Rafael Benitez had cautioned against dwelling on Liverpool's 12-point differential with Arsenal but his right-back, Steve Finnan, had a more realistic perspective on his side's disappointing draw with Wigan Athletic on Wednesday night. One more slip up at home, said Finnan yesterday, and Liverpool's title chances will be "very difficult". It was the nearest you will get to a player using the word "finished".
Finnan's prognosis makes the arrival of Aston Villa, on 19 January, less than welcome, though Sunderland are next up at home and there are trips to West Ham United and Middlesbrough for Liverpool. But if Manchester United and Arsenal keep grinding out wins, as they are doing, the best Liverpool can wish for is to keep some kind of hope alive before they travel to Chelsea on Sunday 10 February.
On one of the grimmer nights in recent Anfield history, Finnan acquitted himself better than most of Benitez's players but he did not disguise the fact that Liverpool are blowing their hopes of the title with their indifferent form. "No disrespect to Wigan but if you want to challenge for the title then you need to be winning games like this," Finnan said. "It's frustrating."
One of the biggest mysteries of the night was Benitez's decision to play a sole striker, Fernando Torres, with Steven Gerrard tucked in behind him. It was a strategy which also failed miserably in the goalless draw at Blackburn Rovers in November another game in which more ambition might be expected of Liverpool. But Finnan preferred to address the apparent block which he believes is stopping Liverpool finishing the chances they create.
"I wouldn't say that we have a mental problem when it comes to missing chances," he said. "We have players capable of scoring goals, but you have some games where they just don't go in. We didn't have a massive amount of clear cut chances against Wigan, but we had a few and they did not go in apart from the one goal. We had more against Manchester City [in a goalless draw], but we have the quality even if at the moment they aren't going in."
Benitez said: "We are creating chances but not taking them. One more would have killed the game. We deserved more than we got. Their 'keeper made some very good saves, but we still made enough chances to have won the game."
Wigan's hero Titus Bramble not an accolade he has been used to since becoming such a figure of fun at Newcastle reflected on Wigan's departure from the relegation zone. "We are a harder team to beat which we have shown in recent matches," he said. "Every time we play a top four side our record against them [before Wednesday it was no points in 21 matches] gets mentioned. So this is a massive weight lifted off our shoulders."Reuse content