Hodgson's youth gamble pays off

Napoli 0 Liverpool 0

A few miles from Vesuvius, Roy Hodgson was metaphorically staring into the volcano. Defeat in the Merseyside derby that topped a bad start to the season had pushed the Liverpool manager seemingly very close to the edge. According to that most baseless of currency – internet rumours – after he had presumably overseen a humiliating rout in Naples, Hodgson would fly home, call a press conference at Anfield for this morning and announce his resignation. Frank Rijkaard, who left Galatasaray this week, had already been singled out as his replacement.

As with so much of this stuff, nothing of the sort actually happened – as a rough guide to internet rumours the News of the World do not tell teenagers blogging from their bedrooms that they are about to break an exclusive. "I have heard the ridiculous rumours and there is not an iota of truth in any of it," Hodgson said. "I have never considered resigning and I never will."

Instead, Hodgson oversaw what was probably the best performance under his management. After leaving Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles on Merseyside to prepare for Sunday's encounter with Blackburn, the manager gambled that this was a game he could probably afford to lose.

However, in one of European football's most intense cauldrons, a young, makeshift team not only endured, they held their own.

Here, each side had one exceptional chance to break the deadlock. Paul Konchesky cleared a shot off the line before the interval and, in the second half, Ryan Babel squandered an opportunity to give Liverpool an improbable victory after being put through by a beautifully judged pass from Milan Jovanovic. His shot clattered into Morgan De Sanctis's legs and the chance for something extraordinary passed. Nevertheless, in the wake of Utrecht's draw with Steaua Bucharest, Liverpool still top their group and this was the kind of backs-to-the wall display away from home that had seen Fulham through to the Europa League final last season.

"It was a point that many people thought we would not get," Hodgson reflected. "We stepped up to the plate in a very tough atmosphere. It doesn't matter if you are Inter, Milan or Juventus, this is a hard, hard place to come. We are still marooned in the League," he said. "But we have shown tonight that we are far from dead."

Hodgson, however, was angered by the violence that had surrounded this fixture that had left several of the club's fans injured. "In my pre-match press conference, I was asked in Italian whether I was concerned about the damage drunken Liverpool fans would do in Naples," he said. "Given what has happened, I find that faintly amusing. They were peaceful people who came here to watch football and ended up in hospital. I hope they don't come home with too many bad memories."

It was not in truth much of a spectacle but the setting, at least, was panoramic. Beyond the concrete, graffiti-strewn walls of the San Paolo the sun set into the Gulf of Naples, framing Vesuvius in a sheath of gold. Away from the volcano, the stadium seethed. Inside there were images of love – a vast banner saying "Ti Amo" and a portrait of Diego Maradona, who in 1987 drove this proud, chaotic, impoverished city to an Italian championship they have never forgotten. And there were expressions of menace; flares burning in the stands, police helicopters clattering overhead.

And yet a Liverpool team with plenty of academy products – Jonjo Shelvey had never before started a competitive game for the club – were not intimidated. Shelvey even provided Liverpool with their first shot on target after half an hour, while another young midfielder, Jay Spearing, received Michele Pazienza's boot in his face.

Napoli had billed this match as a show of strength; an opportunity to demonstrate that they were back mixing it with the big boys. In fact, they caused Liverpool fewer problems than Blackpool. Possession was surrendered, moves broke down and the collective howl uttered by the San Paolo when a horribly misplaced cross from Ezequiel Lavezzi landed on the stadium's running track, demonstrated they were quite capable of turning on their own.

In first-half stoppage time, Napoli looked for a second as if they had broken through as Marek Hamsik turned Edison Cavani's shot past Pepe Reina for what would have been the opening goal of the night had Konchesky not reacted instinctively.

Given what had happened to Frank Lampard at Bloemfontein during the World Cup, it was a neat irony that is should have been a German referee who had to judge if the ball had crossed the line. Thorsten Kinhofer ruled it had not. Traditionally, you are supposed to see Naples and Die. Liverpool survived.

Group K

Results so far Liverpool 4 Steaua Bucharest 1, Napoli 0 Utrecht 0; Steaua Bucharest 3 Napoli 3, Utrecht 0 Liverpool 0; Napoli 0 Liverpool 0, Utrecht 1 Steaua Bucharest 1.

Liverpool's remaining fixtures 4 Nov Napoli (h); 2 Dec Steaua Bucharest (a); 15 Dec Utecht (h).

Napoli (3-2-4-1): De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Piacenza, Gargano (Yebda, 83); Maggio (Zuniga, 76), Hamsik (Sosa, 84), Lavezzi, Dossena; Cavani. Substitutes not used Iezzo (gk), Grava, Dumitru, Cribari.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Kelly, Carragher (Kyrgiakos, h-t), Skrtel, Konchesky (Aurelio, 65); Poulsen, Spearing; Jovanovic, Shelvey, Babel (Cole, 77); Ngog. Substitutes not used Jones (gk), Rodriguez, Wilson, Eccleston.

Referee T Kinhofer (Germany).

Attendance 55,489.

Man of the match Konchesky.

Match rating 6/10.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker