13 May 2007

Liverpool 2-2 Charlton

The universe has a delicious sense of humor. Up until the 89th minute, it was a supremely frustrating day. Liverpool hadn’t played well, was down 1-2, and took out Robbie Fowler to soak in the applause in what’s probably his last Liverpool game, at least at Anfield. And a minute later, Liverpool won a penalty at the Kop end for Bougherra’s handball. Harry Kewell, out with injury for ages but who had looked lively since coming on in the 55th minute, slotted it away instead, and the resulting draw sees Liverpool attain 3rd place, taking a fair bit of sting off of what was still a frustrating performance.

Fowler’s last stand at Anfield, where he was fittingly made captain even though both Gerrard and Carragher started, began in the worst possible manner. Charlton was up 1-0 through Matt Holland before 2 minutes were gone after Mascherano gave away possession and Holland converted Zheng’s cross.

From there, it seemed to be a matter of who could be more wasteful with their chances. Liverpool could have equalized soon after Holland’s goal, but Arbeloa fired wide one on one with the keeper with Fowler lurking in the box. Arbeloa, playing on the right wing, missed another chance later in the half, as did others, and Charlton had even more opportunities of their own. Ambrose scuffed a shot, Finnan cleared off the line from Song, and in the second half, Zheng failed to take advantage of two very good openings.

Liverpool got back in the game through the substitutes. The home team looked much improved after Kewell entered, and Alonso, who came on in the 60th minute, equalized through a side-footed shot after good work from Kewell and Kuyt. However, soon after, Charlton were back in front thanks to Darren Bent and another defensive lapse. And despite Liverpool’s superiority, it looked as if it was going to stay that way. But every now and then, fortune does truly favor the brave, and even though Charlton had more gilt-edged chances, a draw is probably a fair result in what was a fairly meaningless game with most eyes on Athens.

Even with what’s been achieved, this wasn’t exactly what you’d want to see before a Champions League final. The team, even though it will be different in Athens, featured far more first-team regulars than in recent outings. Mascherano was at fault for the first and wasn't at his best today, and I’d have to imagine that he’ll start in Athens, while the defense, featuring Finnan, Carragher, Agger, and Riise, looked uncharacteristically shaky. But that was mainly down to Daniele Padelli receiving his first Liverpool start.

If Liverpool had lost, in the hunt for a usual scapegoat, one probably would have been made of rookie goalkeeper Padelli. And it wouldn't have been right. Admittedly, he made mistakes, and Charlton took advantage. They may be relegated, but any Premiership team should be able to punish such errors and Bent is a very good striker. I also really don’t want to criticize a goalkeeper in his first start, who is 21 years old, unfamiliar with the players around him, and probably barely speaks the language. Regardless of the result, if it wasn’t for the sentimentality surrounding Dudek, Padelli needed to start. Ideally it would have been earlier in this run of games with little meaning, but he’s on loan, and Liverpool needs to see what they have. And with young keepers, especially foreign players, games like today can happen. It can still be a learning experience.

All I can really take away from today is that it’s Fowler’s last game, and to a lesser extent that Kewell played quite well. It may be the last game of the season, but it certainly doesn’t feel as if it’s time to reflect. There will be a time and place for it, but it's not yet. It still hasn’t sunk in that the league’s over, and it’s impossible to try and look back with Athens on the horizon. I guess that says a fair bit about how important the league’s been to finish the season, but nothing can be done about that now. 3rd place has been achieved. It’s not where Liverpool wanted to end the season, but given how the year’s panned out, it’ll do, and as a matter of pride, it certainly is nice to edge Arsenal to the spot. Now all attention can finally be turned to Milan.

Roll on May 23rd.

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