Degen Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Bertrand (og) 45+1’
Sigurdsson 90+3’ (pen)
Comical. Unfortunate. Deserved. Typical. And no, there’s no acronym there.
It looked like Liverpool would hold onto the one slice of luck received – a chance deflection in the last minute of the first half – but not this season. Even when Liverpool were in the lead, that luck was tempered by misfortune, with Torres off after 30 minutes (for Ngog) and Gerrard replaced at halftime (by Babel), both picking up knocks despite 11 days of rest between matches.
No matter the line-up, writing ‘Liverpool had more possession, but (insert opponent) had the better chances’ is seriously getting old, especially when it’s against the 21st-placed Championship side. Reading should have punished Liverpool sooner, and when Benayoun clumsily tripped Long in the box, Reading got the goal their play deserved. After that, it’s little surprise they went on to win in extra time.
Once again, it started typically, with some decent early possession. Reading defended in numbers, but pressed high effectively as well, forcing Liverpool into too many hoofs for the second straight game and prompting some gut-churning giveaways. Once again, the opposition threatened through breaks and set plays, and had two excellent openings in the 22nd and 26th. First, Rasiak missed a sitter after Church broke down Liverpool’s left and Carragher stepped over the low cross. Then, McAnuff’s deep early ball narrowly eluded the on-rushing Church.
Liverpool’s response was two half-chances fifteen minutes later – Benayoun curling high and wide after Degen’s good run and Ngog’s shot straight at Federici – until that fortunate goal. Gerrard broke into the box after Reading couldn’t clear a short corner, and when the captain got the ball back from Ngog, his low cross was diverted in by left back Bertrand.
The second half saw the home side with even more possession and little to show for it, but Reading rarely threatened Liverpool either. Until the 80th minute. For some reason, the damn burst with 10 minutes remaining, with Liverpool's lone decent chance to make it a two-goal margin Aquilani’s misplaced header in the 71st. Then McAnuff did his best Maradona impression, beating five Liverpool defenders on a mazy run from midfield only to place his shot wide of the far post, and Liverpool invited Reading on. Church could only put Gunnarsson’s header onto the roof of the net in the 85th, while Cavalieri had to push away Sigurdsson’s curler in the first minute of added time.
And then Reading got that penalty. Agger and Benayoun collided while trying to clear a ball that should have been cleared 30 seconds earlier, and Benayoun clipped Long stretching to make the tackle. Making it even worse was Liverpool denied a penalty for Bertrand's handball three minutes earlier. Sigurdsson nonchalantly sent Cavalieri the wrong way, providing us 30 minutes of Liverpool with their tails between their legs.
It couldn’t have been a worse blow to confidence. And it was little surprise to see Long find a winner ten minutes into extra time. Gunnarsson worked space down Liverpool’s left and sent in a perfect cross for Long, between Skrtel and Agger (Skrtel came on for Degen at the start of ET), to head in.
Liverpool had two good chances to equalize after Long’s goal, but both Benayoun and Ngog disappointed either side of the interval. Benayoun stayed onside to be one-on-one with Federici in the 105th, but tamely shot too close to the keeper. In the 112th, Lucas won the ball well and found Ngog, but the striker quickly snatched at the ball, mis-hitting it tamely wide. From there, Liverpool huffed and puffed, but never blew a brick out of place.
It’s the insipid, toothless performances that infuriate more than the results. I don’t fully blame Benitez for players’ form, and I certainly can’t blame him for injuries, but Liverpool have been mired in a funk with or without Gerrard and Torres. It took a fortunate deflection to score against Reading at Anfield. Liverpool played well for all of 15 minutes in the previous meeting, culminating with Gerrard’s solitary goal. And it took a moment of magic for Torres to win it at the death against Villa. That’s just the last three games, and it’s not a recent trend.
I have no suggestions. I am beaten down. I can’t defend that. The sooner the season’s over the better. I don’t want to get all melodramatic (again), but I hope the club survives. I still hope Benitez survives as well, as I've written far too often, but I have no defense for him today. There’s always a new low. Hopefully, once Liverpool dig their way to the bottom they’ll find a way back up.