up – which worked to a certain degree, but meant Liverpool was less of a threat in attack as the formation became something like a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree. Unsurprisingly, Kuyt and Benayoun both drifted centrally to fill the void, which meant Liverpool also had little width. But by the 30-minute mark, the away side at least looked more secure, and it became one of those fun, cagey games that look a certain 0-0 – until a free kick won in the 45th paid dividends.
Mascherano strode forward unconvincingly on the break, eventually tripping over Hull’s bumpy “pitch.” But Atkinson saw it as a foul against Boateng. And although Alonso slammed the free kick against the wall, he made no mistake when the ball rebounded to him, volleying in beautifully, giving Myhill no chance.
With a goal lead, Liverpool started the second half in that probing, patient manner we’re all familiar with. Much more possession, but overcautious and overplaying in the final third. And then Caleb Folan had a moment a madness, earning a red card for kicking out at Skrtel after being rightfully blocked off. Didn’t take long for Hull to be punished.
The home side made two quick changes (one to prevent Fagan from being sent off as well), but in the 63rd, following a Liverpool corner, Skrtel mishit a shot toward goal, and Kuyt was in the right place to head in. At 2-0, it should have been done and dusted. Hell, at 1-0, against the 16th-placed team with 10 men, it should have been over. Nope.
Defensive mistakes and uncertain play crept back in, and in the 73rd, Mendy hit a long crossfield ball to Cousin, who got past Skrtel and centered. It missed Marney, but Insua (sigh – the first time I can remember him responsible for a goal) failed to track Geovanni’s run, and the Brazilian couldn’t have missed from six yards.
I’ve never been so distressed over or disappointed in Liverpool’s defense. The combination of mental and physical tiredness and the lack in confidence following four goals conceded in the last two games has to be the cause of it, because all of these defenders are better than they played today. Every set piece and long ball hoofed forward frightened, which wasn’t helped by the fact that Liverpool couldn’t convert excellent opportunities at 2-1 – Lucas badly mishit a shot after Torres’ excellent pass (shooting with his right instead of the better left-footed option) in the 76th, and Torres headed off the bar in the 79th.
But Liverpool never broke. Thankfully. And in the 89th minute, Kuyt was again in the right place at the right time to seal it. Arbeloa was allowed the freedom of the box, and his deflected shot rebounded off Myhill to Kuyt to hammer in. Phew.
The eight days before the next match are warmly welcomed. This team needs to regroup, and needs Gerrard back. I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about a win; the three points are really all that matters. And this game needs to serve as a warning. None of the next four matches will be easy, no matter the opposition.