Benjani reads last rites for Hodgson's sad reign
Blackburn Rovers 3 Liverpool 1
Thursday 06 January 2011
The omens were grim, even before the long night began. This is the ground where, after a 2-0 defeat to Southampton which had sent his Blackburn side bottom in November 1998, Roy Hodgson was midway through a press conference when he received a tap on the shoulder to say Jack Walker wanted to see him. An hour or so later his managerial reign was over and he was being driven away, in tears according to some who saw him. He did not even stay to clear his desk.
Hodgson seemed to know his fate last night. He was virtually motionless out on the edge of his technical area, occasionally scratching his chin implacably as he stood alone with the knowledge that his hold on this job is all but gone. Afterwards, Liverpool did not allow history to repeat itself in the press conference theatre. Hodgson's discussion of his side's performance was abruptly terminated after fewer than two minutes by the club's communications director Ian Cotton, who ushered the manager out into the corridor so rapidly that it seemed Liverpool did not want him to say too much. The club's new proprietors John W Henry and Tom Werner may well have the answers already. Their Fenway Sports Group concluded by the weekend that the situation at their club is so parlous that are ready to install a caretaker and a third defeat in four league games will have made the decision easier.
As Hodgson observed, defeats don't come much worse than this, though he did not enamour himself to his former club by declaring that "if you are Liverpool and you lose away to Blackburn it is impossible to put a positive slant on it."
All the hallmarks of Hodgson's unhappy six-month period were visible here – the lumped balls towards a sullen Fernando Torres, the general failure to create. But the hopelessness of his cause was all the greater because of the prime cause of the defeat: the absence of that defensive resilience for which he has sacrificed flair.
Few Liverpool fans seemed to share Hodgson's sorrow in the end. For those who turned up – and 1,000 empty spaces in the away supporters' Darwen End which Liverpool usually pack to capacity revealed the extent of the disillusionment – the defeat will help presage an end they have badly wanted for weeks. The ironic chants of "Hodgson for England", first aired during last Wednesday's home defeat to Wolves, resurfaced again just before Liverpool went 3-0 down and there were also more muffled tones of "Dalglish". But to give out more abuse would have been to mock the afflicted. There is too much despair to feel anger.
Ewood Park happens to be a place where Liverpool come to win as a matter of routine: the side had lost only once to Blackburn in 24 league games before last night and once in 14 years in any competition. Rovers, with their demented talk of Ronaldinho and David Beckham looked like the side in greater state of decline, difficult though that might be. The injuries which have ravaged the club deprived manager Steve Kean of eight players. But Liverpool did not wait long to expose why they have had two away wins in 18 and why they have managed to string consecutive wins together on only one occasion this season.
Kean reflected that "you don't like to be greedy but we had a chance to go four up" as he replayed in his mind Mame Diouf's cross which Junior missed late on, though that was to overlook Diouf's own miss even before Blackburn had gone ahead. The goals, when they came, exposed a defensive vulnerability that made you wince. First there was Glen Johnson, statuesque as Diouf threaded the ball through the left-hand side of the box which the Swede Martin Olsson smashed home. Then, five minutes later, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, allowing Benjani Mwaruwari to take Pedersen's clipped free kick on his chest, back to goal, then swivel and fire low past Pepe Reina.
Only Hodgson knows if the 51st-minute replacement of the liability Kyrgiakos for Daniel Agger was designed to tighten the defence or introduce a creative force. The manager was not allowed to linger to explain. But as one gap was plugged, another yawned open and Junior Hoilett was easing around Skrtel on the left flank, pushing past Johnson on the touchline and levelling for Benjani to add a third which will live with Hodgson for a long time.
El Hadji Diouf intervened as he only he knows how, launching into an over-enthusiastic substitute's warm-up which served to taunt the visiting fans. Gerrard, yet again, managed to provide the same, improbable deliverance he has so often before for Hodgson, fastening onto a ball after a Torres shot had been blocked and blasting home eight minutes from time. But he could not deliver a resurrection this time. He was tripped by Michel Salgado as he raced across the penalty area four minutes from time but blasted the penalty kick over the bar.
"Who knows, if Steven's penalty had gone in we could have salvaged something from the game," Hodgson reflected. But it was a delusion. The captain, like everyone else inside a ground where Hodgson has never returned and won since the winter's night he was sacked, knew the manager's time was all but up.
Blackburn (4-4-2): Bunn; Salgado, Samba, Nelsen, Givet; Hoilett, Dunn (Morris, 75), Pedersen, Olsson (EH Diouf, 73); MB Diouf, Benjani (Goulon, 84). Substitutes not used Fielding (gk), Linganzi, Doran, Hanley. Booked Dunn.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos (Agger, 51), Skrtel, Konchesky; Cole, Gerrard, Leiva, Rodriguez (Kuyt, 58); Torres, Ngog (Babel, 78). Substitutes not used Gulacsi (gk), Jovanovic, Poulsen, Kelly. Booked Leiva.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).
Match rating 8/10.
Man of the match Benjani.
Attendance 24, 522.
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