They came in their hundreds from Suffolk in hope of a miracle and saw only a rout. Ipswich Town surrendered their Premiership status with a whimper yesterday, failing miserably to find an escape clause in an unhappy season. Liverpool tore them apart.
The tensions surrounding Ipswich's plight and the home side's quest of a runners'-up place and their highest position in the Premiership dissipated with John Arne Riise's 13th-minute goal. By the end, Liverpool were strolling in the sun thanks to another strike from Riise and others from Michael Owen, Vladimir Smicer and Nicolas Anelka. The visitors had one consolation: they will not be meeting opposition of such quality for some time.
Liverpool, whose afternoon was further enhanced by their reducing Manchester United to third place, are on the Riise, Ipswich on the decline after two seasons in the top flight. This season they met the glamour of Internazionale, next year their fare will include Reading and Stoke.
"If you miss chances and give away silly goals, you are going to be in trouble. Maybe that's been the story of our season," George Burley, the Ipswich manager, said. "The fans today were brilliant, they never stopped cheering from start to finish, and we are determined to pay them back by coming straight back up."
While Burley contemplated the First Division, Gérard Houllier, his Liverpool counterpart, could reflect with satisfaction on Liverpool's best League performance for 11 years and automatic qualification for next season's Champions' League. "We made it," he said. "I know some people have said we haven't won any silverware but we finished with 80 points which is what Manchester United got when they won the title last year."
Houllier spoke of progress, which is not something you could accuse Ipswich of. Many of their fans bore slogans like: "Up or down, we love Town", but the direction of that affection soon became apparent. In a perfect Suffolk world they would have won while Derby defeated Sunderland at the Stadium of Light but the former had little likelihood once Liverpool went ahead.
Jamie Carragher and Danny Murphy were probing at Ipswich's right flank when Dietmar Hamann's astute pass switched the play to the opposite wing. Abel Xavier probably intended to find Owen but the England striker either dummied the ball or could not quite reach it and as the visitors focused on him, Riise came in behind to thump the ball into the top corner.
Ipswich almost equalised seven minutes later when Jamie Clapham's right-wing cross located Darren Bent whose header was textbook correct in being downwards but was saved acrobatically by Jerzy Dudek.
You sensed Ipswich's belief dribbling away with that save and after 34 minutes the rest of Anfield began to concur. Steven Gerrard left the field with a recurrence of a groin injury and his replacement, Smicer, sped past two defenders with a run through the centre and was looking for a free-kick when John McGreal upended him outside the area. The ball ran to Riise whose low drive into the opposite corner would not have been improved by a laser direction device.
Martijn Reuser, the visitors' most threatening player, hit the post after 37 minutes but if that brought an unfortunate end to the first half to Ipswich, the start of the second proved calamitous. Titus Bramble made a mess of his first attempt at a clearance and then compounded it with a weak header towards Andy Marshall. Owen, who could teach sharks how to sense struggling prey, darted in between and beat the Ipswich goalkeeper with an athletic volleyed flick.
That goal came within 50 seconds of the restart and Liverpool's next came 12 minutes later, Smicer darting round Hermann Hreidarsson, slipping the ball through Mark Venus's legs and pushing his shot under Marshall.
Liverpool could afford to be indulgent and they brought on Gary McAllister for a valedictory 10 minutes before his retirement and Nicolas Anelka for what may or may not be his last appearance. Anelka duly completed the massacre with an easy tap-in.
"The League tells the truth," Houllier said with satisfaction. "It tells the level of work and achievement over a season. We deserve to be second."
Liverpool 5 Ipswich Town 0
Riise 13, 35, Owen 46, Smicer 57, Anelka 88
Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 44,088Reuse content