Thursday, 21 April 2011

Liverpool - Anfield

6th November 2002

Liverpool 3-1 Southampton

Things may have changed a wee bit now, but for a spell a few years back getting into some of the English Premiership grounds to see a league match became nigh on impossible, unless you wished to either pay silly sums on the internet, or to gamble on hanging around outside the ground looking to pick up a spare ticket.  With the latter approach one always risked disappointment, and for us Scots it was never a realistic option.  

Thank Goodness, then for the League Cup (or the Worthington Cup as it was in 2002), which usually offered an opportunity for the casual visitor to see first team football at Old Trafford, Anfield, Highbury and the like. 

The downside, of course, is that in such matches the phrase “first team” often stretched the definition slightly.  And such, indeed, was the case with this Liverpool side this evening, as I sat in the Kop listening to puzzled Scousers muttering “Who?” as their team line-up was announed – Jon Ostemobor, Gregory Vignal, Pegguy Arphexad and Bernard Diomede anyone?  Steven Gerard was there though, this being his first outing as Team Captain.

Not that it matters who plays really, I suppose.  A view shared by the guy next to me:  a strung-out basket case of nerves who spent the whole game muttering “Come On, Red Men.  Come On, Red Men.” to himself over and over again, like an incantation.

The packed Centenary Stand.

Even if this looked a Liverpool second string, they were still too good in the end for what was a near full-strength Southampton side.  And yet the visitors had plenty of opportunities in the first-half to trouble their hosts, but had the misfortune to find Chris Kirkland relishing a rare opportunity in the Liverpool goal.  Instead they found themselves going in at the break a goal down, after Patrick Berger’s free-kick on 45 minutes was deflected into his own net by Michael SVENSSON.

Southampton began the second-half in the same hurry, and actually pulled level after 55 minutes courtesy of Ecuadorian Agustin DELGADO, but Liverpool immediately regained the lead through El-Hadji DIOUF.  Then three minutes later, Milan BAROS converted a cross from Berger to make it 3-1, leaving a shell-shocked Saints side wondering how after playing so well for an hour they could have got themselves into such a predicament.  

This third really just knocked the stuffing out of the visitors, and the final half-hour plodded to an inevitable dull conclusion, although Saint’s ‘keeper Anti Niemi did do well to prevent Vladimir Smicer grabbing a fourth.

This was a first, and as of 2011 my only, visit to Anfield, and I have to say I did come away with a slight feeling of disappointment.  The Hillsbrough memorial was as tastefully poignant as I had expected, and the Shankly Gates as intimidating, but inside it was all a bit flat.  Even the pre-match rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” seemed contrived and perfunctory.  I shall have to go back for a league match, I think.


Hillsbrough memorial and The Shankly Gates.

Panorama of Anfield, Liverpool.

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