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Torres and Gerrard in league of their own


Steven Gerrard. Photo: PA

Steven Gerrard. Photo: PA

Steven Gerrard. Photo: PA

AN EIGHTIES legend gazes down at the Bill Shankly statue on the Anfield Road. Not Kenny Dalglish but Phil Collins, whose vast image, plastered on the side wall of the Albert pub, promotes the new album 'Going Back'.

That might be precisely the journey Liverpool decide to take, as their American owners come around to the idea of appointing a caretaker manager. Dalglish's willingness to resume temporarily the dugout seat which was his for six years from 1985 was by no means certain last night, but he is one of very few possible candidates.

There was nothing in Roy Hodgson's description of his conversation with the club's proprietors, John W Henry and Tom Werner, to suggest that he feels their gushing confidence.

"I guess so," he said when asked if they still support him and, in those circumstances, let none of the 63-year-old's many detractors on Merseyside say he lacked bravery on Saturday.

Though another home defeat to follow the one inflicted by Wolves last Wednesday would have been enough to sign off Hodgson's Anfield career on the six-month anniversary of its beginning, the manager concluded, for the greater good, that Steven Gerrard should begin on the bench.

"Steven was in agreement with me that starting on the bench might be the best thing as he was very, very tired after the game on Wednesday," Hodgson explained. "If he'd said to me, 'No, no, I really want to play from the start,' then I would have left one of the others out. But he was cramped up in all of his muscles (after Wednesday) and of course we are still a bit concerned about that hamstring injury he picked up with England."

If Hodgson survives the season then he may reflect on the way the fates moved in mysterious ways to preserve him. When Raul Meireles sustained an ankle injury in the 25th minute, Hodgson was forced to play Gerrard anyway and Liverpool's captain delivered almost as completely to the team's victory as he did to the 3-1 Europa League win over Napoli in November when, with the club's new owners in attendance, they also trooped in a goal behind at the break.

Gerrard's interaction with Fernando Torres also bore eloquent testimony to those who feel that Hodgson's adherence to a 4-4-2 system is depriving the club's two prime forces of that interaction which has been at its best when the captain plays behind the striker.

It wasn't just the quality of Torres' equaliser -- which Gerrard set up with a clipped half-volley pass at the end of of a four-touch build-up -- there was also the vast, arced ball which Torres took and smashed perhaps a yard wide three minutes later; and the Gerrard cross from the right that Torres volleyed wide 13 minutes from time.

The new system has made moments of such majesty scarce and Hodgson's grip on his job is rendered even more fragile by the lack of players able to deliver even a scintilla of what these two can. Only once this season have Liverpool strung Premier League wins together and the expectation now has to be that a poor performance will follow at Blackburn on Wednesday.

Hodgson certainly won't be getting too carried away about Joe Cole despite his goal -- his first in Premier League football since the remarkably similar finish on the white paint line at Old Trafford in April which was decisive to Chelsea's title triumph.

But Cole's warmth for Hodgson bore out the embraces which so many of the players offered him as they processed from the pitch. Pepe Reina knocked Hodgson off his feet; Lucas Leiva stopped his run from the field to embrace him.

"We are all right behind the manager. He's a gentleman and we want to do well for him and the club and I suppose we showed that with the fight and the togetherness," Cole said.

The general Anfield chill is more impermeable -- the 35,400 attendance was the lowest since Portsmouth's visit in 2004 and bore out the sense of disillusion. Liverpool's second-half performance indicated that Hodgson retains the faith of his players.

As listless and rudderless as the hosts had been in the first half, they brimmed with purpose after the interval. By that stage, they were behind to Kevin Davies' simple header, teed up for him by Matt Taylor's expert dead-ball delivery. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent