England: Carling defeats mean no end to Mersey hangover
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for Merseyside football it did. Much to the disappointment of loyal followers of Red and Blue everywhere the teams of Liverpool and Everton are not only struggling in the Premier League but have been knocked out of the Carling (League) Cup at the third round stage. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the situation.
In a third round which saw the likes of Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City suffer early exits it was the two Merseyside clubs that suffered most. At least the aforementioned trio of clubs can claim to have been shown the door by fellow Premier League sides – by Newcastle United, Arsenal FC and West Bromwich Albion – whereas Liverpool and Everton were subject to penalty shoot-out losses at the hands of Northampton Town (4th tier) and Brentford (3rd tier) respectively.
These things do happen in football and even the biggest clubs have been known to be on the receiving end of an embarrassing defeat from time to time. What makes this so disastrous for the two giants of Merseyside football is that both clubs had pre-season plans to fight for the top four in the league and embark on a decent cup run. After five games of the English Premier League so far both teams share just one win between them (Liverpool’s slender 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion) and lie at the wrong end of the standings. Liverpool have had a tough start which has seen them drop two points late on against Arsenal on the opening day of the 2010-11 campaign before going down to subsequent losses to both Manchester clubs (a bitter pill to swallow if ever there was one). This sees the club lying in 16th place with just five points from a possible fifteen. For Everton, however, the current scenario is even worse having only secured two points from five games. One of those was an unlikely one against Manchester United when the Toffees were 3-1 down with minutes to play and somehow seized a 3-3 draw in stoppage time. This spell at the beginning of the new campaign means that the Blues have made their worse start to a season for 16 years. When thoughts turned to the possibilities of winning trophies before the season started I don’t think their fans wanted to settle for the “Copa del Everton”, a game in which the Blues beat their South American namesakes from Chile during the pre-season campaign.
So having started the league campaign badly it was imperative that both teams at least progressed to the fourth round of the League Cup in order to provide a much needed boost to each other’s confidence. Sadly the demise continued on Tuesday as Everton went to Griffin Park, the home of Brentford FC, and were made to pay for some wasteful finishing. Initially the Blues had started well with Seamus Coleman putting Everton in front after just six minutes but the League One side restored parity four minutes before the break thanks to Gary Alexander. Brentford could even have avoided the lottery of a penalty shoot-out by converting from the spot in normal time but Charlie MacDonald’s second half penalty kick was saved which brought about the extra thirty minutes and the shoot-out. For Brentford fans it was a famous victory although allegations from Everton coach David Moyes that one of the home team’s supporters threw a bottle towards the Everton end during the post-match pitch invasion could mar what was a fantastic victory.
That did appear to be the biggest shock of the round until their neighbours from across Stanley Park decided that they were going to put in a performance against Northampton Town that was every bit as wet as the weather on a very rainy evening at Anfield. Like the Blues on Tuesday it all started off so well for the Reds when new signing Milan Jovanović put Liverpool ahead after just nine minutes but the players then became sluggish and appeared disengaged as the Northampton team gained confidence gradually as the match went on. They got their reward in the 56th minute when Billy McKay allowed the League Two side the chance to dream of a famous night and when extra-time came around it would’ve been easy to write them off imagining that they would get tired legs as time wore on but there wasn’t a bit of it. Northampton took the lead thanks to Michael Jacobs’ close-range effort in front of a stunned Kop only for David Ngog to equalize at the same end in the second half of extra-time. With Liverpool’s proud history in penalty shoot-outs it was they who were favourites to scrape through especially as the shoot-out took place in front of the Kop. Northampton even missed their first penalty to help out the hosts but Liverpool were still unable to take advantage as David Ngog shot one of the worst penalties ever taken at Anfield well wide and the initiative went back to the visitors. Both teams exchanged successful kicks before Nathan Eccleston hit the bar with Liverpool’s fourth penalty so it was then up to Abdul Osman to make a name for himself and he did so with great aplomb to stun Anfield into silence. The performance was so bad that coach Roy Hodgson apologized for it immediately after the game.
So what next? The Merseyside Derby is played on October 17th and each team plays two league matches before the big one. Liverpool at least have the comfort of playing two home matches but their opponents of Sunderland and Blackpool should not be taken lightly. Sunderland are led by former Manchester United defender Steve Bruce who has a good record as a coach against the Reds while Blackpool have an attacking style of play under their coach Ian Holloway who will use the underdog status as a motivational tool to his players before their short trip to Anfield. Everton, on the other hand, face difficult away trips to Fulham FC, where they’ve only won once since the Premier League began, and to Birmingham City who have lost only two games in the last twelve months at their St Andrews home. For teams who had trophy winning ambitions before the season neither can predict where their next three points will come from at the moment. With the strength in depth of each squad I would bet on both teams’ fortunes improving sooner rather than later but before then a much needed dose of realpolitik is in order before they can start dreaming of silverware and something that’s a bit stronger than Carling to drink.