Ward's strike leaves Hodgson reign hanging by a thread

Liverpool 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Football

Roy Hodgson has been waiting a long time to hear the Kop sing his name but never did he think it would be quite like this. The bitterly ironic barbs of "Hodgson for England" rained down on him last night as his Liverpool side fell to a dispiriting and justified defeat to a club which arrived with the worst away record in all four English divisions.

Wolves had registered just one away point all season and had not won away since Upton Park last March until a Liverpool side displaying all the uncertainty and lack of ambition which has characterised the Hodgson era capitulated to them. After the boos and the irony – delivered when Hodgson, his side a goal down, introduced Ryan Babel for last night's sponsors' man of the match David Ngog – came the indignity for the manager of renewed chants of "Dalglish".

For the first time last night, Hodgson addressed the spectre of Dalglish, whose name has now been chanted during three of the darkest moments of this horrible Liverpool season – the home defeat to Blackpool and loss at Stoke completing the complement. "I'm getting used to it. He was a rival for my job and I got it. He is a Liverpool legend. I'm working as hard as I can so I can't say I appreciate it."

Liverpool's new owners were preparing for the path ahead with Hodgson last night – Rennes winger Sylvain Marveaux was in the stands ahead of his anticipated arrival in the transfer window – though Liverpool's lack of ambition, as much as their lack of points, is sending despair coursing through this club. It is difficult to imagine that John W Henry is not at least weighing up an alternative to see the club through to the summer, though all the signs are that it will take a genuine threat of relegation to see Hodgson out now. Bolton's arrival on New Year's Day is, needless to say, another huge match. That FA Cup tie with Manchester United shows football's propensity for kicking a team when they are down.

The manager was puzzled by the response to his decision to remove Ngog. "I thought David was doing OK but in Ryan Babel I thought we had another player who could score a goal... unless they were suggesting Fernando should come off," he said. And why not? Torres' repeated failure to deliver for reasons the manager is thought to believe are both psychological and physical was again the elephant in the press room last night.

It has not gone without notice among some within Anfield that the only time Torres raised himself to a strong display this season was against Chelsea – a club he would perhaps like to rescue him from his strife. He has been allowed to become bigger than this club – not a situation which Avi Cohen would have remembered about Anfield.

On a night when the club remembered Cohen – the man whose goal won the 1980 league title and who died this week, aged 54, from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident – there was certainly evidence that this club does not belong in this place. Steven Gerrard's return for the first time since his hamstring removed him from the side six weeks ago also nurtured hope but Hodgson did not seem sure how best to deploy the captain.

The defensive midfield role he unexpectedly lined up in, breaking up the holding partnership of Lucas and Raul Meireles which has started to work so well in recent weeks, left Liverpool clunking through the first half. He and the Portuguese international swapped roles before the break, reverted back after it and the muffled boos which greeted the half-time whistle reflected the desperate lack of incision.

After a solitary flash of Torres inspiration – the Spaniard spotted Meireles on the right and sent a quick, 20-yard, crossfield free-kick zeroing to him only for the Portuguese to have his shot saved instinctively by Wayne Hennessey and cleared by Richard Stearman – Liverpool offered nothing.

The contrast with Wolves was unmissable. Mick McCarthy, who reflected afterwards that he knew the general expectation was that Wolves would "come here and get their arse slapped... but we weren't having that", played two up and was rewarded when a poor header by Sotirios Kyrgiakos – preferred despite Daniel Agger's return to fitness – allowed Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to thread a ball between the Greek defender and Martin Skrtel for Stephen Ward to shoot past Pepe Reina – whom McCarthy said had "run 70 yards" to get the Irishman sent off in last year's fixture here.

A predicament almost graduated into a calamity when another scramble in the Liverpool box left Glen Johnson to block desperately. As Wolves continued to press, the cheers which greeted the arrival of Fabio Aurelio, a symbol of the Rafael Benitez era, for Paul Konchesky, one of Hodgson's, were another message.

Five Liverpool players were offside when Skrtel rose to head in an 88th minute Gerrard free-kick and as Liverpool fell to their second home defeat to Wolves in 60 years, McCarthy was not in the mood for empathy. "[Criticism] comes at any club," he said. "Our fans have been brilliant but bloody hell, they get a bit intolerant when you are beaten at home to Wigan." Those visiting fans did, indeed, have the last shout. "How shit must you be," they sang to the locals. "We're winning away."

Liverpool (4-2-3-1) Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Konchesky (Aurelio, 73); Gerrard, Lucas; Meireles (Cole, 73) Ngog (Babel, 62), Kuyt; Torres. Substitutes not used Jones, Agger, Rodriguez, Poulsen.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2) Hennessey; Zubar, Stearman, Berra, Elokobi; Jarvis, Foley, Milijas, Hunt; Ward (Fletcher, 78), Ebanks-Blake. Substitutes not used Hahnemann, Edwards, Jones, Bent, Mujangi Bia, Baath.

Referee P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Attendance 41,614.