Sunday 11 December 2016

Kuyt winner rises above the bile and mediocrity

DION FANNING

Published 29/01/2012 | 05:00

It was not just the Manchester police who were pleased Liverpool and Manchester United's FA Cup tie didn't go to a replay. Only the most partisan and the most mischievous would have wanted to sit through a game as bad as yesterday's again in 10 days' time.

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Luis Suarez would have been available for the trip to Old Trafford too, just to add a calming presence.

If yesterday's game had a redeeming feature -- apart from Dirk Kuyt's winner -- it was that the mediocrity drained even some of the hatred from the tie.

With five minutes remaining even the booing of Patrice Evra had become something of a chore, a tribal ritual rather than a tribal passion.

The Liverpool fans booed him because they believe he didn't tell the truth, while the rest of of the world heard them booing a black man who claimed he was abused in racist terms. Neither side came closer to understanding the other.

There were other incidents: police were investigating claims that a man was captured on camera making monkey gestures at Manchester United fans and United fans sang merciless chants about Hillsborough, whilst content that they were on the high moral ground.

Liverpool instead got the victory they craved in the final minutes. Evra drifted out wide, Andy Carroll, whose physical presence was as influential a factor as anything in the game, won a header, Evra was out of position and Kuyt scored his first goal of the season against top-flight opposition.

He was facing a goalkeeper who looked to be promoted above his pay station. David de Gea was to blame for both Liverpool goals and at one point was complaining of a sore side which looked like it would lead to his substitution. If he had gone, it might have been a farewell. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about him yesterday was that he stayed on to endure his misery. Alex Ferguson's view of a player withdrawing from a game like yesterday's would be easy to imagine.

The game itself produced little to talk about but Liverpool's week has been memorable. On Wednesday, they reached a Carling Cup final but yesterday's victory was equally important if they are to pick up momentum.

They won a game between two desperately ordinary sides. United didn't have Wayne Rooney and Suarez has one more game to serve of his ban.

Without them, there was little inspiration. Steven Gerrard has only shown brief glimpses of his talent since returning from injury, while Kenny Dalglish did Jamie Carragher no favours by selecting him to play in midfield.

Both players added authority by their presence to a Liverpool side that has seemed callow this season but neither did much in a footballing sense. Carragher's deployment in the holding role only showed that tactics depend on the right players as much as the set-up of the team and Carragher, on his 34th birthday, showed he isn't capable of being a midfielder, even a holding one, any more.

They were both missing when Park Ji-Sung equalised for United and neither was on the field by the time Kuyt scored his winner. They didn't care at the end as they celebrated with the deep understanding of what the result meant to the club, In the first half, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick dominated the midfield, something Liverpool's line-up, short as it was on creativity, was presumably supposed to prevent.

United were fading before Scholes was substituted but Liverpool summoned one last burst of primal passion.

This Liverpool side bears no resemblance to the great sides, but on days like these, the crowd can still sound the same. Kuyt's late winner brought scenes of joyous celebration. Neutrals were simply relieved it was over. At least for a fortnight. On Saturday week, Suarez will be available to play at Old Trafford.

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