Thursday 21 September 2017

Campbell delivers knockout blow to stun Reds

Blackpool 2
Liverpool 1

Blackpool striker DJ Campbell scores the winner past the despairing dive of Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina
Blackpool striker DJ Campbell scores the winner past the despairing dive of Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina

Henry Winter

The second coming of Kenny Dalglish has yet to stop Liverpool being second best.

Blackpool's hunger and brighter attacking verve inflicted a second consecutive defeat on Dalglish, following Sunday's FA Cup reverse at Old Trafford. "Can we play you every week?" enquired a jubilant Bloomfield Road.

Liverpool had started so promisingly, Fernando Torres scoring early, and all seemed well, yet old flaws soon resurfaced. Some players like Milan Jovanovic and Christian Poulsen are simply not good enough while the squad is patently imbalanced. Glen Johnson never looked comfortable at left-back and the new first-team coach, Steve Clarke, has much work to do to instil some defensive resilience.

Badly missing Jamie Carragher, Liverpool's marking was shocking, allowing Gary Taylor-Fletcher to strike a deserved equaliser before DJ Campbell pounced in the second half. Life hardly gets easier for Dalglish: Everton visit on Sunday.

After 4,527 days, Dalglish's return to the Premier League could not have begun in more emphatic fashion, a revitalised Torres scoring within four minutes. There was a confidence to Liverpool, a crispness in their passing seen in the way Dirk Kuyt swept the ball to Martin Kelly, who was raiding down the right.

The defender slid the ball into space behind Blackpool's back four and opportunity knocked for Torres.

The Spaniard timed his run perfectly, ensuring the assistant referee's flag stayed at half-mast as he broke down the inside-right channel. Here was Torres at his predatory best, giving the goalkeeper no chance with a driven finish that sped past Richard Kingson.

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Bloomfield Road shook in its moorings as the visiting fans leapt up and down, singing their hymn to Liverpool's No 9. They revelled in the sight of a more positive approach, of Lucas lifting the ball out to Kelly or Johnson, a right-back on the left, charging upfield.

For Dalglish, Torres' goal was celebrated in a manner reminiscent of his own prolific days, arms aloft, a smile creasing his face. Liverpool fans chanted the name of Dalglish, yet this was never, ever going to be an easy game. Blackpool have proved ambitious under Ian Holloway.

There is a relentless energy that imbues Holloway's players, flowing from the captain Charlie Adam in central midfield. There is a sense of adventure and industry seen in the running of Taylor-Fletcher and Luke Varney out wide.

Taylor-Fletcher's 12th-minute equaliser was rooted in Blackpool's pressing tactics, forcing mistakes from a Liverpool side still requiring extensive work on the Melwood training ground.

Raul Meireles lost the ball and Blackpool had their chance, David Vaughan sending Taylor-Fletcher racing through the centre. Having exploited uncertain defending from Daniel Agger, Taylor-Fletcher still had Pepe Reina, one of the world's best keepers, to beat. His finish was composure personified, the ball placed firmly to one side of the onrushing Reina.

Blackpool were now in the mood, putting together a series of menacing attacks, delighting a raucous Bloomfield Road audience. Campbell headed wide. Vaughan drilled a pass to Varney, who briefly alarmed Reina. Liverpool weathered the storm, and settled back into the quick-passing game, which Dalglish seeks to instil.

The system was effectively 4-2-3-1 with Lucas and particularly Poulsen holding. Kuyt ran hard down the right, although Jovanovic never convinced on the other flank. Meireles was in the Steven Gerrard role, tucked in behind Torres.

For all their frustration at the Blackpool equaliser, Liverpool could at least enjoy some of Torres' touches, a back-heel to Jovanovic here, a scooped pass to Kuyt there. As the teams trooped off at the break, the local DJ (the disc-spinning one, not defender-spinning one) played 'Altogether Now' by The Farm, a tune Dalglish hopes will reflect his management.

The Scot has returned to heal the wounds, to unite a club that has resembled Animal Farm at times. For those who felt Dalglish has been away too long, and that the game had changed beyond the ken of an erstwhile four-time Manager of the Year, there was a greater belief in the players, even when Blackpool continued to trouble Liverpool in the second half.

The Reds could never relax, not with Adam, Taylor-Fletcher, Campbell and company so alert. Adam tested Reina, who then rescued Liverpool again. Taylor-Fletcher then eluded Johnson, sprinting to the byline and lifting in a cross met by Vaughan, whose shot was saved by Reina.

Liverpool rallied, briefly hinting at regaining the lead. Lucas and Meireles worked the ball to Jovanovic, who finally delivered a good cross, picking out Torres just beyond the far post. This was almost Marco van Basten country but Liverpool's striker could not match the Dutchman, sending his volley over.

Blackpool seized the lead after 69 minutes. Liverpool's defending was embarrassing, the marking non-existent as Ian Evatt found Campbell, whose diving header gave Reina no chance. Liverpool's goalkeeper could have been forgiven for wondering where his defence had gone to.

"Sacked in the morning," chanted the Blackpool fans at Dalglish.

Dalglish had to act. Kuyt was removed with 15 minutes to go for Jonjo Shelvey, who took up the Dutchman's position on the right. Liverpool then screamed for handball following a scramble. Michael Oliver, the young referee, ruled that Torres had been leaning in and then booked the apoplectic striker for dissent.

Dalglish twisted again, taking off Poulsen and sending on David Ngog, giving the forward five minutes to rescue Liverpool. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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