Oh sweet joy. What better Christmas present than to thump the league leaders 4-0. That fact that it was our Scouse friends makes it all the sweeter. Still, they will get their revenge as the Christmas foreign holiday exodus see the boys from the black stuff empty our homes and travel back to Merseyside in their stolen vans.
I watched this game from a pub. A serious error that even now is difficult to come to terms with. Despite having a season ticket for the Harding Upper, I gave it away to a client — a Scouser. The simple fact is that this client keeps me fed and watered. The other two directors at my client company are Spurs fans, so giving them a free ticket to watch their team take on Chelsea would be a non-starter and a potential own goal. As it happened, I could not have scored a worse own goal with the Scouse client. She had to endure Liverpool’s worst defeat for nearly a decade while sitting in enemy territory near Tom Broadbent. She arrived in work on Monday morning with a face like thunder.
While not having a ticket was bad enough, the Prince of Russia pub in Rose Hill, Oxford, could hardly be called salubrious. Most of the drinkers were on day release and thick Scottish accents floated across the room. As soon as we sat down the wee Jimmys (all Scouse lovers) were crying in their beer as Hasselbaink took the ball under control on the edge of the area and lifted an inch perfect ball to Graeme Le Saux who cracked a shot that Dudek touched onto the post.
Fortunately, and in what seemed to be slow motion, the ball rebounded and landed at Le Saux’s feet leaving him with an open goal and an easy tap in. The pub erupted although Gaelic cursing could be heard along with: “E’s a wee ponce and a shirt-liftah.”
With Le Saux’s goal coming in the second minute, all you could hear from the big screen was the sound of Chelsea. It was a continuous wall of noise that did not abate for ninety minutes. It is a shame that the fans can only rouse themselves for the big games. You could almost physically feel the passion emanating from the screen. Surely fans cannot moan about the team when they themselves cannot be bothered to sing at other matches.
The rest of the half was a cracking display of measured football. Claudio Ranieri, finding the perfect balance for this match at least, made sure that we pressed Liverpool well into their own half. Liverpool never looked like reversing the trend that has seen them lose their last five games at the Bridge. The Scouse fans themselves could hardly be heard on the television — it was as though the sale of Fowler combined with a trip to the Bridge was enough to render them mute. Or perhaps they were busy picking each other’s pockets — after all, everyone needs money for Christmas.
On the 26th minute, a goal kick booted upfield saw Stanic head on to Gudjohnsen who threaded the ball cleverly to Jimmy. The Scouse defender, Biscan, made a right meal of tackling Jimmy that left the Dutchman clean through with only Dudek to beat. Hasselbaink showed international composure by letting Dudek make an early move. Jimmy delayed an instant before lifting the ball high into the roof of the net — a 24-carat goal.
The second half saw Phil Thompson reorganise his team. On came Stephen Wright at right back that meant switching Carragher to left back and Steven Gerrard to central midfield. The first period of the second half saw almost persistent Liverpool pressure. Having already thrown away two goal advantages at home this season (Boro springs to mind) you could see the home crowd get nervous as Liverpool sprayed passes across the park. The writing was on the wall when Riise (by far Liverpool’s most dangerous player) ran into the box and, in a non threatening position, drew Melchiot into committing a stupid foul. As McAllister, newly on in the second half, stepped up to take the penalty, the writing was on the wall. But what a save. Cudicini, for the second game running, made a stunning save to keep the scoreline intact.
Liverpool heads dropped and the Blues, sniffing blood, visibly became more confident. The defence of Terry, Gallas, Melchiot and Baba was simply outstanding, the midfield of Dalla Bona and Lampard equally so. Stanic and Jokanovic were a weaker link, but the team performed superbly as a unit.
A third goal came later in the half when Dalla Bona bundled the ball over the line after a fierce drive by Lampard slipped beneath Dudek but was blocked on the line. You could see the Bridge erupt, as did the pub. It got better when Zola came on in the final minutes and danced down the touchline to pull the ball back for Eidur, who at the second attempt crashed the ball home. Four-nil, game over.
Talking to neutrals in the pub, 4-0 was a bit harsh to Liverpool. They missed a penalty and Jimmy’s goal came from a goal kick that should have been a corner. Also, three of the goals came from second attempts and fortunate rebounds. Still, in retort I simply said: “Results don’t lie.”