Thursday 27 July 2017

Hodgson delighted by show of defiance

Napoli goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis saves a shot by Liverpool forward Ryan Babel, left, as Napoli defender Andrea Dossena looks on during their Europa League match in Naples. Photo: AP
Napoli goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis saves a shot by Liverpool forward Ryan Babel, left, as Napoli defender Andrea Dossena looks on during their Europa League match in Naples. Photo: AP

Some things never change. Italy's hooligan problem continues undimmed, with pockets of Ultras remaining committed to ensuring the country is not a safe place for travelling fans to watch football and, on the pitch, Liverpool do not succumb to intimidation.

Whoever occupies the boot room and the boardroom, whatever the names on the back of the shirt, the club contains a streak of defiance.

Given the circumstances, it was the least Roy Hodgson's side could do to prove they can live up to that tradition. Around 1,000 fans made the trip here from Merseyside. After what a number went through at the hands of a hardcore section of Napoli's support, the players had a duty to live up to expectations.

They did more than that. Hodgson named a scratch side, devoid of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, and he admitted beforehand that he would sacrifice a win here if it led to a victory on Sunday against Blackburn, but what a side consisting mainly of wannabes and never-will-bes lacked in finesse, they made up for in fire.

Insatiable

Breathless, ceaseless running, an unstinting work ethic, an insatiable appetite to stifle and, as confidence grew, a smattering of ambition.

Liverpool left the pitch to the whistles of 60,000 disappointed Neapolitans. They should have heard a round of applause. They should wear Napoli's frustration like a badge of honour.

"This was a point a lot of people did not think we would be capable of getting," said Hodgson. "But the team proved people wrong. They stepped up to the plate. I do not think we should be anything other than delighted.

"This is a tough game, whoever you are, in a very tough atmosphere. We were aware of what had happened to some fans and we were concerned. It is not something we want in football, where fans do not go and support their team because they are frightened of being hurt.

"These supporters have done a fantastic job, coming to a potentially dangerous place, and we are grateful for their support. I was asked yesterday whether I was worried about drunken English fans coming here. That seems almost amusing now, when peaceable fans have come here to watch a game and some of them have been stabbed."

The most statesmanlike speech of Hodgson's somewhat unpredictable reign followed the first statesmanlike display. No wonder he dismissed rumours he had resigned as "ridiculous", insisting the thought had never so much as entered his mind. Perhaps he is settling into a role he has seemed ill at ease with in recent weeks. If so, his timing is impeccable.

Hodgson started this game with his position at its most vulnerable.

Christian Purslow, his closest ally in the boardroom, left the club on Wednesday. Manuel Pellegrini and Frank Rijkaard are believed to be casting covetous glances at the seat he occupies.

Defeat here might have forced Hodgson's exit. That Liverpool, and Hodgson, returned with their reputations enhanced may delay his departure. If this is the beginning of a recovery, it may yet postpone it indefinitely.

In truth, Liverpool were helped by their opponents' determination to face the 2005 and '07 editions of the club which stormed so many of Europe's great cathedrals. Walter Mazzarri, Napoli's manager, had described this as the most important game of his club's season. They wanted a showpiece, a sense of occasion. Liverpool had no desire to offer them either.

Instead, they did what Liverpool have always done. They sat back, inviting pressure, challenging Napoli to prove their worth. They maintained their shape, devotedly, doggedly sticking to their task. They refused to buckle to the hostility washing down the stands, to the menacing drone of a police helicopter circling overhead, to the flares and the fireworks of the Mastiffs gathered in Curva A.

There was more cordite in the stands than on the pitch. Napoli played into Hodgson's hands, seemingly happy to snipe from afar, shying away from a full-frontal assault.

The hosts threatened only fleetingly, mostly from Marek Hamsik's set-pieces, before Paul Konchesky was called into emergency action to clear the Slovakian's shot from off -- or perhaps just behind -- his goal line immediately before the interval.

Consumed with doubt, the hosts faded, the rousing crescendo failing to materialise. Only Edinson Cavani posing a threat after the interval, shooting straight at Reina then heading powerfully wide. Liverpool may even have won it, too, as Ryan Babel was denied by Morgan se Sanctis' legs and David Ngog saw a shot blocked.

It did not matter. The point was secure. Hodgson's, and Liverpool's, point was made. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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