Hodgson calls for more hard work after vital win

Liverpool 2 Blackburn Rovers 1
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You know things are looking bad when Gerry Marsden is out leading the rendition of a certain famous Anfield anthem. If that didn't confirm that Roy Hodgson truly is walking alone, an internet poll of Liverpool fans before this game revealed 65 per cent actually wanted Blackburn to win, in the hope of putting them and their manager out of his misery.

The consequences of that outcome certainly didn't bare contemplation. Even the new owner, John W Henry, absent through illness but likely to be here to see Chelsea in two weeks' time, said beforehand, perhaps ominously, that this was an important day at Anfield "in more ways than one."

Almost as important as the result, which still left Liverpool grounded in the bottom three, was the evidence that Hodgson's players possess a belief in him which so many outside of the Anfield gates lack. Their pace and intensity, in the first half especially, made this their best performance under the new manager and, for once, Steven Gerrard was not the sole torch-bearer. The invention of Lucas Leiva proved that one of the most maligned remnants of the Rafael Benitez era deserves better. So, too, Maxi Rodriguez, while Raul Meireles – a far more ambitious holding midfielder than Christian Poulsen – finally revealed himself to be the powerful box-to-box player observers had talked of when Hodgson signing him.

This was a different kind of Fernando Torres, too. His matchwinning goal – his first since the strike at home to West Bromwich Albion in August which secured Liverpool their only other domestic win of this season – was not part of a huge personal contribution. But the sight of Torres in the centre circle just after scoring, stretching and testing his troublesome groin, further illustrated the player's anxiety about an injury that has haunted him since the World Cup.

"He was very down when he came back from the World Cup," Hodgson said of Torres last night. "Maybe people are down when they are criticised left, right and centre. It does get people down. He is just coming out of that and starting to find his joy at playing again."

It really would help Liverpool fans' own emotional state if Hodgson could find a little more joy himself. Their league position really does not bear deep analysis so early – they sit just six points behind fifth-placed Tottenham – but Hodgson was still downbeat last night and batted away suggestions that this win might be a catalyst for further improvement.

"I don't know what catalysts are," he said. "I don't want to say things are hunky-dory. The expectations on us are greater than we are capable of achieving immediately and if we're not the Liverpool of yore, we'll work hard to get there."

Has this club deteriorated to such an extent? It didn't seem that way when they created at least ten chances in the first half – the stellar performance of Blackburn keeper Paul Robinwould have had Fabio Capello lamenting his international retirement.

But when Liverpool reached the interval still deadlocked, Meireles and Rodriguez having spurned the best opportunities, it appeared Hodgson was cursed. That sense deepened when the goal which his side so richly deserved – Sotirios Kyrgiakos powering in a header from Gerrard's corner – was cancelled out in a comedy of errors. As if the sight of substitute Benjani Mwaruwari haring around Paul Konchesky to cross was not bad enough for Hodgson, El-Hadji Diouf's shot through Jamie Carragher's legs was cleared off the line back by Konchesky – straight into Carragher and back across the goalline. It was a damning snapshot of Hodgson's defence this season.

Reina's reaction was telling, though, as he raced out of goal clutching the ball and his team-mates shared the urgency. Joe Cole's contribution to the match was still not enough to suggest that the fields of Anfield Road are delivering him any salvation but his clipped ball minutes later for Torres, who sprang away from the central defenders to side-foot home, was the match's most decisive one.

Sam Allardyce justifiably mourned the absence of the suspended Chris Samba. "When I see the second goal – Torres free six yards out for a little side-footer and none of our players near him at all – it's the reason why I say I'm missing players," he said.

Don't expect any less gloom from the Liverpool manager, though. Three points are needed at Bolton next Sunday to avoid the prospect of facing Chelsea while still rooted in the bottom three, but Hodgson has not won any of his last 22 away games, dating back to his time in charge of Fulham.

Match facts

Possession Liverpool 54% Blackburn 46%.

Shots on target Liverpool 11 Blacburn 3.

Referee P Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent). Att 43,328.

Man of the match Lucas. Match rating 7/10.

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