Konchesky faced with unfamiliar challenge as he makes 'big club' bow

Chris McGrath
Monday 21 September 2015 12:39

So this is what it's like to play for a really big club. It must all have felt pretty mystifying to Paul Konchesky, summoned by his old gaffer to fill one of the more flagrant voids in Liverpool's defence. Along with Roy Hodgson himself, Konchesky had become accustomed at Fulham to sharing a reputation as almost professionally blameless, often winning the ungrudging admiration of opposing fans – or their gratitude, at least, for proving that life outside the top four can have genuine purpose. The problem now is how to perform a similar service for followers of Liverpool.

With Martin Skrtel a few yards to his right, and Pepe Reina lurking behind, Konchesky will form one of the least hirsute defensive triangles in the land. But it is the coiffure of Fernando Torres that has to cause Liverpool more alarm. His form since shedding those long, peroxide locks has become correspondingly mousy and nondescript. He might be Samson himself.

And what of Steven Gerrard, the other new comrade who offers Konchesky some contemporary substance to Liverpool's historic superiority over Fulham? Gerrard and Torres claim an instinctive telepathy, but this time they appeared to be modelling their lines of communication on the dispatch riders who used to be sent wobbling through muddy trenches, bearing orders for some new, suicidal assault on a machine gun nest – perhaps armed, like Samson, only with a donkey's jawbone.

Anyone with an objective regard for these two authentic thoroughbreds could only be dismayed to see them here, condensing the miseries that have saturated a great club – never mind a big one under the present, toxic ownership. Gerrard, who has been unimpeachable in trying to redress England's ghastly World Cup, suffered depressing invective from the home fans. After Barry Ferguson appeared to leave a portion of his ulna in Gerrard's ear, sufficient that it was still oozing blood in the second half, they bellowed: "Where were you in Africa?"

It was an abiding image of a fairly full-blooded afternoon, one where Javier Mascherano might well have tucked in a napkin and reached for the steak-knife. In his absence, however, Torres cut a wan, sadly disaffected figure. Every now and then he would crop up somewhere, trying something, at least suggestive of his standing in the world game. But there remains a fatal disconnection between thought and deed, for the time being, and he plainly failed to enjoy an afternoon in the company of Roger Johnson and Scott Dann.

This pair have become the foundation of Birimingham's impressive evolution under Alex McLeish – one that bears more than a passing resemblance, as it happens, to Fulham's progress under Hodgson. That, too, was predicated on the mutual familiarity and discipline of the back four, and a formidable home record. Birmingham lost only two league games here last season; Liverpool, meanwhile, have now won only one of their past 11 away games.

A seventh consecutive league draw between this pair represented a Premier League record, but we are hardly talking about some irresistible force and immovable object. It was fitting, to that extent, that the sequence should be extended by a stalemate. Had Reina not produced two once-in-a-lifetime saves within 15 minutes, from first-half headers by Cameron Jerome and Craig Gardner respectively, Liverpool might admittedly have imploded. As it was, however, this match implied a legitimate parity. Liverpool finished seventh last year, and Birmingham ninth. And it is conceivable that both sets of supporters might settle for transposing positions this time round.

Red and blue: the colours of the litmus test. And while both McLeish and Hodgson are too scrupulously pragmatic to read too much into a single, 90-minute evaluation, other indices are adding up to something fairly coherent: a useful acidity about one team, an alarming sense of the soluble about another. (Soluble, that is – definitely not solvent.) Remember that Alexander Hleb turned down Liverpool, among others, to come here on a year's loan on the final day of the transfer window. He claimed that he was persuaded by a relative guarantee of a starting place, but might well have revised that opinion after witnessing proceedings yesterday.

True, Hodgson will be able to welcome Joe Cole back from suspension, but he will miss Dirk Kuyt desperately during the coming month, as Premier League newcomers like Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic find their bearings.

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