Carragher Skrtel Agger Johnson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Brunt 62' (pen) 89' (pen)
Horrifying. And, of course, it had to align with every possible narrative. A Liverpool defensive collapse, like we saw in almost every match from August through January, leads to Roy's Radical Rampant Revenge.
West Brom's home diligence was a carbon copy of Hodgson's Fulham. Liverpool's luck with injuries – with two defenders off by the 25th minute – reminded of his disastrous stint at Anfield. The opener, a towering set play header from Skrtel, was the type of strike Liverpool relied on in the first half of the season. And then Liverpool utterly collapsed, conceding two penalties from two egregiously stupid mistakes. If that doesn't remind you of Hodgson, nothing will.
Liverpool began the first half with the back line written above. They finished it with Carragher-Skrtel-Kyrgiakos-Wilson: four center-backs – three slower than molasses and one playing in his second league game. Those two injuries canceled out the bright start and ensured the half would end with one-way traffic in the opposite direction.
Within two minutes, Suarez had a cheeky chip saved and Kuyt failed to tally two close-range efforts. Then Johnson pulled up with a hamstring injury in the 6th, replaced by Kyrgiakos with Agger moving to left back. That "worked" for 20 minutes, blunting Liverpool but with the away side still superior in possession. Then the replacement left-back sustained what appeared to be a knock to his previously-injured knee. Yes, I know, stop the presses, Agger's injured again. Life is not fair.
From there, West Brom were ascendant. Only Reina prevented a first-half opener, denying Reid, Odemwingie, Brunt, and an accidental Skrtel header. An early second half goal – Skrtel beating Scharner to Meireles' corner – appeared to swing momentum, bracketed by Carson's saves on Carroll and Kuyt. But West Brom continued to press far more than we're used to from Hodgson sides, and capped a furious four-minute stretch with Brunt's penalty; Kyrgiakos dove in on Odemwingie, too easily beaten by the turn.
Severely lacking in depth with two enforced substitutions in defense, coupled with Atkinson allowing West Brom to play rugby while limiting Liverpool to football, saw the away side struggle to respond. West Brom remained marginally dominant, although increasingly content with the draw. Then came Kyrgiakos' second moment of madness, again undressed by Odemwingie on Olsson's hoof. Reina came out to cover, sprawled for the ball, and Odemwingie fell over his prone body. Naturally, Atkinson pointed straight to the spot.
Injury time saw Liverpool's best spell of pressure since the opening minutes, saved by the ex-Liverpool keeper curse and a clearance off the line. Carson parried Meireles' shot from distance, Skrtel headed the subsequent corner wide. Suarez then tried to win the game single-handedly, first prevented by Carson's save (with the rebound somehow scrambled clear) before having a chipped effort cleared somehow cleared by Shorey. It wasn't enough to exorcise the futility from the previous 90 minutes.
That Hodgson gets the last laugh makes this hurt as much as any defeat this season. The media will be insufferable for an entire week. Adding insult to injury were the actual injuries, as well as Atkinson's "refereeing."
The game would have been far different if Liverpool didn't require those two changes, losing the best defender as well as the sole remaining fullback. It also would have been different if not for the contentious winning penalty. Sunderland said similar on both counts following Liverpool's last match. It's hard to argue that what goes around doesn't eventually boomerang back.
It's also hard to argue that Liverpool deserved more, no matter the cruel hand of fate. Outside of the one set play, Suarez was Liverpool's lone threat. Carroll was clearly tired and less than fit, hindered by an early yellow card and last-warning lecture. Lucas and Spearing were out-numbered in midfield, while Kuyt and Meireles were often found narrow as Liverpool, unsurprisingly, got absolutely nothing in attack from full-back. And then there's Kyrgiakos, clearly the goat. Again. As when replacing Agger against Everton, as against Braga in conceding a similarly-stupid penalty.
That Tottenham dropped points in an away draw at Wigan keeps the "race" for fifth place on life support. But, finally, it's hard to argue that Liverpool merit better than its current league position. Which, I won't hesitate to add, is far better than where Roy Hodgson left the club.