Survival Of The Flukiest

Standing outside the Supporters Club on Breck Road after the Reds’ tumultuous victory over Chelsea, imagine our surprise when the Lahndahners team bus rolled into view.

It would have been criminally irresponsible of us not to yank their chains, and people spilled out of the Supporters Club to wave scarves and give them a derisive round of applause. Once again, the ability of football fans to react quickly to changing circumstances came up trumps. A bare half-hour beforehand, we were cursing Chelsea’s resilience and fortitude. Now we were reacting as if Owen’s winner had all been part of the plan and we had only been taunting the Blues with the possibility of a point. Everything was under control. Honest.

The reaction of the various players was amusing, but not particularly illuminating.  Eidur Gudjohnsen gave a cheerful wave, which could be interpreted as lacking commitment to Chelsea’s cause. Gianfranco Zola shot us a malevolence-filled gaze, which, if looks could kill, would have obliterated every Red in existence. Oh how we laughed! Graeme Le Saux’s reaction to the scene outside the coach is unknown at this moment, although it seems likely that he found the whole affair to be an almighty pain in the arse.

Not as big a pain as the post-match reaction of the great and the good in the press. It was understandable that Frank Lampard would talk up his team’s performance while having a pop at their detractors, although someone really should have pointed out that a) they didn’t have a shot on target in ninety-two minutes, and b) no one doubts Chelsea’s bona fides against the likes of Liverpool; their problem is against the West Hams and Viking Stavangers of this world. So I’ll let Frank Lampard have his Chelsea-boosting moment. After all, it was “a gutter”, although perhaps he was referring to where Ken Bates will be residing once the creditors foreclose on that pale pachyderm of his at Chelsea Village.

What was annoying was the agreement among everyone else in punditry that Chelsea had had more than their hubcaps stolen. Various comments in the media bemoaned Chelsea’s lack of reward for a magnificent display, such as “they deserved at least a point” (The Times), “Chelsea should have gleaned the advantage their superiority deserved” (The Guardian), “the clock ticked towards a deserved point for Chelsea” (Football365), and “[Chelsea] were robbed of a point” (Setanta). The consensus was overwhelming. Poor little Chelsea had outwitted big bad Liverpool, only for the fates of Anfield Road to conspire against them. If you have tears to shed, prepare to shed them now for the Cockney minnows. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

There are a few problems with this cosy cartel of craven commiseration with, uh, Chelsea. For a start, I was at the game and while Liverpool barely did enough to win the game, they were definitely the better team. It was a dour struggle, Chelsea putting ten men behind the ball and stifling Liverpool, the kind of thing that we got a pounding for producing in Europe last season, although we rarely did it in the Premiership. Chelsea had one clear-cut chance, a free header from Lampard that wasn’t exactly a gimme either. Liverpool, on the other hand, smashed a shot against the bar and had Baros miss the target from only six yards out. And lest we forget, we managed to score, but not until after Heskey had seen his shot nudged onto the post.

The half-chance department saw Gallas fizz a shot over the bar, while Liverpool’s one half-chance forced Cudicini to palm Hyypia’s outrageous effort to safety. So even our half-chance was a better effort than theirs, unless Gallas expected to hit a passing pigeon with his strike.

Perhaps I missed something, being a wee bit biased and all that. But I’m also a media whore, reading every match report in its entirety rather than the mood music at the start. Scratching the surface of each article would give the impression described above, but dig a little deeper and you find a game that contradicts each writer’s theme of Unlucky Chelsea, Lucky Liverpool. Most of the chances described in The Guardian fell to Liverpool, just as I had remembered it. The Times gave each player a rating, with Liverpool’s starting eleven totalling 72, while Chelsea’s lot added up to 60. Mario Stanic and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink plumbed the lowly depths of 3, a score normally reserved for goalkeepers who repeatedly throw the ball into their own net. Even the less subjective statistics challenged the received wisdom of Chelsea dominance, possession being shared at 50% each. Frank Lampard et al might claim they were more productive with their 50%, but four shots on target by the Reds compared to none by the Blues would seem to question this, especially as we not only looked like scoring on more than one occasion, we actually did score. That fact needs repeating, because the way certain folk are going on you’d swear that the goal was a figment of the imagination, and I’d hate to think my reaction after Owen scored was the product of something I’d smoked earlier. I mean eaten earlier.

Some might say that this is the typical rant of the habitual conspiracy theorist, that the media is all out to get Liverpool, damn and blast them to Hades! I don’t think there is a conspiracy among the hacks of English football to denigrate the Reds – I do think there is a pro-Moan U wing of the press, but that’s another story. Two things emerge from the analysis of last Sunday’s match and all the balderdash contained within. The first is the lazy minded nature of journalists. Chelsea did dominate last season’s thriller at Anfield, and it could all have ended very differently had Hasselbaink’s lob dipped under the bar rather than on to it. But the scribes, eager to squeeze as much symmetry out of the two games, ignore the very different nature of this season’s game, even if the denouement was the same. Writing the same report as they gave last year gives them more time to maintain their Lunchtime O’Booze lifestyles.

The second, more interesting, observation is one that no one seems to have picked up on – which may just indicate that I’m wrong but it seems to fit. Three seasons ago, Chelsea came to Anfield buoyed up by their recent successes which had seen them win a few trophies and play in the Champions Cup for the first time ever (the only other time they qualified, they wouldn’t compete in that Mickey Mouse Cup – smart). We were in a state of crisis, celebrating a 0-0 draw at Villa Park as if we had won the European Cup. Liverpool duly won 1-0, David Thompson shinning the ball into the net, and another round of “we’re saved!” parties spontaneously erupted around the Red universe, oblivious to the reality of us clinging on against nine men. In those days Chelsea considered themselves good enough to win at Anfield. Now they’re outraged when they fail to get the draw that they played for.

Imagine if it were Arsenal or Man Utd who played Liverpool on Sunday, scrapped for a scoreless for ninety minutes only to lose it at the death. Would there have been any expressions of sympathy? Of course not, any top club that plays for a draw then doesn’t get it is going to be justifiably panned for their timidity, although not before amateur hacks who split their infinitives. It would serve them right. Now ponder on if it had been West Brom who had fallen victim to such a fate. Naturally there would be plenty of sympathy for their plight, David and Goliath clashes and all that jazz. On Sunday, the reaction to Chelsea’s failure was closer to that West Brom would have received than Arsenal. Everything is relative. Rotherham were chuffed with only losing 3-0 at Anfield, West Brom felt hard done by to lose 2-0, and Chelsea consider 0-0 to be an outstanding result, as opposed to 0-0 being better than nothing. How the temporarily mighty have fallen.

For Liverpool, the vibes are good. Subconsciously, people think we should be battering the likes of Chelsea, a team that considered themselves to be contenders a few short years ago. Maybe even a few short weeks ago. Hanging grimly on to Arsenal’s coattails, four successive wins have firmly set us up as the main challengers to the Gooners, which is all we can ask for at this stage of the season. As for Chelsea, it will be interesting to see how the beautiful people populating London’s hippest and most swinging party react when they realise there is only Dutch Gold left to drink.