Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed his greatest achievement was "knocking Liverpool off their perch", but this morning they are at the bottom of their cage, feet sticking up in the air. Losing to Northampton in the Carling Cup at Anfield was humbling; this was much worse.
Before every kick-off at Anfield, a huge banner is unfurled along the Kop with pictures of all Liverpool's managers from Bill Shankly onwards. It is a moving display of loyalty and continuity and Roy Hodgson's face does not appear upon it. Ominously, as it became clear that Liverpool would lose, the name of Kenny Dalglish began to be chanted the length of the great stand. In the summer, Dalglish's candidacy to resume the role he quit in 1991 was rejected out of hand, although many who streamed away from Anfield last night would have wondered whether, even if the returning hero would have brought only sentiment to the job, he could have possibly done worse.
Hodgson may have been right in his observation that it "stretched credulity" that Liverpool would be relegated. The last time they were in the bottom three, in 1984, it was in a season that climaxed with them finishing second in the league behind Everton and in a European Cup final. These days the European Cup is out of the question but it is still highly likely they will finish behind Everton.
Blackpool have now taken nine of their 10 points away from Bloomfield Road. The 4-0 win at Wigan, with which they opened their first top-flight campaign since 1971, was a delightful surprise. The victory at St James' Park came against the odds. This was both historic and astonishing. For the opening 45 minutes – numbing or thrilling depending on where you were sat – that decided this game, they outplayed and out-passed Liverpool.
By comparison, the home side appeared a bewildered, incoherent mess, unable to cope with the loss of Fernando Torres who was withdrawn with a groin strain before 10 minutes were up.
"Seeing the best striker in the world limp off so early played into our hands," said the Blackpool manager, Ian Holloway. "It gave us such a boost."
It showed. Blackpool should have scored before Charlie Adam's penalty flew under Pepe Reina's gloves, when DJ Campbell's snap shot from a beautifully delivered cross from Neal Eardley skimmed into the Kop.
As it had in Utrecht on Thursday night, Glen Johnson's game looked utterly at odds with itself and it was hardly a surprise when he conceded a needless penalty with a challenge on Luke Varney who cut into the Liverpool area without any real support. Adam had the daunting task of converting a penalty in front of the Kop and, although Reina went the right way, it was not enough. The second goal, in first-half stoppage time, was a wonderfully executed move with Gary Taylor-Fletcher slipping in Varney, who finished off a goal that was worthy of Arsenal.
Holloway prides himself on the fact that when Blackpool enter the Premier League's great cathedrals, they pass and move with the same sense of purpose that brought them one of the more unlikely promotions. At the Emirates Stadium, where they were beaten 6-0, and at Stamford Bridge, where they were four down at the interval, Blackpool had come horribly unstuck. Here, they were for a while the clearly superior team.
When Christian Poulsen was substituted after a wretched hour, the decision was greeted by a standing ovation. The home supporters applauded Blackpool off at the final whistle; the kind of generous gesture Anfield had accorded Barnsley and Watford when they won here in seasons in which they were each relegated. This is still a ground with a big heart, although it is questionable whether you could say the same about the players they support.
"'You'll Never Walk Alone' is one of my dad's favourite songs; he's no longer with us and I was singing it with them," said Holloway. "This is almost the home of football and to be applauded off at the end made me so emotional.
"In the second half, we were making mistakes, panicking and giving the ball back to Liverpool and sometimes in the second half it was like the Alamo. They were battering us so much and right at the death it needed a fantastic save by Matthew Gilks [from Sotirios Kyrgiakos] to give our fans something they will remember forever."
More than half an hour earlier, the Greek's powerful header, which rebounded from the underside of the crossbar, had given Liverpool and Hodgson hope that they might be able to salvage a draw or maybe even steal a win. It had come from a free-kick, quickly and cleverly taken by Steven Gerrard, which displayed an invention Liverpool had entirely lacked in the first half. Kyrgiakos muscled his way past his marker, Ian Evatt, and a sustained assault that lasted a quarter of an hour began.
Joe Cole, racing on to a pass from Jamie Carragher, unveiled a shot that seemed destined for the corner of the Blackpool net but swept just wide. When Gilks clung on to Dirk Kuyt's diving header, you could almost sense the goalkeeper's gratitude.
"You saw in the second half, when we sat back, how poor we can be," said Holloway. "We need to be going forward. To win I thought we had to overrun Liverpool on their own ground, which we nearly managed in the first half. After that, we were just hanging on.
"We have the smallest budget in the Premier League and we pay the worst money but that comes with its bonuses because there is no expectation, which is the awful cross that Liverpool have to bear.
"I heard one guy shout: 'They are not Real Madrid, get tighter to them'." However, last year Real Madrid did come to Anfield and were beaten 4-0. What has happened since almost defies analysis.
Liverpool 4-4-2: Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Carragher; Meireles, Gerrard, Poulsen (Jovanovic, 60), Cole (Rodriguez, 89); Kuyt, Torres (Ngog, 10). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Lucas, Spearing, Kelly.
Booked Reina, Kyrgiakos.
Blackpool 4-4-2: Gilks; Eardley (Phillips, h-t), Cathcart (Keinan, 20), Evatt, Crainey; Taylor-Fletcher, Adam, Vaughan, Varney; Grandin (Southern, 64), Campbell. Substitutes not used: Halstead (gk), Harewood, Ormerod, Sylvestre, Phillips.
Man of the match Varney.
Possession Liverpool 50% Blackpool 50%
Shots on target Liverpool 10 Blackpool 7
Referee M Jones (Chester) Attendance 43,156 Match rating 8/10.Reuse content