Roy Hodgson's honeymoon period spanned a month where his persuasive powers were in evidence and 89 minutes of Premier League football.
Mistake by Reina gifts Arsenal a point
LIVERPOOL // After the romance came the reminder of football's essential cruelty. Roy Hodgson's appointment at Anfield was a long-delayed recognition of his abilities and achievements. His honeymoon period spanned a month where his persuasive powers were in evidence and 89 minutes of Premier League football where his organisational and motivational prowess was obvious. And then, harshly for Hodgson, came the dramatic denouement.
His 10 men, so spirited and so solid, were set for an auspicious victory. Then the previously excellent Pepe Reina missed a cross and, in the subsequent panic, scored an own goal. Arsenal emerged with a point that Arsene Wenger believed they merited, but one that was a meagre reward for Liverpool's magnificent efforts. Yet the scoreline only tells a fraction of the story of a game that veered from uneventful to enthralling, one with a new cast of characters and some wholly implausible plotlines.
For Liverpool, Joe Cole was the recipient of a red card, David Ngog was the goalscoring hero and the unsettled Javier Mascherano turned in an immense performance for the club he wants to leave. For Arsenal, there is an obvious focus on the two newcomers, Marouane Chamakh, the Moroccan forward who helped provide the equaliser, and Laurent Koscielny, who was both carried off on a stretcher and sent off in separate incidents at the end of either half.
"The game lasted just too long for us," reflected Hodgson. "I thought it was a fantastic effort but you can't avoid that feeling of disappointment. "Maybe that second-half performance deserved all three [points]. To lose it so close to the end was harsh on us." Arsene Wenger, predictably, disagreed, pointing to an Arsenal performance that improved the longer their onslaught was maintained. "We just kept going and threw more and more men forward and got, in the end, a deserved equaliser," he said.
His own contribution is noteworthy. He brought on Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky. Each tested Reina before the Czech's cross was missed by the otherwise impeccable goalkeeper, who was out-jumped by Chamakh. After the Moroccan's header rebounded off the post, Reina's despairing attempt to make amends culminated in him tipping the ball over his own line. Famously myopic, Wenger mischievously suggested it was his new centre-forward's strike. Sadly for Reina and Chamakh alike, it was an own goal. Thereafter Koscielny, already cautioned, handled and departed slightly prematurely. It meant referee Martin Atkinson brandished red in stoppage time of either half. Both decisions were contentious. But, brought in to provide the X Factor, Cole was deemed to have produced the x-rated.
Immediately after Gael Clichy had cleared Ngog's header off the line, Cole's attempt to block Koscielny's clearance resulted in a scissor tackle and a first dismissal in senior football. "He has an unblemished record in his career," said his manager. Wenger, who didn't see the tackle, nevertheless concurred. "Joe Cole is not one who likes to hurt people," said the Frenchman. "He kicked Koscielny accidentally but he had a big knock on his shin. We were scared it might be broken." Thankfully, it wasn't. Deprived of the dismissed Cole but fuelled by a seeming sense of injustice, Liverpool emerged with a sense of purpose. They were typified by Mascherano. A reunion with Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan may beckon, but he was commitment personified, bursting from box to box.
"He is an outstanding player, one of the best at his job in the world," said Hodgson, who reiterated that suitors Inter are yet to put in a bid. Mascherano also supplied the goal, sliding a pass into Ngog's path. Fernando Torres's callow understudy tends to be more miss than hit. This, however, was a pure strike, arrowing into the top corner with a blend of power and precision. What followed was a display of defensive determination; Jamie Carragher was typically defiant and this seemed the sort of rearguard action that has become his trademark. Then, however, came the cruel climax. Parity is rarely so crushing.