Cole finally shows what he can do, but Young Boys enjoy last laugh
Liverpool 2 Young Boys 2
Thursday 22 November 2012
He may be 31 now and the hair is beginning to go but there is still something very boyish about Joe Cole. There may not be much time left for him by the Mersey but when he took Steven Gerrard's pass, turned and scored beneath the Kop, it at least gave them something more to remember him by than an astronomical salary.
His first goal since April last year was not, however, enough to guarantee Liverpool's qualification for the knockout phase of the Europa League. Only a win away to Udinese, who won 3-2 at Anfield but are already eliminated, would do that.
There are plenty of permutations, including the one that sees Liverpool knocked out if both they and Young Boys lose their final game and there was a weariness in Brendan Rodgers's voice afterwards. "We have to navigate our way through this tournament with a thin squad," said the Liverpool manager. "We were in front twice and I would expect us to see it through."
With an average age of 27, Young Boys are reasonably middle-aged by football standards and there was nothing naïve about their play. Both their goals were spectacular affairs, although what angered Rodgers was that both came from Liverpool attacks that broke down and were punished on the counter.
For Young Boys' second goal, there was barely a hint of a challenge. "We were walking back in the 87th minute," Rodgers reflected, witheringly. The shot that rifled past Pepe Reina from Elsad Zverotic was, however, beyond saving. It would have been outstanding from a striker, let alone a defensive midfielder.
Since his arrival two and a half years and three managers ago, Cole had impressed everyone with his enthusiasm but not, alas, with his football. His performance in the League Cup defeat here to Swansea had been so wretched that many thought it would be his last in a Liverpool shirt and Newcastle's French midfielder, Yohan Cabaye, had advised him to return to Lille, where he had spent a successful spell on loan.
However, he clung on last night as part of a three-man attack, none of whom was a recognised striker. Vicente Del Bosque had employed a similar strategy to retain the European Championship but Spain's manager had rather better midfielders than Cole, Suso and Jonjo Shelvey.
However, all three had significant chances before the interval which Liverpool ought to have gone into leading by more than a single goal. Cole, sent through expertly by Shelvey, sent his shot just wide, as did Suso.
Shelvey, who had scored twice in the frenetic 5-3 victory in Switzerland with which Liverpool opened their Europa League campaign, made no such mistake, although he was beautifully set up by his partners in attack. Cole and Suso played a one-two and the former was astute enough to sent the ball over the Berne keeper, Marco Wolfli, and across the face of the goal. All Shelvey had to do was to stoop his head to score.
Jordan Henderson, like Cole, had been given a shot at redemption, again courtesy of Shelvey, who produced a delicious back-flick to send the boy from Sunderland through. His shot was saved two-handed and then, like Stewart Downing, he found himself pressed into service as a full back when Andre Wisdom was withdrawn with a knee injury. The fact that both were midfielders who had cost the club almost £40m would not have been lost on Liverpool's accountants.
This profligacy in front goal was to be spectacularly punished. Cole had just been denied another clear opportunity when the play flowed back towards the Anfield Road End, jammed with a large, noisy and, according to some policemen on duty, quite boozy Swiss fans, who had nevertheless brought the stadium to its feet with a banner: "In Memory of Hillsborough".
Raul Bobadilla unleashed a shot that was also worthy of a standing ovation which buried itself in Reina's net. According to Twitter, which is not the most reliable of sources, the Argentine has his parents' names tattooed on his chest, although despite the brilliance of the goal it was far too cold for him to remove his shirt to prove it one way or the other. Zverotic was rather braver.
Man of the match Cole.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee A Yefet (Isr).
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