Buoyant Blackpool give Dalglish a glimpse of the hard road ahead
Blackpool 2 Liverpool 1
Kenny Dalglish has attempted to temper ambition with realism in the past five days – "this is no romance" were his words – but the achingly cold reality of his club's deep fall from the place they occupied when he last sat in their dug-out was laid before him last night.
Not since the 1946/47 season have Blackpool recorded a double over Liverpool but '47 was the season when Stanley Matthews signed here, to join Stan Mortensen in a fabled side. Now is the day when the Bloomfield Road advertising hoardings – for Clifton Quality Meats and Brand's Scaffolding – reveal the world of difference between last night's hosts and the visitors, with their multi-million global sponsorship deals and their multi-national line-up. All that money and global sophistication have complicated things, though. The qualities which delivered Liverpool league titles in Dalglish's day were defenders who can defend; midfielders who thread passes around with an intrinsic knowledge of where each other will be and, above all, a team nourished by soaring self-belief.
Last night, these were the qualities on show from Blackpool, a club who, but for a little more composure and Pepe Reina standing between Liverpool's posts might actually have scored three or even four. Dalglish pleaded that a little more hard work would generate the luck that wins matches but that winsome smile of his in the press room – he was in surprisingly good cheer – surely hid some painful truths about his new charges. Several of their number – Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic from last night's eye-catching 4-2-3-1 starting line-up – are not players of a Liverpool quality. There is also huge job to perform on the basic defending qualities needed in a side that is to survive in the Premier League, let alone scale its heights.
Glen Johnson was deployed in an alien left-back role, such is the apparent disenchantment of Dalglish with that bellwether of the Hodgson era Paul Konchesky, and he looked deeply uncomfortable there. Daniel Agger revealed more of the defensive flaws in his game which Roy Hodgson extemporised on in what was to be his last public discussion of Liverpool in the Anfield press room after Bolton had been dispatched. No penalty this time but a heavy price: Agger flapped around the encroaching Gary Taylor-Fletcher in the 12th minute and Liverpool's sublime start had gone
It is worth lingering on that brief sublimity, if only for the tantalising hint if offered that Dalglish can deliver Liverpool to a better place. When he last picked a Liverpool side, Blackpool were in Division Four, thumping Aldershot 4-1 away in the week when Dalglish's side drew 4-4 at Goodison Park, but his players started with a vim which suggested he can breach the gulf of two decades. Martin Kelly, Dalglish's pick of his players at Old Trafford on Sunday, seized confidently on space down the right flank before Blackpool had gathered themselves, and played in Torres to thump past Richard Kingson at his inside post. The strains of "Dalgleesh" thumped around the old stadium and life seemed so simple.
Torres took the moment with that long absent grin and for all his side's struggles, his demeanour here is something to give Dalglish cheer. A divine volleyed, backheeled pass to Jovanovic revealed that much, jut like the elegantly levered pass to Dirk Kuyt. These have become lost talents: perhaps Dalglish is making the impression he believed he could. Neither did the Spaniard's shoulders drop as they might have done as the collective effort failed: the second-half volley powered five feet over from Jovanovic's 57th-minute cross from the left was hit cleanly and with intent.
Dalglish tried to imbue his side with the ambition they had so painfully lacked under Hodgson. In those early minutes, they played a higher tempo game, pressed more and were not tempted into the kind of dull, counter-attacking football which is actually the best way to conquer Blackpool on their own ground. Then came the cold reminder that a legend cannot rebuild Liverpool on spirit alone. A loose ball from Torres, surrendered possession by Raul Meireles, David Vaughan threading a ball into Liverpool's area and suddenly Taylor-Fletcher was teasing a route around Agger to place the ball past Reina before Martin Skrtel could place a challenge.
In that moment of capitulation, Blackpool became the first team in Premier League history to score and concede in their fist eight home matches of the season, but there was a greater resonance for Liverpool, who were suddenly reminded of the place they are in.
The signs were there from the start of the second period when Kelly was exposed by Charlie Adam, who raced down the left and cut through him. Adam could have done fatal damage had his pass back been accurate. Then the midfielder found Elliot Grandin, whose shot was blocked; then he fired a shot at the near post which Reina parried away. The disparity between the visitors and their hosts was in painful evidence as Taylor-Fletcher continued the onslaught, nutmegging Johnson – who did not look comfortable in his new position – and pulling the ball back for David Vaughan, whose shot was tipped over the bar by Reina.
Then came the blow which had been looking an increasing inevitability. Neal Eardley crossed from the right, Ian Evatt headed the ball back across and DJ Campbell was on hand to send a diving header past Reina. Liverpool's frustration became rage when they were denied a penalty for what they felt was a Blackpool handball in their area. Torres was booked as the argument continued but the game was slipping from Liverpool's grasp.
Dalglish, a devourer of Liverpool history, won't need reminding that the last time his side lost here was a month before they were relegated in 1954. "This is the best trip I've ever been on," the Blackpool fans sang as the seconds counted down last night. Dalglish's trip only started five days ago but it's looking like a long and formidable one already.
Blackpool (4-4-2) Kingson; Eardley, Cathcart, Evatt, Crainey; Taylor-Fletcher (Baptiste, 84), Vaughan, Adam, Varney (Southern, 83); Grandin (Phillips, 64), Campbell. Substitutes not used Rachubka (gk), Ormerod, Euell, Sylvestre.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1) Reina; Kelly, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson; Lucas, Poulsen (Ngog, 85); Kuyt (Shelvey, 76), Meireles, Jovanovic; Torres. Substitutes not used Gulacsi (gk), Konchesky, Kyrgiakos, Rodriguez, Wilson.
Man of the match Taylor-Fletcher.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).
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