Odemwingie 64' (pen)
A little bit of optimism is a dangerous thing. The threatened, bound-to-happen set-back sure happened sooner than expected.
After two frightening minutes where they couldn't get the ball off of West Brom, Liverpool dominated the first half. Suarez is ever dangerous, but fails to convert four chances, while both Johnson and Borini also miss decent opportunities. Then, just before halftime, West Brom open the scoring through Gera, a goal the player couldn't replicate with a gun to his head, with the ball fortunately falling to his feet after Skrtel's clearing header then unerringly, unstoppably volleyed into the roof of the net. New season, meet the old season.
And then came the comedy. Another Suarez missed chance, a free kick curled wide of the post, then two penalties conceded, a red card, and a third goal to rub salt in the wounds.
It all started in the 58th. Gerrard gave the ball away after extended Liverpool possession, trying to find a well-marked Suarez with an unlikely pass, and West Brom stormed down the pitch with Liverpool wholly wide open in the middle as both Lucas and Allen had come forward to join the attack. Morrison found Shane Long with a long through-ball, taking full advantage of Liverpool's high back line, and the striker eluded Skrtel, who over-ran Long trying to mark too closely then comically slipped when Long spun away. Agger retreated, but Long out-paced him, then easily fell over as soon as Agger made contact. A soft penalty, but a penalty nonetheless. You'll hear that expression again soon. With matters compounded by a straight red for Agger, the last man denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Agger should just miss the Manchester City game, a one-match ban rather than three, but he'll be a very big miss in against that class of opposition.
Reina provided a slight ray of hope, saving Long's woeful spot kick, the first he's saved since Rooney's in March 2010. But it didn't last long. Three minutes later, Skrtel again donned the motley and jester's hat, intercepting Ridgewell's cross but failing to control and clear, unforgivably dawdling in his own box then accidentally, softly tripping Long when the striker slipped in to steal the ball. Again, Long went down all too easily, looking for the penalty. Again, Dowd complied. You can criticize Phil Dowd for many things, in today's game and in the past, but the penalties aren't really among them. Both were soft. It's safe to assume neither would be given to Suarez in those situations. But the striker went down when contact was made – even if light contact, even if incidental contact – and the referee blew his whistle. That's what happens. Don't put yourself in those situations. This time, Odemwingie made no mistake from 12 yards out.
Liverpool spent the final 30 minutes just trying to save face. Carragher replaced Downing after the first sending off, Cole replaced Lucas – who had been carded earlier – in the 69th, then Carroll replaced Cole, who seemingly injured his hamstring yet again, in the 79th. Trying to get back in the game, it was a fairly attacking 4-2-3 system, but it was West Brom who attacked. Morrison missed a sitter in the 72nd with Liverpool players caught up the pitch, then Lukaku scored with a point-blank back post header in the 78th after Liverpool once again failed to clear a set play. Suarez nearly notched a consolation in the last ten minutes but unsurprisingly spurned yet another chance, this one even easier than the first five, a free header wide of the far post after Borini's strong run and cross.
It's no surprise after a three-nil loss, but there are few positives to take from that match. Joe Allen played very well, completing 66 of 69 passes (including 24 of 25 in the final third), while Suarez caused West Brom problems with everything but his shooting. Agger and Skrtel were typically solid until the 58th minute, but Skrtel absolutely fell apart after West Brom's first, and it's probably not coincidence that it happened after Agger departed. That's all I got. More importantly, the failings were failings we've seen before: missing chances despite creating chances and controlling possession, resorting to hoofs and crosses when unable to find a way through West Brom's solid back line, far too little contribution from the flanks – especially the frequent scapegoat Downing – and a failure to cope with opposition set plays coupled with mental errors in defense. Still, Rodgers' system worked in the first half outside of Liverpool's tentative start and dreadful finishing; it was the players who let him down with poor shooting then defensive mistakes.
Once again, another ex-Red punishes his former club. Not a manager, not a player this time, but an assistant manager. And Steve Clarke deserves a hell of a lot of credit. As with Liverpool's successes after his appointment in 2010-11, that win was built on defense, keeping Liverpool off the score-sheet when dominant, then having his side ruthlessly punish their mistakes.
Brendan Rodgers now becomes the sixth-straight Liverpool manager to fail to win his first league match, a streak dating back to Graeme Souness in May 1991. Dalglish lost at Blackpool, Hodgson drew against Arsenal, Benitez drew at Tottenham, Houllier lost against Leeds, and Evans drew at Norwich. Of course, that Souness was the one of those seven managers win their first match shows there's little predictive power in the first league result.
It may be the worst possible start, the worst top-flight opening day defeat since losing 1-6 to Chelsea in 1937, but it is still one match. And no matter how much we wished different, it will take time to turn this team around.