Monday 24 July 2017

Stoke's siege tactics conquer Liverpool

Stoke 2 Liverpool 0

Tim Rich at Britannia Stadium

When asked what it was like to face West Indian fast bowling at its most intense, the then Australian captain Ian Chappell replied that nobody liked it; the trick was not to show it.

You could say the same about facing Stoke at the Britannia Stadium. Manchester United, who have never dropped a point here do not show it. Arsenal do, and last night so did Liverpool.

Roy Hodgson's team were subjected to a cannonade they neither relished nor ever threatened to come to terms with, and in truth they might have lost by more than two goals. Hodgson's revival of Liverpool, born in the cauldron of Napoli's San Paolo Stadium a month ago, stalled in an atmosphere no less frantic.

Rory Delap's long throw is Stoke's not-so-secret weapon and Liverpool seldom looked equipped to deal with it. Ten minutes into the second half, they failed to clear it and Matthew Etherington played the ball back into the area -- although Paul Konchesky blocked Ricardo Fuller's first close-range shot, the second nestled in the net.

If it was not pretty then nor was much of this match, although in the final moments Kenwyne Jones finished off a rather more classical effort, set up by Jermaine Pennant, by firing his shot emphatically past Jose Reina.

Although Liverpool's resilience has increased on and off the pitch since the takeover by New England Sports Ventures, this was not a match they seemed to know how to turn and, as if to emphasise it, Lucas Leiva was dismissed in the closing moments for a second rash yellow card.

One of the early memorable images was of Robert Huth, with Martin Skrtel's arm around his waist, being dragged down at a corner, which on another night may have resulted in a Stoke penalty. His manager, Tony Pulis, felt strongly enough about it to confront the referee Mark Halsey in the tunnel during the interval.

There were other slightly less contentious images: Reina lost in the melee as he came to meet the first of Rory Delap's long throws; a fabulous drive from Dean Whitehead that hissed just over the frame of the Liverpool goal; and Dirk Kuyt receiving an accidental elbow from Danny Collins full in the face. More improbably was a tackle from Lucas Leiva that upended Matthew Etherington. If, as Hodgson admitted in the wake of Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Wigan, Liverpool were feeling tired, this was no place to show fatigue.

Even when Jones seemed to lose control of the ball in the area, he still managed to muscle his way past Konchesky to deliver a low cross that Etherington might have turned in but for a last-ditch tackle from Jamie Carragher. It was a pattern repeated, as for much of the game Liverpool seemed to have little other than survival on their minds.

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