It was three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, which when the young Steven Gerrard was growing up was football’s moment of truth. A decent pass from where he lived on Ironside Road in Huyton is an open patch of grass covered with dandelions and buttercups. Nobody was even on it, let alone attempting to kick a football. Down the way, just beyond the hairdressers' amid roads named after battles or generals from the last war – Arnhem, Ardennes, Wavell, Montgomery – was a sign that declared: "No Ball Games".
This was Gerrard’s kingdom when it all began. A quarter of an hour’s drive away was Gerrard’s kingdom at journey’s end. He entered it through a guard of honour accompanied by his three young daughters and if Liverpool lost and if he did not dominate the game, then perhaps it did not matter.
Even when Glenn Murray drove in Simon Mignolet’s parried penalty save for Crystal Palace’s third, they chanted his name. When he sent one shot looping over the bar, the Kop chanted: “What the hell was that?” Gerrard gave them a wave and a smile. He no longer had anything to prove to anyone.
In both the result and his reception, Gerrard’s last game at Anfield had been utterly different from his first which he recalled warming up on the touchline waiting to replace Veggard Heggem in what was a routine 2-0 win over Blackburn. “Did they clap me? Did they fuck.”
Now, he was everywhere, applauded by everyone. The pre-match songs were all chosen for the significance of their titles from No More Heroes to Echo and the Bunnymen’s Nothing Ever Lasts Forever via LA Woman. The only song missing was Elvis Costello’s I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea. The last was The Beatles In My Life.
Gérard Houllier, the manager who became Gerrard’s mentor and who was at the match, hated these kinds of pre-match celebrations, claiming they affected performances. He recalled how the club invited Bob Paisley’s widow on the pitch before kick-off amid all the hosannas Merseyside could muster to dedicate a gateway to Liverpool’s most successful manager. Liverpool then were poor against Roma.
They were equally dreadful here. Liverpool only took the lead through an error when Martin Kelly, playing as centre-half rather than full-back, where he had begun his career at Liverpool, misplaced a pass that went behind instead of in front of Scott Dann. Adam Lallana, enjoying one of his best moments of what has been a forgettable first season on Merseyside, pounced on the mistake, drove through the gap, and crashed the ball past Wayne Hennessey.
Crystal Palace had been the better team before they went behind and, led by Jason Puncheon, they continued to press. Puncheon first pulled the ball back for Joe Ledley to scoop into the Kop, loosed off a shot that Simon Mignolet pushed away at full stretch and then brought Palace level with a free-kick that left the Liverpool keeper motionless.
After the interval, Brendan Rodgers switched to four, rather than three, at the back. Liverpool looked better for the change but should have conceded a penalty when Martin Skrtel brought down Lee Chung-Yong. Lee was promptly replaced by Wilfried Zaha who scored with his first touch while Yannick Bolasie’s shot crashed against the crossbar. Glenn Murray wrapped it up by knocking in the rebound from his parried last-minutepenalty.
In contrast to everything that had gone before, Gerrard had been anonymous. It is worth remembering that the final Test innings of Jack Hobbs, Don Bradman, Geoff Boycott and Graham Gooch add up to 19. It is one of the beauties of sport that it cannot be choreographed.
There was a shot that almost beat Hennessy at the far post but as the game wore on, Gerrard faded more into the background, ready to become part of Liverpool’s past, no longer their captain but a memory, a banner on the Kop.
Liverpool: (3-4-3) Mignolet; Can, Skrtel, Lovren; Lallana (Lucas, 65), Henderson, Gerrard, Moreno (Sinclair, 87); Ibe (Lambert, 65), Sterling, Coutinho.
Crystal Palace: (4-4-2) Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Dann, Souare; Puncheon, McArthur, Ledley, Lee (Zaha, 59); Bolasie (Murray, 83), Chamakh (Mutch, 76).
Referee: Jon Moss
Man of the match: Puncheon (Crystal Palace)
Match rating: 7/10
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