Roy Hodgson claimed yesterday that his Liverpool team had played well in their 2-0 defeat to Everton and were still capable of a top-four finish, despite a performance that leaves his club in 19th place in the Premier League with the possibility of a relegation battle now a genuine prospect.
Hodgson defended his team after a performance that prompted disbelief in many quarters and increases the pressure on their new manager, who still has just one league win this season. The new owner John W Henry, has pledged to back Hodgson thus far but yesterday's defeat has darkened the mood after last week's successful High Court battle for control of the club.
Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta scored in either half to give Everton what turned out to be a fairly comfortable victory, despite long periods of largely ineffectual possession for Liverpool in the second half. Everton fans sang "going down" to their neighbours, but Hodgson said he still believed his team could finish in the top four.
The Liverpool manager admitted his team would have to do "something special" in order to accomplish a top-four finish but said "there were signs that the football is there.
"It would take a really good run of four wins on the spin [to get the momentum]," he said.
Hodgson went against popular consensus by claiming his team had played well. Hodgson said: "This was always going to be a difficult game to win. But I thought the team played well. In my opinion, I thought we dominated the second half totally. I think it was a sterling effort from the players.
"This would have been the ideal opportunity to really turn things around on the back of the positive entry of the new owners. To get a result here would have been Utopia. But I can only analyse the performance. There's no point in trying to analyse dreams – the dream was that we would come here on the back of new owners and win the game.
"We had to play a game of football to do that and in my opinion the way we played the game was as good as I've seen us play this season. I can't have any real qualms with my players. I hope that fair-minded people see the game the same way. I think it's a bit unfortunate that after such a good game of football everything revolves around the fact that Liverpool didn't win it."
Hodgson's view contrasted sharply with that of the former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler, who, as a television pundit yesterday, claimed that the Leeds United team he played in after leaving Anfield for the first time – which was eventually relegated – was better than the current Liverpool side
Fowler said: "If I'm being honest, the team we had at Leeds was better than the Liverpool team now. Can Liverpool get into a relegation battle? On that performance you think they probably can. Roy Hodgson has a lot of hard work to do. It's a long season but Liverpool are in the bottom two because they are not playing well. They need to start playing better, sharpish."
Fowler was also critical of Fernando Torres, who had another poor performance. He said: "He [Torres] is not playing well; it's as simple as that. Whether he is not happy at Liverpool, I don't know. Whether he is not happy playing with the players he is playing with, I don't know. He needs to buck up a bit and look a bit interested."
In a press conference that was strained at times, Hodgson was asked a more general question about his team's lack of confidence that he interpreted as a direct question about Torres. "You are talking about one, aren't you?" he replied "I didn't see that with Maxi [Rodriguez], [Steven] Gerrard or [Raul] Meireles. I thought all of those showed plenty of confidence in themselves.
"Fernando is going through a bad time. He needs a goal, his confidence is low. So if you are talking about him, I would have to agree. But I don't think it's a question of too many players lacking confidence. But we are playing under pressure. And every game we don't win the pressure builds up even more."
The Everton manager, David Moyes, said his players had risen to the challenge to win their first Merseyside derby in the league in four years: "In the past we have lacked the quality to match Liverpool. I don't think we do now. I think we have the quality of most of the big clubs."
Moyes also cited the example of Seamus Coleman, who made the first goal and was signed for £60,000, as proof that success was not all about the wealth of a club's owner.
Roy's woes: Liverpool's defeats under Hodgson
23 Aug: Premier League: Man City (a) Lost 3-0
Carlos Tevez scored twice and Gareth Barry found the net to leave Roy Hodgson's side in 17th position in the league.
19 Sept: Premier League: Man United (a) Lost 3-2
Steven Gerrard's two-goal heroics almost saved Liverpool from defeat but Dimitar Berbatov completed his hat-trick to see off the visitors.
22 Sept: Carling Cup: Northampton (h) 2-2 aet. Lost 4-2 on penalties
Made a shock exit at the third-round stage. Milan Jovanovic scored for the hosts before Northampton struck twice. David Ngog's goal saved Liverpool's blushes to force game into extra-time but the Cobblers prevailed.
3 Oct: Premier League: Blackpool (h) Lost 2-1
Charlie Adam's penalty and Luke Varney's effort put Blackpool into a two-goal lead and, although Sotirios Kyrgiakos's header gave the hosts hope, the visitors held on for their first win at Anfield since 1967.
17 Oct: Premier League: Everton (a) Lost 2-0. Liverpool's new owner, John W Henry, was watching from the stands yesterday but the side's poor run continued. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta were the Everton goalscorers who heaped more pressure on the manager. Giles Lucas