Sunday 22 July 2018

Stoke mauling still bites as Brendan Rodgers bids to win back fans

Brendan Rodgers will be hoping for a happier visit to Stoke tomorrow
Brendan Rodgers will be hoping for a happier visit to Stoke tomorrow

Simon Hughes

Brendan Rodgers returns to Stoke tomorrow, acknowledging that his previous visit there on the final day of last season was his worst experience in football.

Liverpool's manager conceded the crushing 6-1 defeat in Steven Gerrard's send-off game has undermined his position amongst the club's supporters.

Rodgers remains insistent, though, that his sacking was not on the agenda when he met with Mike Gordon, who essentially runs the club, ahead of Liverpool's end of season review in May.

In terms of Liverpool's fan base, however, Rodgers realises he is back where he started three seasons ago: at year zero.

"I need to regain their trust again," he admitted yesterday. "It has been an incredible journey since I came in here and it is an absolute privilege to manage this club with the supporters we have behind us.

"But of course you have to do well to earn that support and I need to earn that again.

"I never take for granted the support I have had and I also understand the disappointment of last season. After a game like Stoke, there was huge disappointment, but I have always been the one to take responsibility and, rightly so, the anger goes towards the manager. I accept that.

"That was my worst day (as a manager). By a long way. I don't think any of my teams have ever conceded that number of goals in my years in football. It was the (lack of) fight and the character on the day.

"There were great lessons learnt from that from a collective and a personal perspective and I take total responsibility for it. It was a surreal experience.

"I am sure the supporters were absolutely devastated, and rightly so. It makes us more determined to put it right and I aim to never have anything like that again in my career."

Rodgers has since received sturdy backing from Fenway Sports Group, with Gordon sanctioning the purchase of four players of proven Premier League quality, including Christian Benteke at Rodgers' request.

In releasing Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh, Rodgers was also allowed to dispense with two of his backroom staff, while Melwood, the club's training ground, was renovated on his say so.

A replica of the European Cup positioned in the foyer now stands on a 15-foot plinth, as if something high up to aspire to.

"I repeat, the club has given me incredible backing in my time here," Rodgers added.

"There have been a lot of changes on and off the field. We've spent a lot of money refurbishing the facilities here at Melwood, which is something I was very keen to do.

"We've spent a lot of money on two new pitches outside here and the club has again backed me on players in terms of where I wanted to improve."

Removing his friend Pascoe from his role as assistant as well as first-team coach Marsh - a former Liverpool midfielder - was described as a tough "moral and professional decision".

"It was difficult, probably the most difficult decision I have ever had to make as a manager, but I felt I had to do it," Rodgers said.

"I've explained the reasons why - technically I wanted to take the team in a different direction.

"That was no detriment to the guys who left, guys who had worked with me fantastically well and were with me when we came within a game of winning the league."

Rodgers had planned to have a meal with his son Anton after the match at Stoke last time out but decided to cancel after such a chastening experience. He has since forced himself to watch a video of the encounter.

"It was very difficult to sit through," Rodgers said. "The identity of what you stand for, in terms of organisation and commitment and fight - forget quality, forget talent as that is irrelevant - you have got to be able to fight and you have to be hard to beat.


"You have to do the basics well. All those elements of football, we failed in.

"It was a surreal experience, if I am honest. I am sure the supporters - rightly so - were absolutely devastated by that result. It makes us even more determined to put it right."

Midfielder Joe Allen has been ruled out of action for three to four weeks by a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, Tim Sherwood has accused Benteke of being in dreamland, hitting back at his former striker's claims that the Aston Villa manager told him it would be a mistake to join Liverpool.

Sherwood was quoted as saying there was "no point" in the 24-year-old moving to a club "where they don't cross the ball".

But Sherwood replied: "I can't remember ever saying that. He must have dreamt that one." (© Independent News Service)

Stoke City v Liverpool

Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 4.0

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