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Seasiders leave 'Pool at lowest ebb

ALEX FERGUSON once claimed his greatest achievement was "knocking Liverpool off their perch".

This morning they are at the bottom of their cage, feet sticking up in the air. Losing to Northampton in the Carling Cup at Anfield was humbling; this was, in its own way, much worse.

Before kick-off, a huge banner is unfurled along the Kop with pictures of all Liverpool's managers from Bill Shankly onwards.

It is a moving display of loyalty and continuity and Roy Hodgson's face does not appear upon it. Ominously, as it became clear that Liverpool would lose, the chant of "Dalglish" began to reverberate around the length of the great stand.

In the summer, Kenny Dalglish's candidacy to resume the role he quit in 1991 was rejected out of hand, although many who streamed away from Anfield would have wondered whether, even if the returning hero would have brought only sentiment to the job, he could have possibly done worse.

Hodgson may have been right in his observation that it "stretched credulity" that Liverpool would be relegated. The last time they were in the bottom three, in 1984, it was in a season that climaxed with them finishing second in the league behind Everton and in a European Cup final.

These days the European Cup is out of the question but it is still highly likely they will finish behind Everton.

Yet the chanting for Dalglish indicated that the fans are running out of patience. Liverpool's supporters may pride themselves in the fact that they do not succumb to the knee-jerk irrationality which afflicts modern football. Over the last three years, though, they have developed a keen nose for mismanagement.

More than 3,000 marched against off-field incompetence before this game, and a similar number stayed behind afterwards to reinforce the message that the continued presence of the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, will not be tolerated.

And in that one word -- and in the torrent of boos which accompanied both the half-time and full-time whistles -- it became clear that such militancy is not limited to matters in the boardroom. Those who inhabit the Boot Room will be subject to scrutiny, too. The fans will no more see their club in the wrong hands on the pitch than they will off it.

They do not want a Liverpool side which has, in consecutive games, been dominated by Northampton, Sunderland and Blackpool. They do not want a side which has no ideas, fluency, width, penetration, guile or movement. They do not want visitors to come to Anfield and fancy their chances.

"To be applauded off at what is almost the home of football is so special," said Blackpool manager Ian Holloway. "That is what I dreamed of last night. These supporters have seen some of the best football ever, which started when Mr Shankly had his dream. In my era, there was no better football club in the world."

It is almost impossible, with this team, with this manager, with these owners, to equate such sentiments with Liverpool. No wonder discord is in the air.

They do not want to see a manager -- appointed by managing director Christian Purslow to bring attractive football, to unite the dressing-room and to steer a course through troubled waters -- field a centre-back upfront, produce a team with no discernible spirit and plunge the club to its lowest position in years.


More worrying still is that Liverpool cannot even rage against the cruelness of fate. They lost this game because they deserved to. They are in the relegation zone because they deserve to be.

That Blackpool led by two at half-time was no fluke. Holloway's side attacked from the first whistle, five players crashing into Liverpool's half from the kick-off, going for the jugular.

Charlie Adam, imperious for an hour, stung Pepe Reina's palms with a fierce free kick, DJ Campbell skewed a simple chance from Neal Eardley's cross and Luke Varney, in menacing form, saw one effort saved and one blocked by Martin Skrtel.

Liverpool, clearly rocked by Fernando Torres' departure with yet another injury after just 10 minutes, produced not so much attempts on goal but illusions of attacks.

Matthew Gilks had been called into action just once, scrambling a Sotiris Kyrgiakos flick off his line, when Glen Johnson tripped Varney and Adam stroked the resultant penalty just beneath Reina.

The Blackpool goalkeeper had done little more when Varney doubled the lead, timing his run to perfection to latch on to Gary Taylor-Fletcher's through ball and clip the ball past Reina.

The shock of being booed off the pitch seemed to work, at least initially, Kyrgiakos's emphatic header home from a Steven Gerrard free kick just eight minutes into the second half seemingly heralding the start of a rousing comeback.

It failed to materialise. Raul Meireles twice went close and Joe Cole should have scored after Jamie Carragher released him, but Holloway's description of the closing stages as "like the Alamo" was generous.

Blackpool might even have had a third, through Campbell, before Hodgson threw his Greek central defender up front. Kyrgiakos went close twice, but the artisan was to prove no more effective than the artists.

The chant for Dalglish began. Hodgson's clock started to tick.

Blackpool have now taken nine of their 10 points away from Bloomfield Road.

The 4-0 win at Wigan, with which they opened their first top-flight campaign since 1971, was a delightful surprise. The victory against Newcastle at St James' Park came against the odds.

But yesterday's triumph was something else altogether. It was both historic and astonishing.

For the opening 45 minutes -- numbing or thrilling depending on where you were sitting -- that decided this game, they outplayed and out-passed Liverpool.

"Seeing the best striker in the world limp off so early played into our hands," said Holloway. "It gave us such a boost."

He added: "You'll Never Walk Alone is one of my dad's favourite songs; he's no longer with us and I was singing it with them. To be applauded off at the end made me so emotional.

"I heard one guy shout 'they are not Real Madrid, get tighter to them'."

However, last year Real Madrid did come to Anfield and were beaten 4-0. What has happened since almost defies analysis. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent