Liverpool sinking towards meltdown as fans vent fury
The corporate man at Anfield -- and there are a lot of them these days -- was getting worked up at half-time. He grabbed a minion on the stairs in the Main Stand.
"Of all the days to be showing a great game of Benitez's, today is not the f***ing time." Sky were showing Liverpool's Champions League victory against Olympiakos which started Liverpool's improbable journey to Istanbul and this was not a day for a history lesson.
When Steven Gerrard celebrated his equaliser against Sunderland at Anfield yesterday, he did so with almost the same passion he had shown when he scored the crucial goal that put Liverpool into the knock-out stages six years ago. Liverpool's priorities have changed.
Liverpool have one win in six Premier League games this season but that is not their crisis. Exiting the Carling Cup at home to Northampton is not their crisis either. Roy Hodgson might have been going too far when he said afterwards that "I cannot see the drama" of that defeat but, equally, winning the Carling Cup and the FA Cup wouldn't solve Liverpool's problems.
At the end of the game, the PA announcer at Anfield announced that the club was aware that "supporters were planning to peacefully demonstrate in respect of the ownership situation" and asked the crowd not to behave in an uncontrolled manner. This was astonishing: the club were sanctioning a protest against the owners of the club.
In the corporate boxes and in the stand they chanted and turned to the Kop where thousands remained and sang, "They just care about money, they don't care about the fans, Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands."
The Liverpool players, on the field to warm down, did not know what to do. They had dropped more points and they were in the middle of a club sinking in every possible way. Carragher and Gerrard applauded the Kop as they jogged by but they were entitled to be confused.
In the city centre yesterday morning, the supporters' group, Spirit of Shankly, met to discuss their options as Liverpool teeter on the brink. They will protest but also they will look for fan ownership in the club.
Within weeks, Liverpool could be owned by the British taxpayer, in the form of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and they may also enter administration and face a nine-point penalty, which would leave them on minus points. Most Liverpool fans would probably prefer that option to the continued involvement of Hicks and Gillett.
They are said to be exploring ways of avoiding that penalty which would surely lead to a legal challenge from Liverpool's rivals. At the moment, that challenge is more likely to come from a relegation candidate than a Champions League side.
Liverpool are now astonishing for many reasons, few of them good. The club that has won the European Cup five times is now weeks away from meltdown. The destruction of England's most successful club is not Hodgson's fault. But he is not the man to create the illusion on the field that it's not happening.
Benitez's achievement in keeping Liverpool competitive while Hicks and Gillett destroyed the club for all but his final season is now looking even more remarkable as things enter a vital endgame.
Sunderland were the better team yesterday. Until he scored, Gerrard had been just another anonymous player for Liverpool, out-thought and out-played by Jordan Henderson
Liverpool's opening goal was bizarre. Sunderland's Michael Turner rolled the ball back to his goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, intending that he would take a free-kick. Instead he had already taken it. Torres took the ball and set up Dirk Kuyt. Sunderland came back when the dreadful Christian Poulsen handled the ball and then took the lead before Gerrard's equaliser.
"We're not playing like a fourth or fifth place side at the moment," Hodgson conceded. He then pointed to the strange results across the league as some justification for what had happened yesterday at Anfield. The problem is there was nothing strange about Liverpool's result.