In a season full of stupid, regrettable results, this may well be the worst – a line I've definitely written before. Liverpool, despite some poor play, had all three points wrapped up, signed, sealed, and set for delivery. And, beyond carelessly, handed them straight back to an equally-if-not-even-more insipid QPR. Because of individual mistakes from supposedly-stalwart veterans, and mostly because this team has all the confidence of a hormonal, pubescent teenager.
Liverpool were never going to deploy the same XI which beat Stoke, or Everton for that matter. Three games in eight days, with Wigan on Saturday, made that an impossibility. Still, the change in formation, if not personnel, was surprising. Adam and Kuyt came in for Maxi and Carroll, with Liverpool shifting to a 4-3-3.
While it wasn't as fluid as the 4-4-2 we'd seen in the last two matches, it was certainly strong enough. Had Liverpool – read: Suarez – scored in the 4th minute, it might have all been different. Once again, Liverpool began like a house engulfed in flames, but were frustratingly unable to burn said house to the ground. Adam's through-ball put the Uruguayan striker one-on-one with Paddy Kenny almost immediately, but Suarez shot too close to the keeper rather than rounding him. Liverpool racked up 11 corners in the first 20 minutes, but failed to score on any; Skrtel and Kuyt had efforts cleared out of the six yard box, while Downing had a couple of shots blocked in open play.
As has become all too typical, Liverpool started to push too hard, too frantically, making too many mistakes once the goal didn't come. Then came the QPR chances and Liverpool injuries. Enrique nearly scored the goal of the season at his own end, amazingly redirecting a QPR cross backward but over the bar. Then Cisse sent half of Loftus Road into hysterics when his shot appeared to hit the back of the net, but actually whistled past the post and behind the goal.
Just as debilitating were injuries to Kelly and Adam, the first evidently not over the knock suffered against Stoke, the latter when wildly (read: typically) chasing a ball down the byline. Coates came on for Kelly in the 34th, with Carragher moving to right back and Coates strangely slotting in at right center-back, probably because the coaching staff doesn't trust Coates without Carra lecturing him along. Fat lot of good that did. Adam went off at halftime, replaced by Henderson, which completely changed the formation.
Henderson played tucked-in on the right, Downing shifted to the left, and Kuyt drifted behind and around Suarez, similar to the formation used against Arsenal. And it stuttered and stopped and stuttered and cheaply conceded possession and then Coates struck. Oh boy did Coates strike. There's no way words will do it justice.
It looked to be another chance gone on Liverpool's 14th corner. Gerrard's delivery scrambled away to Downing, but cleared off the line. Ho hum, yet another near goal rifled away at the last minute. At least it didn't hit the woodwork. But Zamora's clearance didn't take the Uruguayan defender's technical ability into account, a trapeze artist's goal, acrobatically scissor-kicked past an unsighted Kenny. The ferocity of the strike would have taken the keeper into the net with it were he unfortunate enough to get in the way.
Suarez's something from nothing, with the woodwork unsurprisingly involved, appeared an end to the fixture's competitiveness. At least it should have given QPR's abysmal record over the last four months. The Uruguayan striker, who only scores wonder goals, somehow jinked behind three defenders before rocketing a shot off the foot of the post. Downing followed up, with his rebound saved by Kenny, but Kuyt was typically on hand for a typical slide-tackle rebound. 2-0, game over. Or not.
Sometimes, one substitution can change the game. Jamie Mackie's introduction did just that. Admittedly, Mackie came on in the 62nd, ten minutes before Kuyt's goal, but the mood of the stadium noticeably turned when the winger replaced the massively awful (and evidently unliked) Joey Barton. And a loud ground can give the home side confidence while draining the opposition. Not that Liverpool needs help with draining confidence.
QPR's opener absolutely drained Liverpool, already precariously unconfident all too often. Five minutes after QPR were definitively beaten, QPR were back in it. Of course, it should have never come to that. Howard Webb, who'd let multiple fouls go unpunished for both sides, punished Skrtel for a nothing foul on Zamora. QPR wasted the free kick, but not the resulting corner: Derry easily out-jumped both Henderson and Carragher, both idiotically facing their own goal rather than whomever they were marking.
If you thought Loftus Road was loud after Mackie's introduction, now Loftus Road was really loud. I hate to keep harping on confidence and luck and confidence, but those intangibles matter. There are no easy remedies, but Liverpool need to find a remedy. Only one side looked like scoring after Derry's goal. It was not Liverpool. And of course it was Cisse who struck the equalizer, heading past Reina after Taiwo crossed all too easily around Henderson and Carragher. Less expected was the defender Cisse out-jumped – Martin Skrtel, Liverpool's player of the season so far, caught flat-footed and ball-watching like the past season of brilliance had never happened.
Pity there was enough time for QPR's third, because there was enough time for another defender to make another unconscionable error. Enrique, in the grand tradition of Liverpool left-backs like John Arne Riise, proved his right leg was only good for standing, at best, completely missing when trying to clear a nothing header, allowing Mackie one-on-one with Reina. Unlike when Liverpool were in a similar position at the start of the game, the substitute made no mistake with his finishing. Story of the season and so forth.
This result didn't happen because Liverpool changed formation or personnel. It didn't happen because of the two injuries. Or because of Liverpool's usual profligacy early on, unable to take chances while the opposition has no problem doing so. Or because Adam started. Or because Suarez was subbed off not long before QPR's second, replaced by Carroll in a misguided attempt to keep possession. Admittedly, none of those things helped. But this result happened because three defenders did incredibly stupid things at the worst possible moments – two who have been two of Liverpool's best players this season. And it happened because Liverpool seemingly expects things to go wrong instead of ensuring that things go right.
This game was won. Unfortunately, the eleven players on the field thought similar, then apprehensively retreated after conceding, like a beaten puppy who expects another whipping. Well, they got it. Liverpool have set a few unwelcome milestones this season, but today saw a new one. This is the first time that Liverpool have let a two-goal lead slip since November 2000, a 3-4 loss to Leeds. 11 and a half years. 136 months. Blah blah blah days and seconds. It's been a long time.
After a result like this, it's hard to care where Liverpool finish in the league after the next nine games, a situation ensured by disappointments before this most recent. They'll undoubtedly be better in the FA Cup, because cup runs seemingly restore this side's lost confidence. All I care about over these next nine matches is this side finding some self-belief and intelligence instead of scrambling around like headless chickens waiting for the next ax to drop. Pretend that every match is a cup tie if that's what it takes. Both players and management – equally, everybody – are at fault for the all-too-frequent lack of either.