Cole's classy display gives Reds fansreason to believe once again
FOOTBALL has a tendency to be an afterthought at Anfield these days. For three long years, the Kop has thought more about takeovers than tackles, found itself more concerned with offshore accounts than offsides.
Liverpool's first run-out of the 2010/11 season on terra firma was no different. Here, what might happen in the club's future was of rather more importance than their immediate present. Given the circumstances, that should not be a surprise.
Even the most comfortable of victories, on the night and on aggregate, against a compliant FK Rabotnicki side, thanks to goals from David Ngog and Steven Gerrard, was never likely to distract from the infinitely more important contest being fought out in boardrooms from Hong Kong to Houston.
Not simply because the outcome of this tie was effectively settled a week ago in Skopje. Not simply because, from the off, it had the air of a training exercise, but because dreams of what might be to come are rather less bleak than the reality of what Liverpool, last season, became.
After all, a Europa League qualifying tie against Macedonian unknowns is no place for England's most decorated club. After a summer of burgeoning optimism -- new manager, new players, new-found loyalty and maybe, just maybe, new owners -- this game came as an unwelcome reminder of how far Liverpool fell in Rafael Benitez's last season on Merseyside.
It falls to Roy Hodgson, his replacement, to begin to salve the wounds picked up in the descent. His work has only just begun, but few would have left Anfield without at least a little more confidence that while the club may remain in the wrong hands off the field, on it, there is room for hope.
There were glimpses of how Hodgson intends to make Anfield, so porous last season, a fortress once more.
Central to that plan, one suspects, is Joe Cole. If this evening was about football at all, it was about the one high-profile capture Liverpool have been able to make in their third summer of American-enforced penury.
Hodgson may have been warmly applauded on to the pitch as he took his seat in the Anfield dugout, but it was Cole who won the crowd's affections.
The former Chelsea player was central to everything Liverpool did, literally and figuratively. It may not last, but he was deployed here in the role which Gerrard has made his own over recent years. He created one chance for Daniel Pacheco, the impressive Spanish youth international, only to see Martin Bogatinov race out to smother the danger.
It was Cole's ball which Pacheco cleverly dummied to allow Gerrard a shot, tipped wide. He fizzed and he bubbled, and in moments he did enough to indicate he will be popular in these parts.
Cole was involved in the opening goal, his chipped cross met with a powerful header by Ngog. The young Frenchman might have opened the scoring after just 10 minutes, rounding Bogatinov after Gerrard sprang him clear, and he should have ended the night with at least a hat-trick. Such is the curse of youth.
He is effective, though. It was Ngog who was bundled to ground by Fernando to win a penalty, converted by Gerrard, which seemed to sap the life out of Rabotnicki.
The chances continued to flow. Cole fizzed one shot over before the break, and hit the bar -- accidentally -- just after. Bogatinov, mounting a one-man last stand, denied Milan Jovanovic, another home debutant. Twice he turned low shots from Cole away. Maxi Rodriguez saw his goal-bound effort cleared by Egzon Belica.
No matter. Anfield, though it never filled, emptied in short order after Liverpool's presence in this morning's draw for the play-off round was confirmed. The conversations were, doubtless, not about the game. Football, once more, does not matter.
The hope is that, once Hicks and Gillett are gone, it will be of the utmost concern. (© Daily Telegraph, London)