Sunday 21 January 2018

Listless Reds do little to ease Anfield anger

Liverpool 2 Sunderland 2

In Anfield's stands, Liverpool's fans shouted their defiance.

Some 9,000 of them, according to Merseyside Police, remained in their seats long after referee Stuart Attwell had called time on another dispiriting afternoon to voice their displeasure at the continued ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

In his booth, George Sefton, the iconic voice of the club, seemed to offer tacit approval of the sit-in protest organised by Spirit of Shankly, the supporters' union, instructing the demonstrators that stewards would be on hand to ensure order was maintained.

In the bowels of the stadium, the club's manager, Roy Hodgson, sympathised with their cause. "You cannot criticise the fans for showing their displeasure about the ownership problem because, like ourselves, they want to see the club moving forward and not sort of stuck with owners who are trying to sell the club," he said.

His thoughts were echoed by Steve Bruce, his Sunderland counterpart. "In my experience, it has always been the case that if it is unstable above you, with those who employ you, then it filters down," he said after watching his side earn a well-deserved point.

"It is unbelievable, because this club has never had that sort of thing. It has been run properly. It is going to be a difficult time until it gets resolved."

However, the most eloquent of the protests about the Hicks and Gillett regime, the clearest signal to the Royal Bank of Scotland why they should not countenance refinancing the £282m debt laden on the club by its absentee landlords, came on the pitch.

It was there in the listless display of Hodgson's first-choice XI, even after Michael Turner -- and, according to Bruce, Attwell -- gifted Dirk Kuyt an opening goal mired in controversy, the defender insisting he had not taken the soft free-kick which released Fernando Torres to tee up the Dutchman.

All of Liverpool's players are technically adept internationals with vast experience. Yet they seem uninspired, uncertain in their approach: Bruce's observation that doubt at the top permeates right to the bottom writ large.

It came in the evident frustration of Torres and Steven Gerrard, whose delight at scoring an equaliser to cancel out Darren Bent's two goals for Sunderland was almost equal to the fervour with which he celebrated his goal against Olympiakos in a Champions League group game in 2004 that put Liverpool on the road to winning the trophy.

And it also came in seeing Hodgson -- a manager who won this job on his ability to work on limited resources, to get the best out of limited players, to find a way of helping underdogs bite the big beasts -- continue to struggle to construct a team and to identify a tactic that will enable Liverpool to overpower their guests. Caught between evolution and revolution, he seems uncomfortable in his task.

That mixed message manifests itself in Liverpool's play.

Those fans pleading with the Americans to leave could not have hoped for a clearer illustration of the damage Hicks and Gillett, with their empty vows and wallets, have done. This ground holds no fears for visitors any more.

This is not Anfield. Not as it was. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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